Tammy is a bright and conscientious child. She has a great vocabulary and is a good friend to others. She learns quickly in her areas of interests, particularly origami and crafts. However, reading is very difficult for her. She has a hard time recognizing words, and it takes her much longer than other students to complete her reading. Even after she has completed her reading, she struggles to remember what she read. When she comes to a new word, it looks like gibberish to her. She can’t figure out how to sound it out or why sometimes letters make one sound, and sometimes they make another. She hates to read out loud, and is very aware of her mistakes. Tammy has many characteristics of Dyslexia.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia means that there are significant difficulties with language and reading. Students with Dyslexia also often experience difficulties with spelling, writing, phonics, and pronouncing words.
It is referred to as a learning disability because it can make school very difficult. Even though they are bright, students with reading concerns often have more difficulty with grades, standardized tests, behavior in the classroom, and emotional health. Sometimes, this diagnosis will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services through either a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan. As more people become aware of the challenges of Dyslexia, there have been updates in the federal and state definitions, as well as how children are served in schools.
If your child has Dyslexia, she can still be happy and successful. There are many effective teaching strategies and tools that can help your child. In fact, many people with Dyslexia have successful careers in business, science and the arts.
Unfortunately, the struggles with reading and school can also lead to frustration, sadness, stress, and low self-confidence. The stress of dealing with schoolwork can decrease a child’s motivation. Homework can be particularly problematic, and parents oftentimes receive the brunt of their child’s frustration. There are tools and strategies that can help, but it will take commitment by the parents, child, and school to work together. It will also take some time and a lot of work.
What Dyslexia is NOT
Dyslexia is not a sign of low intelligence or laziness.
In fact, people with Dyslexia are often bright and creative.
It’s also not due to poor vision.
It’s a common condition that affects the way the brain processes written and spoken language. Although vision therapy can be recommended by some Optometrists or Vision Therapists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as numerous research studies have not found vision therapy to be an effective treatment of Dyslexia. Dyslexia is about language, not vision.
Dyslexia is not about flipping, or reversing, letters or words.
Dyslexia is a language problem that makes it hard to sound out new words, recognize words, or read words effectively. Because sounding out words is hard, spelling can be a problem. Handwriting problems, or Dysgraphia, often co-occur with Dyslexia. These handwriting problems are often associated with illegible letters or words. Sometimes children with Dyslexia also have troubles accessing words, or finding the right words to say. This is called Dysnomia.
Dyslexia is not just for kids.
Dyslexia is a life-long condition. Even though children can be brought up to grade level in terms of reading, they may always be a bit slower and rote in their reading process. They learn to read differently.
What causes Dyslexia?
People with Dyslexia have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and learning how letters represent those sounds.
Dyslexia also runs in families. Results of family and twin studies have also shown a substantial genetic component to the disorder. Environmental factors also can influence the development of reading skills. In particular, preschool literacy experiences vary enormously across subcultures in our society and likely affect reading outcome. Children who are read to in preschool are estimated to have heard a million more words by the time they enter school than children who are not read to!
How widespread is Dyslexia?
About 20% of the population have Dyslexia. It occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels. People who are very bright can be dyslexic. They are often very creative and gifted in many areas, such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, mechanics, music, physics, sales, and sports.
There are many famous and successful people with Dyslexia. This list includes director Steven Spielberg, Henry Winkler, Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg. Even famous authors, like Dav Pilkey, and scientists, like Albert Einstein, have Dyslexia.
How is Dyslexia diagnosed?
Schools use a process to identify children with learning disabilities, but it is often based on legislation, which is tied to funding (and not always clinical levels of need). Schools provide children who struggle with reading extra support with reading instruction, often through “Title 1 Services.” If a student’s learning does not improve (based on standardized testing or other benchmarks), she may be identified as learning disabled in reading.
Due to challenges in funding for school districts across the country, many students with Dyslexia are not accurately identified in schools at the present time, even in “strong school districts.” There is just not enough specialized support or funding.
For most children with reading concerns, a clinical evaluation is needed. Trained specialists, such as Clinical Child Psychologists, Pediatric Neuropsychologists, or Reading Specialists who are certified in Dyslexia identification and treatment, can conduct the testing. If your child is evaluated, it is very important that the professional has specialized training and experience in this area. It is also very important that the specialists gathers educational and behavioral data from your child’s school and teachers.
Such an evaluation includes intellectual and academic achievement testing, as well as assessment of language skills. A clinical evaluation also includes receptive (listening) and expressive language skills, and phonological skills. A student’s ability to read lists of words in isolation, as well as words in context, should also be assessed. If such assessment indicates reading disabilities, an individualized intervention plan of action between the child, parents, teachers, and other professionals can be developed. Our office conducts these evaluations.
How is Dyslexia treated?
Early identification and treatment is key, and it is best if it is caught as early as 1st grade. If you suspect your child has a reading disability, do not wait, but have it evaluated. Most people with reading challenges need help from a teacher, tutor, or therapist specially trained in using a multisensory, structured language approach. It is important for these individuals to be taught by a systematic and explicit method that involves several senses (hearing, seeing, touching) at the same time. Many individuals with Dyslexia need one-on-one help so that they can move forward at their own pace. In addition, students with Dyslexia often need a great deal of structured practice and immediate, corrective feedback to develop automatic word recognition skills. For students with reading disabilities, it is helpful if their outside academic therapists and tutors work closely with classroom teachers.
Schools can implement academic accommodations and modifications to help Dyslexic students succeed. For example, a student can be given extra time to complete tasks, help with taking notes, and work assignments that are modified appropriately. Teachers can give verbal tests or allow different forms of testing. Students can benefit from listening to audiobooks, speech to text software, and writing on computers.
Students may also need help with emotional issues that sometimes arise as a consequence of difficulties in school. Mental health specialists can help students cope with their struggles.
As Shaywitz and Shaywitz from the Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity state,
“The most effective interventions focus on the whole child so that dyslexic children not only learn to read, they also develop self-awareness of who they are, what they have and how best to address their dyslexia and critically, that they, indeed, are intelligent. This awareness, in turn, leads to boys and girls who have a sense of self-empowerment rather than a sense of helplessness.”
Author: Cindy Anderson
Dr. Anderson is a Board Certified Clinical Child Psychologist. She also owns Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Dr. Anderson has achieved a high degree of specialization in working with children and families. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and completed APA Accredited internship and postdoctoral training in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. She prides herself as a life-long student and tries to learn something new every day.
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