What is Dyslexia?
According to David A. Sousa in his book How the Special Needs Brain Learns (2007, p. 89) a child suffers from developmental dyslexia when “the child experiences unexpected difficulty in learning to read despite adequate intelligence, environment, and normal senses. It is a spectrum disorder, varying from mild to severe. Neuroimaging studies have established that there are significant differences in the way typical brains and brains with dyslexia respond to specific spoken and written language tasks.”
According to “Just the Facts,” information provided by the International Dyslexia Association, “students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.” In fact, most people experiencing dyslexia have difficulties with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word, and/or learning how letters represent those sounds.
It is true that dyslexia runs in families.
Some indicators of Dyslexia:
The pervasive idea of dyslexia is that these readers have a tendency to reverse their letters and numbers. Although words can look jumbled as seen by dyslexics, they can have problems with words because they have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and forming memories for words. Most dyslexic readers don’t show all the signs of dyslexia. However, some of the indicators of dyslexia include:
- Difficulties learning to speak/delayed spoken language.
- Difficulties learning letters and their sounds.
- Difficulties with expressing thoughts verbally.
- Difficulties with organizing written and spoken language.
- Spelling issues.
- Difficulties with rhyming or sequencing syllables.
- Confusion about right- or left-handedness.
- Difficulties with handwriting.
- Difficulties with memorizing number facts.
- Difficulties with learning a foreign language.
- Difficulties doing math operations.
- Difficulties with reading fluency and comprehension.
How is dyslexia diagnosed?
We are doing more these days to identify potential reading problems in kindergarten, before reading problems progress to serious disabilities. Children are being identified “at risk” through screening tests, including our district’s “Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills” or “DIBELS” testing. Programs such as Response to Instruction/Intervention in second grade can also help identify those children with dyslexia. Early identification of reading problems is of extreme importance because interventions work best with younger children.
Diagnosing dyslexia is a complicated process. According to the International Dyslexia Association, often school psychologists and/or speech-language pathologists are responsible for relating and interpreting the information collected from interviews, observation, and testing of students. A team of personnel, including classroom teacher(s), speech/language pathologist, educational assessment specialist(s), and medical personnel could potentially be involved.
According to David Sousa, brain imaging studies that look at the structure of the brain (MRI and CAT scans) and those that look at how the brain functions (PET and fMRI scans) can often identify atypical brain structures that will lead the patient to have reading difficulties. As this technology develops, it may be the determining factor in diagnosing dyslexia in the not so distant future.
Resources for learning about Dyslexia:
The International Dyslexia Association is a wonderful source of information. It has numerous fact sheets on Dyslexia and related language-based learning differences (see http://www.interdys.org/FactSheets.htm) The website also has a listing of additional resources for in-depth information.
David A.Sousa has two very interesting books that are helpful. They are How the Brain Learns to Read (2005) and How the Special Needs Brain Learns (2007).
- The Dyslexia Checklist: A Practical Reference for Parents and Teachers by Sandra F. Rief and Judith M. Stern (2010).
Additional Facts About Dyslexia
v Perhaps as many as 15 – 20% of our nationwide school population have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including “slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words.” These students may not qualify for special education, “but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language.” (International Dyslexia Association)
v According to the IDA, about 85% of those students who qualify for special education as having a learning disability (6-7% of the special education population) have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing.
v According to David Sousa, nationwide there are about three times more boys identified with dyslexia related reading problems than girls. He thinks boys are over identified and many girls are under identified.
v Researchers have noted that a missing stretch of DNA in the gene called DCDC2 is strongly correlated with severe reading disability. (Sousa, p. 91).
v In some cases of reading disabilities, it is believed that there is a difference in the processing speeds of auditory and visual activations.
v Dyslexia appears in all languages, including those that are read from right to left, such as Hebrew and Arabic.
v Struggling readers can take up to three times longer to complete work and will tire more easily.
v Brains of struggling readers are already expending extra effort while decoding. They need to use slower speed with clearer comprehension.
v Students with mild dyslexia often develop coping strategies in the younger grades. These strategies may not work as the curriculum becomes more complex, and reading demands are increased due to content.
v Diagrams and graphic organizers are helpful to students with reading disabilities.AD/HD and Dyslexia are distinct conditions that frequently overlap. They are diagnosed differently, but they both may result in reading and writing