Dyslexia: What it is and what to do about it

What do you think of when you hear the word “dyslexia”? Many people think of it as reversing letters and words, but actually that’s a common misconception. In very simple terms dyslexia occurs when a student has a hard time decoding or “sounding out” words. If you think of the word “stop,” for example, dyslexic students have difficulty separating the individual sounds of “S”, “T”, “O”, “P” and blending them together to form a word. Similarly, when they go to spell the word, they often have a hard time remembering the sequence of the sounds. Young students with mild forms of dyslexia often go unnoticed in early grades because they are great memorizers. So often, it appears that they can read, but they’ve really just memorized many words. Take a look at the sentences below to experience how reading may be for a dyslexic individual.

Thew ord sare n otsp aced cor rect ly.
We spell wrds xactle ax tha snd to us.

Unfortunately, about 20% of all children have a very difficult time learning to read and, more often than not, parents aren’t really sure what the exact problem is.

Early signs of dyslexia include difficulty rhyming, a lack of interest in reading books but a desire to be read to, difficulty writing and learning letters and sounds. Children with dyslexia may also be poor spellers, struggle to complete tests and homework, and fear reading aloud. Most dyslexic students are perfectly bright and can comprehend stories – they just can’t read them, which explains why they enjoy having someone read to them. As children grow older, they often develop compensatory strategies to sound out big words, but one of the residual effects is slow reading speed. In middle and high school, this becomes a big issue because they have a hard time keeping up with the demands of their more challenging classes.

If recognized at an early age, dyslexia can be remediated. Assessment as early as kindergarten or first grade is helpful in predicting potential difficulties down the road. Remediation begins by assessing where the student is in the process of learning to read and then targeting phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Multi-sensory reading programs such as the Orton-Gilligham method and the Wilson Reading System are backed by research to remediate dyslexia. While these programs are implemented at some schools, the consistency and regularity they need to be effective are often best provided when a private teacher or tutor works with the student one-on-one or in small groups.

If dyslexia is not diagnosed until a later age, options become more limited (statistics state that 76% of students with reading problems never do catch up), but there is certainly still hope! Technology plays an integral part of helping older students. Programs such as Kurzweil 3000, which reads text aloud to students and allows them to highlight and take notes, and Inspiration, which helps students graphically organize their ideas in order to facilitate the writing process, can make reading and writing easier and more enjoyable.

Because reading is difficult for students with dyslexia, they can become disenchanted by education. However, with proper support and intervention, they can overcome their obstacles and learn to love to read.

Get Your Kids to Love Summer Reading!

If you attended this week’s free webinar, “Avoid the Summer Learning Slide: Simple Solutions and Useful Tools”, you already know that reading over the summer is incredibly important. In case you missed it, here’s a video of the webinar on our youtube channel.

Studies show that students who read four or more books over their summer break do much better on tests in school in the fall, and their first quarter grades see a huge boost. Here are some tips to turn your kids into happy readers over the summer and solve next year’s bad grades before they start.

  • Everyone picks a book, not just kids. At the start of the summer, parents AND kids should choose a book. Modeling is the best way to teach. When kids see that their parents are reading, they are much more likely to do so themselves. Pair reading with relaxation in the evening…for the whole family. And if you follow our second tip, you’ll find that your kids may fall in love with their reading time…
  • Pick books that are kid-tested. Even boys will devour a book when you find the right material. Check out the ultimate teen book list on amazon, or these recommended reading lists from a private school library network for kids of all ages. When they are involved in choosing, they’re much less likely to push back. For younger kids, consider an online reading program like studydog.com, headsprout.com, or literactive.com.
  • Consider an E-Reader. We all know that our kids love screens. Consider buying them books through a Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Kids like being able to customize colors and fonts, and it’s convenient to be able to carry so much material in your pocket. Anything that makes reading fun and easy is a great chance to get your kids involved in reading over the summer.

Getting your kids to read over the summer is well worth the effort, and with these strategies in place, you may find that they will love it!

My Teen Won’t Read — Is It Worth the Power Struggle?

Getting any child to read can be a challenge, but trying to encourage a teenager to read is even more of an undertaking. While the benefits of reading include an increased vocabulary, better grades, and higher SAT scores, the struggle may not be worth it if the parent/child relationship is impacted. Good news – there are many things to make the environment ripe for reading without pushing your child (or yourself) over the edge.


Buy a Kindle or Nook

One of the best investments you can make is the purchase of an e-reader. Teens love electronics and are much more likely to flip the switch on their e-book than to pick up a paperback. Moreover, once they finish with one book, the next book is at the tip of their fingers in the e-reader storefront. There, kids can also order audible books which allow them to listen as they follow along with the text.


Select a Series

Even the most reluctant readers will latch on to a series that is relatable and fun to follow. Many girls enjoy the Missing Persons series by E.B. Rabb about high school sisters who run away from their New York home to escape their evil stepmother. The girls change their names, color their hair, and take up a new hobby–solving missing person’s cases. The first book, as well as the rest of the series, can be found on Amazon.com.


Loved a Movie? Read the Book

One book and movie sure to inspire is Soul Surfer, the story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. This memoir follows her incredible journey from the day she comes face-to-face with a 14-foot tiger shark to her awe-inspiring recovery and return to surfing. Watch the movie first or read the book; it doesn’t matter, as long as your teen is engaged in reading.


Get a Driver’s Manual

Most teenagers look forward to driving, but they have to study in order to pass the written exam. Purchase a driver’s manual for your teen to read with you or independently. Reading is reading, in any form!
Turn Off Everything Else with a Screen
Carve out time each evening for reading. Everyone should put down cell phones, turn off the television, iPod Touch, and any anything else that draws attention, except the e-reader, of course! Even 15 or 20 minutes before bedtime is enough time to instill the love of reading.


Relax and Read without Criticizing

During this time, do one of two things: either read silently on your own as a role model or read aloud with your child. Your teen is not too old to read with you. Try not to correct your child’s mistakes or ask too many questions. As soon as kids feel pressured or judged, they’re less willing to read. When your teen begins to associate reading with evening relaxation, he’ll be more likely to read independently and for pleasure later on.


Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at ectutoring.com.

Why Is Reading So Hard for Some Kids?

Picture two students, side by side, reading a fairytale from a storybook.  One student easily reads with expression and enthusiasm, “Once Upon a Time”.  The other student slowly reads “On up a tim.”  Both students live in the same neighborhood, have educated parents that read to them at night, and were exposed to literature at a young age.  So why can the one read and the other cannot?  Is it a fairytale story to think that reading is a natural process?  The answer is “yes”.

How Prevelant Is the Problem?

Almost 20% of children have a reading problem that impacts their ability to learn to read through traditional teaching methods. Most reading instruction in American classrooms is taught through the whole language approach where students are expected to learn to read naturally through exposure to literature.  While this methodology works with many students, it doesn’t work for all.  Critics of the whole language approach state that students also need phonics-based instruction.

Reid Lyon, the former head of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, makes a valid point by questioning why there are so many illiterate adults and children if reading were a natural process.  According to a recent article in TIME magazine, there are almost 3 million students in special education classes specifically because they cannot read.

Most have a reading disorder, such as dyslexia.   In many instances, the student demonstrates strong reading comprehension, but there is a specific glitch in sounding words out (decoding). Because reading is a combination of decoding and comprehension, a student’s decoding skills are vital to the reading process. To learn to decode a student needs to be able to understand that individual sounds make up words.  Thus, a reading disability that is not based in comprehension is occurring at the basic letter/sound level.  Students aren’t able to quickly pull apart sounds and blend them together.  And interestingly, because reading and spelling are related, a red flag for dyslexia is poor spelling.

What’s Causing Such Difficulty?

Scientific data points to specific neurobiological differences between normal readers and those with dyslexia.  Brain scans show that those with a reading disorder process information from the frontal lobe, while normally-functioning readers process information from the posterior region, the part of the brain that makes reading automatic.  When this occurs, students compensate by relying heavily on memorizing words because they can’t sound them out fast enough.  While this compensatory strategy helps get kids through a school year, without proper treatment, these children flounder as they encounter new, more challenging text.  As students age, they will continue to struggle to decode, however, this does improve with time.  The most significant residual effect of their untreated reading problem is very slow reading.

What Can Be Done?

Twenty years of research demonstrates that we can remediate almost all reading disabilities.  Assessment of a student’s letter/sound knowledge as early as the kindergarten and first grade is key.

Too often the excuse of a developmental lag is given and that eventually Johnny will “catch up”.  Statistics state that 76% of students with an untreated reading problem never do catch up.  Waiting to seek help is not the answer.  When help is given in 4th grade rather than in kindergarten when weaknesses were first spotted, it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount.  Although it may take longer to remediate a reading problem in a middle or high school student, we do know it can be done.

One-to-one reading instruction or small group instruction is considered the best approach. Explicit instruction is the most powerful way to improve reading. The focus should be on decoding, fluency, and ultimately, comprehension.

In the 1930s, Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham developed an approach to reading, a ‘course of action’ if you will, to provide reading instruction.  Their method is still the gold standard used today.  The Orton-Gillingham approach is multisensory (instruction taps into the visual, auditory and kinesthetic domains) because this approach aids the processing, retention and application of information.

Although scientific evidence proves that reading is not a natural process for many, obstacles can be overcome.  With the right instruction, these students will be able to open up their books and be whisked away to magical lands.