Dyslexia: What it is and what to do about it

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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.
Sometimesallthelettersarepushedtogether.

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.