This is a term commonly used by parents and teachers but I wonder how much is really understood about this condition. I have done some research over the past few months – consulted the “experts” and downloaded some papers from the New England Journal of Medicine and The American Academy of Paediatrics. I’ve put together a “Dyslexia News Sheet” which is available at the front desk so if this subject interests you please take a copy. I also have the original papers if you wish to consult these. Following is a brief synopsis.
Firstly, dyslexia is genetic and hereditary. It is a neurobehavioral disorder (there are differences in the temporo–parieto–occipital brain regions between people with dyslexia and those who are not reading-impaired) and about 40% of siblings and parents will also have this condition. It is a specific deficit in the processing of the sound structure of language and exists despite normal, even very high IQ, good vocabulary and grammar. Simply put, they have “an abnormality in the word-analysis pathways that interferes with their ability to convert written words into spoken words”. Even more simply put, they have a problem with phonics – a phonemic deficit.
How do you find out if your child is dyslexic? I have a degree in Education and have been teaching for 40years. I am not qualified to diagnose your child. Educational psychologists and neuropsychologists diagnose learning disabilities. Beware of a diagnosis where a financial incentive is involved in the result. Also be aware that early reading difficulties may be caused by poor instruction or normal developmental delays. “Some children may have trouble orienting, recognizing, and remembering letter combinations. This difficulty may be a neuro-maturational delay that improves with development. Importantly, the definition of dyslexia does not include reversal of letters or words or mirror reading or writing, which are commonly held misconceptions.” (The American Academy of Paediatrics)
Another misconception is that dyslexia has something to do with visual perception. The American Academy of Paediatrics states, “Specifically, subtle eye or visual problems, including visual perceptual disorders (Irlen-lens), refractive error, abnormal focusing, jerky eye movements, binocular dysfunction, and misaligned or crossed eyes, do not cause dyslexia. In summary, research has shown that most reading disabilities are not caused by altered visual function…Tinted lenses and filters (Irlen-lens) have been suggested to treat visual perceptual dysfunctions that lead to visual distortion caused by sensitivities to particular wavelengths of light but not to treat language-based dyslexia.” In other words, Irlen-lens deals with light sensitivity, not dyslexia. This paper also pointed out that “scientifically unsupported alternative treatments, including vision therapy, may give parents and teachers a false sense of security that a child’s learning difficulties are being addressed and may delay proper instruction or remediation.”
What is the answer? Dyslexia is a complex disorder and that there are no quick cures. The effect that dyslexia has may be different for each person and depends on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness and timeliness of instruction or remediation. Nevertheless, generally speaking a person suffering from dyslexia requires highly structured, intensive, individualized instruction by a teacher who is specially trained explicitly in teaching the application of phonics. Remediation programs should include specific instruction in decoding, fluency training, vocabulary, and comprehension.