What is Dyslexia?

IMG_1818For many, dyslexia is a way of life. It is nondiscriminatory, affecting individuals of all ethnic, economic and social strata and often runs in families. Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Charles Schwab, Leonardo da Vinci and Harry Belafonte are just a sampling of people you may have heard of, all of whom have some degree of dyslexia.

Literally interpreted, dyslexia means difficulty with words. Coined by physicians, the term is used to describe individuals who have trouble learning to read and spell despite average to above average intelligence, traditional learning opportunities, and sufficient motivation.

Very often, diagnosis can be confusing. Schools often refrain from using the term dyslexic in their students learning profiles; instead, they use the phrase “specific learning disability.” The reason the learning disability is “specific” is because the areas of difficulty are largely confined to academic functioning. To further confuse the issue, psychologists and psychiatrists use diagnoses such as Reading Disorder and Disorder of Written Expression to describe the same symptoms.

IMG_0342There are also a number of misconceptions when it comes to dyslexia. For instance, dyslexia is not a visual problem causing students to see letters backwards. It is not due to laziness, boredom, or immaturity and it isn’t something that a person grows out of. Neither is it more common in boys than in girls.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is of neurological origin affecting 15 to 20 percent of the population in various forms and degrees of severity. Primarily, dyslexia impedes a child’s ability to acquire the basic skills needed for reading aIMG_6494nd writing. However, some students may also have problems negotiating listening and speaking tasks.

At a very fundamental level, dyslexics have difficulty identifying individual sounds within words and remembering which letters represent particular speech sounds. Tasks that most students find easy, such as reading and spelling, present significant challenges for dyslexics. Their ability to make meaning from text and convey thoughts in writing can be severely limited. Nevertheless, dyslexic students do learn to read and write when taught using structured, multisensory approaches to language instruction. Additionally, their success in school is frequently supported by accommodations, modifications, and scaffolding — i.e., providing support mechanisms early on and gradually reducing these supports as proficiency increases.

Early identification and intervention are critical to helping dyslexics succeed in school and life. However, it is not unusual for children to go undiagnosed for the first several years of their school life. For many, it is not until they have to read and write longer and more complex sentences that they begin to falter. And even then, their dyslexia may not be recognized until they are much older.

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