Culture School Psychology

Discovering Dyslexia

February 12, 2018

Dyslexia is so dear to my heart I can’t believe I haven’t written a post on it before now.  I think it’s because I’m worried I won’t do it justice.  There are so many myths out there about Dyslexia, and my main objective is to dispel them in this post.

When you first saw the word, Dyslexia, you probably thought “seeing words backwards” or something similar.  Please erase that thought from your memory and replace it with the following information:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is based in the brain- not the eyes.  People with dyslexia struggle with our foundational reading skills- reading words and decoding.  It also goes on to impact their reading fluency and reading comprehension because they cannot access the text due to their basic reading skill weaknesses.

They aren’t visually seeing the words any differently than anyone else, instead their brain is not processing the information the same as a typical reader.  This makes it a laborious and frustrating process because they have to start from scratch every time they encounter a word.  This is why sometimes it seems like they’re reading backwards because they will guess and over rely on their sight word vocabulary.  Another common idea is when a child reverses letters that means they have dyslexia.  It’s actually quite common for kids to reverse letters up until around 3rd grade.  Sometimes people with dyslexia continue to reverse letters, whereas some never struggle with reversing letters.

What leads to these difficulties?  People with dyslexia struggle with phonological processing with a main deficit is phonological awareness.  Phonological awareness involves being able to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds that make up words in our language. It is one of our best predictors for reading ability because the better you are orally hearing and manipulating sound the better you will be with pairing the sound with the letters that represent them.  The good news is we can increase phonological awareness skills with appropriate intervention…I’ll have to save that information for another post.  If you can’t wait- start researching Orton-Gillingham or Multi-sensory structured language approach.

Phonological Memory and Rapid Naming are the other two phonological processing areas individuals with dyslexia can struggle with.  Phonological memory is our short-term memory for things that we hear.  This can make learning new information take longer, and decoding longer words can be more intense.  Rapid Naming is the time it takes us to get information from our long-term memory out.  For example, how quickly can you name random letters on a page.  If someone’s retrieval time is a deficit they will need more time and shorted assignments to help them show you what they know.  Their reading fluency might always be slower than their peers as well.  Sometimes people have difficulties in all 3 processing areas while others struggle with 1 or 2 areas.

There are many specific learning disabilities, and dyslexia is the most common.  However, since the break down occurs with the foundation of reading it goes on to impact all areas of reading and can impact spelling, written expression, and vocabulary.  This can lead to some difficulties in identifying the exact cause of academic difficulties.  Unfortunately, not all school psychologists have received appropriate training in identifying dyslexia.  It can vary from state to state and district to district.  One clue can be if a student has no problems understand if material is read aloud versus when they read it. Typically, listening comprehension and verbal skills are strengths in individuals with dyslexia.

While there is a general profile of dyslexia, it’s on a continuum so there are differing levels of severity.  However, if you’ve met someone with dyslexia you’ve probably noticed that they’re very bright and excel in other areas.  This is because everyone with dyslexia has average or higher intelligence.  This can lead to early difficulties with identification because sometimes children get labeled as unmotivated or lazy instead of people realizing they have an underlying learning disability.  This is because you can easily tell they are smart and capable of doing well.  Due to their brain processing information differently, they will need to be taught how to read differently.  It will take them longer to “retrain their brain.”  However, they are fully capable of learning to read, but it is a lifelong condition.  There is no “cure”, but their skills can improve and they can learn coping strategies.  I’ll save more on this for another post.

Both males and females can have dyslexia, and people have it all over the world- it’s not specific to English.  Also, people of all backgrounds can have dyslexia.  One thing we have to make sure they’ve been given access to appropriate instruction.  We wouldn’t want to label someone with a disability if they haven’t been exposed to an appropriate opportunity to learn the skills.  This is why several states are using a Response to Intervention or RTI approach to identify specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia.

There’s so much more I want to share about dyslexia, but I think this is enough on the basics to hopefully dispel any myths you may have heard and give you a broader idea of what it actually is.  I encourage you to check out the International Dyslexia Association’s website for more information.  Also, check back in the future more specific information from me on dyslexia.

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