Dyslexia: An overview
The ABC's of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects reading and writing skills by causing children and adults to experience difficulty in associating written symbols (like letters and words) with their sounds. Dyslexia is a brain-based disorder, and can occur even in very bright people. It is unclear what causes the frustrating problem, but it appears that the brains of people with dyslexia process language-based information (especially written information) in a less efficient way. Dyslexia is hereditary (it runs in families). It is estimated that up to 20% of people in the US have difficulty reading, and the majority of these individuals have Dyslexia. At this time, there is no cure for Dyslexia, but there are many ways to help your child manage the problem and succeed.
Dyslexia and your child
Diagnosing Dyslexia. There is a normal range of ages during which most children become ready to read. Most preschoolers being to recognize letters and numbers, and hey gradually remember the sounds associated with each letter. By age 6-7, most children are ready to sound out words and begin reading simple books. Some signs of Dyslexia in young children include difficulty with handwriting, trouble learning letters and numbers, trouble with rhyming, difficulty reading and writing one’s name, struggling with speech, or trouble remembering words. Dyslexia is generally diagnosed when a child is in elementary school, but in some cases it becomes more apparent later on when reading comprehension and grammar are more important to the curriculum. Older children may read and spell below their grade level, have difficulty with math (especially word problems), or struggle with reading and writing. Chances are your child’s teacher will notice signs of Dyslexia before you do. The disorder is diagnosed through an evaluation by a reading or educational specialist or school psychologist usually employed by the school system.
Treating young children. If you notice that your preschooler is having difficulty learning how to talk, tell your pediatrician as soon as possible. We know that language-related problems (such as learning, communicating verbally, and learning to sound out letters and words) can have less severe consequences if treatment is begun early. Children who have early language problems also may have more difficulty in learning how to read and write. There are early intervention programs and school-based evaluations that are available even to very young children with possible delays. There are speech-language therapists and reading specialists who work in schools with children who suffer from Dyslexia. They will break things down into smaller steps for your child, work with him in a smaller and quieter environment, read material to him, or use instructional aids such as books with big print or specially lined paper. Out-of-school tutoring can also help your child master symbols-to-sounds associations more easily.
Treating older children. As your child enters higher grades, there is more and more emphasis on reading and written communication at school, and some homework assignments may be challenging. She may become more self-conscious as her struggle with Dyslexia continues and as she becomes more aware that she struggles more than her peers. Sometimes, children with Dyslexia experience low self-esteem and assume they are not as smart as others because of their academic troubles. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that children with Dyslexia are entitled to special education assistance in public schools, usually from a reading specialist or special education tutor. For more information on the special education process, see OneToughJob’s fact sheet on Special Education. Even with extra help and support, your child may continue to struggle with academic work. is important that you remain in communication with her regular and special education teachers and help to find strategies that work for her. These can include using books on tape or a tape recorder, allowing some assignments to be modified slightly, not penalizing her for spelling mistakes, having her type written work with a word processing program that has a spell checker, helping her take notes (or obtaining a copy of class notes from a teacher or classmate), clarifying written instructions, and providing help with organizing and writing papers and long-term projects. Also, children with Dyslexia are at slightly higher risk for other learning or emotional difficulties. If you feel that extra services and support for her Dyslexia have not helped your child, ask to get her tested for other problems that could be affecting her, as these have their own diagnosis and treatment.
How you can help your child. Although your child may not enjoy reading because it presents a struggle, reading is important for both younger and older children because it helps in developing their creativity, listening skills, and ability to understand things. You can continue to read to your child, even when he is older. You can also encourage him to read something fun, like a magazine. Also, It is important that you support and encourage your child in other areas and activities that she enjoys and excels in to build her self-confidence and to foster participation in non-academic activities that may one day lead to a lifelong interest and career. While academic work may remain a challenge, bright children with dyslexia often go onto college. Be sure to inquire about academic supports available if you are looking at colleges.
For fact sheets on Dyslexia for both parents and teens, visit the International Dyslexia Association.
This article has been reviewed by Dr. Betsy Busch, MD