What is Dyslexia?

The most widely accepted definition of dyslexia is “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” As stated formally by the International Dyslexia Association Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002.

This means that dyslexia is a specific difficulty in word level reading and spelling that is caused by difficulty breaking words up into sounds even though the student has the cognitive capacity to learn how to read.

Dyslexia is not "seeing backward" or just reversing letters. While some children with dyslexia continue with letter reversals past the typical time frame (many children do this normally through age 8), many children with dyslexia do not display any letter reversals.

Check out the video below which offers a concrete explanation of dyslexia in a more visual format.

What are the Signs of Dyslexia?

Difficulty in these areas are red flags or possible indicators of dyslexia:

  • Learning to speak
  • Learning letters and their sounds
  • Organizing written and spoken language
  • Sounding out words
  • Reading quickly enough to comprehend
  • Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
  • Spelling
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Memorizing number facts and/or correctly completing math operations

Not all students who have difficulties with these skills have dyslexia. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.

How Many People Are Affected by Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is thought to be one of the most common language-based learning disabilities. It is the most common cause of reading, writing, and spelling difficulties. Of people with reading difficulties, 70-80% are likely to have some form of dyslexia. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people has dyslexia. The symptoms of dyslexia range from mild to severe.

Is There a Cure for Dyslexia?

There is not a cure for dyslexia because dyslexia is not a disease. Many people with dyslexia are able to succeed academically and in their lives with appropriate support, proper instruction, and hard work. Dyslexia is a life-long condition, but appropriate intervention can provide tools and the ability to learn to compensate so a person is able to experience success. After an evaluation determines the specific area(s) of difficulty and disability, it is necessary that the child’s school and/or instructor are able to utilize a systematic, multisensory, Orton-Gillingham approach to language instruction.

Recommendations for Students Struggling with Dyslexia

Additional Time

  • Truly, the gift of additional time is one of the best accommodations for children diagnosed with dyslexia. Because they have difficulty with fluid word recognition and reading ability, tesk-taking and assignments take longer. Generally somewhere between 25-50% additional time is recommended based on the level of the processing speed and reading fluency deficit present.

Oral Tests & Audio Text Books

  • The goal of assessments and assignments should be to assess the level of knowledge a student has on any given topic, not their reading ability. Allowing students the ability to obtain or demonstrate knowledge through their strongest ability (listening) will give a more solid representation of their true knowledge in that particular area.
  • Programs such as Learning Ally, BookShare, Audible, and even the local library have many books available on audio.

Project Based Learning & Testing

  • Wherever possible, allow students the opportunity for hands-on-learning. Teach from a top-down approach where the big picture is explained first with a subsequent focus on each element that forms together to create the "big picture".
  • Explain things with use of visuals as opposed to lengthy discussions and written material where possible.
  • Allow students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge on a topic through a project as opposed to a written test.

Spelling

  • Present spelling lists in a structured format with patterned lists focusing on specific syllable types or spelling patterns (e.g., "ai" versus "ay" - when do we use each?).
  • Do NOT penalize for spelling in written work, unless a word-bank has been provided for students to refer back to, all this will do is limit the amount of written work a student will produce because they will be unlikely to use larger vocabulary words.

How is Dyslexia Treated?

Early identification and treatment is key in dyslexia remediation. Dyslexia is best treated by using a multisensory, structured language approach. The instruction should be a systematic and explicit method that involves several senses (hearing, seeing, touching) at the same time.

Instruction should include a great deal of structured practice and immediate, corrective feedback to develop automatic word recognition skills. Schools can implement academic accommodations and modifications to help students with dyslexia succeed in the general education classroom.

How Long Will My Child Have to Participate in Therapy or Tutoring for Dyslexia?

This is a hard question to answer since everyone develops and learns at their own individual pace. Your child's school and/or instructor should be able to talk with you about setting and achieving attainable goals, the projected duration of learning therapy and how your child is responding to the intervention program being used. The professional should provide you with progress updates based on data obtained using a progress monitoring tool. This data will help determine whether the intervention model is beneficial for your child or if the clinician needs to look at making changes.

Will Vision Therapy Help My Dyslexic Child?

According to the Joint Policy Statement of the American Academy of Optometry and American Optometric Association, “Vision therapy does not directly treat learning disabilities or dyslexia.” Check out the full article on this controversial treatment method here: Joint Statement