by Johnna Stein
What do Keira Knightly, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Danny Glover all have in common? They had to overcome the challenges of dyslexia to accomplish their ambitious goals. Dyslexia, while treatable, can be difficult to spot.
A common scenario is the case of seventh-grader Collin Smith. He and his mom didn’t understand why Collin, who has a 140-plus IQ, was struggling to maintain a “B” average. After a preliminary screening, Collin and his mom learned that he has dyslexia. After only six months of reading intervention, Collin is almost on track for his reading level.
Parents often know something is wrong but can’t put their finger on it. Lynne Dawson’s daughter, Beth, was clever in so many ways. She was in the gifted program. Yet she struggled in school and spent many hours on her homework. At the end of second grade, the teacher concluded Beth was a slow learner. The teacher was sure nothing was wrong with Beth. But Lynne felt unsettled. There was something wrong. In a desperate attempt to figure it out before the next school year, she had Beth tested that summer. Dyslexia turned out to be the culprit.
Myth: People with dyslexia have low intelligence.
People often view dyslexia as a disability associated with low intelligence, but this is rarely true. Usually the intelligence of dyslexics runs from average to gifted. In fact, intelligent children often are able to hide their dyslexia early on.
Myth: Dyslexia is a behavioral problem.
The problem is not behavioral, psychological or motivational. It’s a language-based problem. However, behavioral issues will sometimes surface in a child who hasn’t been
diagnosed. Teachers tend to call these kids lazy or unmotivated. Sometimes children are labeled slow learners when they have no problem thinking, just challenges with reading, writing or spelling. A pattern of low performance will also affect a child’s self-esteem, which can contribute to behavioral issues. Children who don’t read well develop anxiety, which often leads to either shutting down in the classroom or becoming the class clown.
Myth: People with dyslexia read backward.
Although some dyslexics flip letters, many do not. Dyslexia is not a visual problem. It literally means difficulty with words. The real issue is a language disorder and how the brain processes language. Brains of dyslexics look different. When an MRI is done, a dyslexic’s brain shows less activity on the left side where reading is processed. Studies show that after intense, systematic instruction in reading, distinct activation of the left side of the brain occurs. Implementing multi-sensory activities within a structured program allows pathways to the brain to open up and increases learning.
Myth: More boys than girls have dyslexia.
The breakdown between boys and girls is pretty much 50/50. Dyslexia tends to show up earlier with boys because of behavioral issues that often crop up in the classroom. Girls often hide their dyslexia by working incredibly hard and spending more time on homework.
Myth: Dyslexia is a phase.
If only that were true! Unfortunately, dyslexia is a lifelong disorder with no cure. Fortunately, with early, proper intervention, most students can become capable, fluent readers. What does the right kind of intervention look like? It needs to be a systematic, structured, multi-sensory approach using phonemic awareness. Many tutors use Orton-Gillingham-based programs and insist on seeing the child at least twice a week. The brain actually is retrained to look at words as separate parts (decoding skills) instead of symbols. Great amounts of repetition are needed to achieve this.
So what can you do if you think your child might have a reading problem caused by dyslexia? Parents often have a sixth sense that something is wrong. If the teacher says your child is doing fine, but you think your child is not performing at the level he could, trust your gut. Typically, public schools in the greater Atlanta area do not screen or test for dyslexia. However, most private reading centers can perform a screening for a moderate fee. Once you learn the results, you can determine the type of intervention necessary.
Possible signs of dyslexia in preschoolers:
Late or delayed speech
Poor memory or dislike of nursery rhymes
Mixing up sounds and syllables (sketti: spaghetti; hangaber: hamburger)
Difficulty learning colors, days of the week, shapes, numbers
Difficulty learning how to spell or write one’s name
Possible signs of dyslexia K-4:
Difficulty learning letter names and sounds
Difficulty breaking words into sounds
Can’t remember sight words
Slow, choppy, word-by-word reading
Avoids reading long passages or books
Very poor speller
Good verbal comprehension; poor reading comprehension