In honor of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, Eric Horowitz examines this learning difference and suggests assistance to help students overcome it
In some cases, a dyslexia diagnosis may mean that alternative teaching methods might be necessary to help children be successful, for it is through empowerment of bright students with dyslexia that they will ultimately fulfill their potential.
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference. It affects a child’s ability to read and may also interfere with reading comprehension, spelling, writing, math, and judgement. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence or vision. Children with dyslexia have trouble decoding words, matching letters to sounds, recognizing individual sounds in words, and using those skills to read accurately and fluently.
The most common learning issue, dyslexia may affect as many as 17% of the population; most experts agree that the number is at least 5–10%. The wide range is because dyslexia is a catchall term for disorders that affect reading or interpreting words, letters, or symbols, and experts have not reached agreement on precisely what falls in that category.
Dyslexia affects a number of daily functions. Writing, for example, requires the ability to synthesize or develop a thought, work out how the thought will be written, and perform the physical act of writing. Each of these steps requires a different brain process, and all must work correctly and in sequence to get a cohesive thought onto paper. A child with dyslexia will struggle with one or more of those steps; instead of a structured, well-ordered sentence, words may be jumbled and misspelled.
The automated processes in the brain that humans use every day to complete daily tasks are also affected by dyslexia. A child with dyslexia has poor memory recall and forgets words or concepts quickly. Also, a child with dyslexia may not always hear what others hear. For instance, “Pacific” might become “specific.”
Dealing with Dyslexia
The earlier dyslexia is recognized and diagnosed, the sooner intervention can begin and a child can be helped appropriately. Early signs of dyslexia can appear in preschool; they may look like a child being unable to recognize when two words rhyme or having difficulty learning new words. Older children may have trouble reading, spelling, writing, or comprehending what they read.
Each child with dyslexia has a unique learning profile, and education must involve an individualized, systematic program for the child. For example, phonemic awareness is the ability to break words apart and manipulate sounds; children with dyslexia need extensive repetition and focused instruction in this skill. They may also need to read much more to help the brain learn to interpret patterns and recognize words.
Additionally, children and their families may need extra support and specialized instruction such as through an individualized educational plan (IEP), occupational therapy, or a specialized school with a smaller student-to-teacher ratio and trained teachers experienced in learning differences. Beyond streamlined textbooks and academic instruction, students with dyslexia need interventions to enhance reading practice, develop fluency, support vocabulary development, boost math comprehension, maximize individual and whole-class learning, cultivate keyboard skills and healthy work habits, and monitor progress.
A Silver Lining
While dyslexia can certainly cause difficulties in reading, the inability to rely on memory means children with dyslexia can become very good at solving complex problems. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Einstein were all dyslexic. The condition helped them develop excellent imaginations, which gave them the ability to create inventions, art, and concepts that transformed the world.
Dyslexia can also foster tenacity; a child with dyslexia does have to try harder, but that can be seen as part of the learning process and lead to great success in other areas of his or her life in the long run. If your child has dyslexia or displays characteristics of concern, please seek advice. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome for the student.
Eric Horowitz joined the Prentice School teaching staff in the fall of 2007. He completed his undergraduate studies both in New York City at Sarah Lawrence College and in London at the London School of Economics and earned his MA in education. Eric has completed year two of the Slingerland multisensory structured language approach through the University of San Diego and continues to use the Slingerland method in the classroom. The Prentice School, located in N. Tustin, California, is a private, certified nonpublic school through the California Department of Education and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Prentice offers an unparalleled learning experience to students with learning differences who possess average to high intelligence and whose needs have not been met in a more traditional classroom setting.