Understanding Dyslexia: Information for Parents
If your child is struggling academically and you suspect there may be a reading problem or you’ve learned your child has dyslexia, it can be reassuring to know you are not alone and help is available. First, dyslexia is a surprisingly common learning difference. It is estimated that dyslexia affects between 8% and 17% of the school-aged population (Shaywitz, 1998). Second, there are not only resources but proven, research-based teaching methodologies that can help your child succeed.
What is Dyslexia? Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning difference (disability) that specifically impedes a person’s ability to read. This difficulty with reading is unexpected and not due to poor instruction, or visual or hearing difficulties.
Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics include difficulty:
- Manipulating sounds in words (i.e., say “cat” without the “t”; say “cat” now change the “a” sound to an “o” sound; say “tiger” without the “g”)
- Sounding out words
- Rapid naming.
Dyslexia cans usually be traced to a family history of reading difficulties and recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose an individual to struggling with reading in a way that is best described as dyslexia.
One way to think of dyslexia is that the language centers in the left hemisphere of the brain work differently in struggling readers than they do in people who read easily. As a result, children who have dyslexia need explicit instruction that helps them take in and retain information automatically stored by others. This instruction often looks different from instruction offered in traditional school settings. The instruction may be different with respect what is taught, how it is taught, and how intensive the instruction is. Children who have dyslexia need explicit, systematic phonics and spelling instruction that includes phonological and morphological awareness with multiple opportunities to practice and receive corrective feedback.
Separating Fact from Fiction – For parents with children who have dyslexia, it can be challenging to understand what dyslexia is, what it isn’t and how best to advocate for your child. Let’s explore a few facts and identify the fiction.
- Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is not defined as seeing letters and words backwards.
- Dyslexia is the most common form of learning disability (Fletcher, et al, 2002). Studies confirm that 80% of the students receiving special education for a specific learning disability have reading problems (Lerner 1989), of which 70% to 80% are best described as dyslexia.
- Dyslexia affects girls and boys equally, however, boys are more likely to be referred for diagnosis.
- Dyslexia exists along a continuum from mild to severe.
- Children can be identified or assessed reliably as a student who either is at-risk for or who struggles with reading as early as the preschool years. The exact cognitive and language information processes as well as skill deficits associated with struggling readers can be identified and quantified.
- Dyslexia is a persistent through the life span. Children with dyslexia do not “outgrow” reading difficulties. Explicit instruction is needed to gain reading skills and to learn how to “work around” processing difficulties.
- With intense systematic instruction, a person with dyslexia can become a strong reader. This is especially true if a child receives early and intensive intervention.
And to be perfectly clear, dyslexia is not:
- indicative of low cognitive ability or an inability to learn
- a lag in development that will “catch up”
- secondary to a late birthday
- the result of poor reading instruction
- a disorder of visual processing causing letter reversal and reading words backwards
- a life sentence of goals not achieved.
If You Suspect a Problem What Can You Do? One of the best ways to get started is to seek answers through a comprehensive evaluation. Evaluation results provide the necessary link between testing and effective educational programming. The final report is essentially a roadmap to help parents and educators better meet the child’s needs.
With evaluation results, options become available.
- You may want to approach your child’s school to advocate for support. The support may be provided using an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if your child qualifies for special education services. An IEP specifies goals and objectives to help the child gain skills and access grade level information and includes classroom accommodations or modifications, instruction with a special education teacher and other resources such as a speech-language pathologist. Often, an IEP is preceded by a Response-to-Intervention (RtI) approach to instruction. RtI targets a specific area of difficulty for instruction within a specified period of time. Progress is monitored. If after one or several rounds of RtI instruction (depending upon the parameters set up by the school district), a child may be referred for special education if RtI efforts have not resulted in desired outcomes.
- Many children with dyslexia make progress with a tutor outside of the school day or programmatic schedule. Research indicates that for tutoring to be effective, intensive remediation is necessary. The efficacy of tutoring depends upon the student’s learning profile and upon whether the needs of the student match the training of the tutor. Once weekly tutoring is often not enough for children who are markedly behind their peers in reading, and, the tutor must be trained in research-based methods developed for children with dyslexia.
- If your child already struggles to keep up in school taking the summer months off might cause them to fall even further behind when school starts in the fall. When children do not engage in academic activities over the summer months, learning loss can happen, and hard won knowledge is lost. Summer Reading Programs can help reduce the academic slide. However, the parameters of the program must match what and how your child needs to learn. You may decide that a combination of supports is what work best for your child.
- Many parents ask themselves, should my child continue to attend a traditional school or would a school that specializes in teaching students with specific learning differences be better? The first thing to know is that there is no right or wrong answer. There’s only what works best for your child. What to expect from a school that specializes in teaching children with dyslexia:
- A dyslexia-friendly, integrated approach that extends throughout the day and across all subjects.
- Teaching staff that are more qualified and better prepared to work with students with a range of learning difficulties – this is particularly important given dyslexia can co-present with dyspraxia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and attention difficulties.
- A flexible approach to instructional planning, that aligns with the child’s learning profile based on standardized assessment (not style – there is no science to support the notion of learning style) which should include: meeting the child where they are academically even if it is not on grade level; utilizing research-based methods of instruction, and; utilizing hardware and software to assist with skill practice (not skill instruction). These parameters will provide children with an educational experience that will support and improve their learning.
- In a school where most of the children have learning differences, your child is less likely to feel out of place.
Children with Dyslexia Can and Do Grow Up to be Very Successful –There are many people with dyslexia who have made tremendous contributions to mankind. They include famous entertainers, writers, athletes, physicians, scientists, political and business leaders. They also include mothers, fathers, teachers, friends, your neighbor, your child’s coach, your boss, people with dyslexia come from all walks of life and live successful, happy lives. Here are just a few prominent people with dyslexia:
- Pablo Picasso – trendsetting art icon
- Erin Brockovich – lawyer and environmental activist
- Steve Jobs – business magnate, entrepreneur, industrial designer, co-founder of Apple
- Jessica Watson – youngest to sail solo and unassisted around the world
- Jackie Stewart – auto racing star
- Agatha Christie – bestselling crime novelist, short story writer and playwright
- Jay Leno – famous comedian.
Final Thoughts When you find out your child has dyslexia, you naturally want to do everything possible to make things better. With so much information (and misinformation) available, it is challenging to know what to do. And, it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. Where do I go for help? How do I get a diagnosis? Should I consider a different school? Will my child ever read? Will my child be able to go to college? Will my child be happy?
The Summit School and Summit Resource Center are available to help as you gather the information necessary to make decisions and advocate on behalf of your child. Summit offers a wealth of resources including:
The Summit School is also a community. You will meet other parents, share experiences and have access to tools and information that will help set your child on the best possible path for success. It is a place where you will discover you are far from alone. Please join us for one of the many upcoming Community Talks, Drop-In Tours or an Open House or call 410-798-0005 for more information.
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About The Summit School – The Summit School was founded to serve children, grades 1-8, with dyslexia and other learning differences. The Summit School has an incredible record of helping children become successful learners. The core of Summit’s program incorporates: highly trained teachers, evidence-based instruction, hands-on, multi-sensory learning environments and small class sizes. For more information about The Summit School and Summit Resource Center please visit www.thesummitschool.org.