What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a multi-faceted, life-long neurobiological condition that combines auditory, memory, and language-based learning difficulties. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a child to succeed academically in a typical classroom setting.
The exact causes of dyslexia are not completely clear, but brain imagery studies have shed light on the differences in the brain development and functions between people who have dyslexia and those who do not.
According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), fifteen to twenty percent of the U.S. school population has dyslexia. They estimate that approximately 60% of individuals who have been diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have dyslexia. Roughly 5% of students who have dyslexia are properly identified and given support.
Thus, leaving a majority of children unidentified and left to tackle significant challenges in reading, spelling, and writing without interventions.
What Does Dyslexia Look Like?
In traditional education, the primary school years (grades preK-2) are often strongly rooted in a “learning to read” approach. From third grade on, instruction will focus on a “read to learn” approach, wherein students are expected to apply known decoding strategies automatically and accurately to read with improved fluency.
Their skills will lend to rapid reading abilities that will now help them to comprehend text for the purpose of gaining information and for pleasure. It is around this age that dyslexia is most evident, as the student is unable to keep up with his classmates, begins to experience frustration, and may lose his desire to read.
The brain learns through patterning. Think back to your early years of elementary school…the specific rules and patterns for spelling that you learned were taught explicitly and may have been embedded into your brain until today.
i before e except after c…
two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking…
These rules help to demystify reading and spelling by forging patterns between familiar and unfamiliar words. There are many more rules that exist, but are rarely taught in school because most people do not need a direct lesson in these rules to become good readers.
However, some require explicit instruction and direct explanations for the irregularities and exceptions that exist in our complicated English language. When a child is struggling with the development of reading skills in the early years, it is essential to conduct frequent screening to identify those who may be at risk for reading problems.
If specific warning signs are present, screening or evaluation will identify strengths and weaknesses and assist in recommending strategies and supports that may prevent further reading gaps from developing over time.
Potential Symptoms of Dyslexia in Preschool
- Delayed speech
- Chronic ear infections
- Difficulty pronouncing words
- Confusion with following directions
- Mixing the sounds and syllables in long words
- Difficulty learning the names of colors or shapes
- Trouble reciting the alphabet
- Difficulty with rhyming
- A family member with dyslexia
Potential Symptoms of Dyslexia in Elementary and Middle School
- Frequent spelling mistakes
- Letter or number reversals after first grade
- Slow, choppy reading
- Guessing after repeated exposure to letters or words
- Poor comprehension
- Poor memory for sight words (they, were, does)
- Difficulty following instructions with multiple steps
- Trouble memorizing math facts
The primary benefit of universal screening for dyslexia is to prevent the progression of reading problems associated with an unidentified reading disability. Evidence-based reading intervention provided in the early years can better prepare the child to confront reading at the word, sentence, and passage level. Screening can be administered as early as preschool and should check for developmental skills in the essential areas of reading including phonological awareness, letter-sound association, blending, word recognition fluency, word identification, vocabulary, oral reading fluency, and comprehension.
Here are some resources for universal screening and curriculum based measurement tools:
The results of a universal screening should be used to make informed decisions regarding intervention and recommendations for further, professional evaluation. Progress monitoring should be conducted frequently to ensure that the child is making adequate progress and to assist in determining the effectiveness of intervention(s).
It is important for parents and educators to recognize the significance of universal screening and early intervention to support struggling readers to afford them the best opportunities for developing strong literacy skills.
One thing that most students, parents, and teachers can agree upon is that the child who is identified with dyslexia cannot be placed inside a box of traditional education. A “one size fits all” educational model will not suffice.
How to Help Students with Dyslexia
Address the Core Issue(s)
A thorough evaluation will assess the five essential components of reading to identify areas of need. The dyslexic student will benefit from a structured and systematic approach to reading. Research indicates that explicit, multi-sensory instruction can actually change the brain when specific instruction is delivered consistently over time.
Gain a Deep Understanding of the Child as a Learner
Understanding the personal learning style, motivation, and interest will be essential to promoting a positive learning environment. Help the child to explore the dominant side of his brain. Right-brain strengths include imagination, art, visual memory, hands-on skills, music, and creativity. Incorporating these into learning will promote overall success.
An Explicit, Systematic, Multi-Sensory Instructional Approach is Key
Promote the child’s learning and memory by stimulating the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile senses. Here’s how:
- Visual: have the student write, draw, highlight, and refer to visual cues as memory anchors.
- Auditory: chant, repeat, read aloud, or sing to provide repetitive input for deeper learning.
- Tactile-kinesthetic: accompany concepts with movement, air-write, use manipulatives, act-it out to reinforce formation and patterns. Whenever possible, activate all of the senses simultaneously.
Empower Students with Tools
It will be important to identify appropriate accommodations and to develop a plan that includes beneficial services and supports. Learning to independently manipulate and apply strategies is vital to build fluent reading skills. Assistive technology offers great tools to enhance learning such as text-to-speech, spell check, visual/auditory books, voice note sharing, and more. Learning how to use these tools can help to alleviate stress and frustration.
Offer Enrichment Classes
Keep in mind that students who are challenged with dyslexia are most likely bright, creative, and talented individuals. Identify and develop their talents through art, music, technology, sports, and science.
Adults should model good reading skills at the earliest age. Neuroscience research has reported important discoveries in the development of mirror neurons, suggesting that the child will mimic good reading and fluency skills if he is repeatedly exposed to them. His attitude about reading can also be positively influenced when adults show enthusiasm for reading at home.
Universal screening is an important first step to supporting a child’s dyslexia. If concerns continue despite initial intervention, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation should be conducted.
The results of screening and evaluation should lend to an intervention plan that can identify the child’s needs, promote the implementation of evidence-based, multi-sensory instruction, and monitor progress at every grade. Early identification leads to essential prevention strategies and interventions that can give children the resources they need to understand dyslexia and become life-long readers.
About The Author
Dr. Kirstina Ordetx is a Level 4 Master Instructor with The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE). She holds a doctorate in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in pediatric neurology. Dr. Ordetx is an educational specialist with over 25 years of clinical experience, research, and consultation. She is a certified Structured Literacy Dyslexia Interventionist through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction, a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Executive Functions Coach, and a registered Licensed Mental Health Intern. Dr. Ordetx has published two books that compile her research and practice in Theory of Mind. She has served on accreditation committees for the Florida Council of Independent Schools, is a university adjunct professor in developmental and child psychology, and presents at various national and international conferences. Dr. Ordetx is head of school for a private academy in Lakewood Ranch, Florida specializing in the multi-sensory education of students who have language and learning-based differences. She is the Executive Director of the Pinnacle Pediatric Therapy Group, a multi-disciplinary, pediatric therapy clinic.
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The IMSE approach allows teachers to incorporate the five components essential to an effective reading program into their daily lessons: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
The approach is based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology and focuses on explicit, direct instruction that is sequential, structured, and multi-sensory.
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