What is Dyslexia? Symptoms of Dyslexia? Answers from the Voice of Experience.
The information and advice on this site is provided by a dyslexic, giving inside knowledge on the various ways of coping with Dyslexia and Learning Disability.
WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
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When speaking to groups, I explain that being dyslexic is like running a 100-meter track race. In my lane I have hurdles, but no one else does. I have this feeling that it's unfair that I’m the only one with hurdles but don’t know how to explain it. Soon the feeling leaves me as the starting gun shoots and I take off running. I try running like the other classmates, because we have all had the same education on how to run. But then I hit the first hurdle and fall flat on my face. My parents and teachers are yelling at me from the sidelines “ try harder, the other kids are making it down the track ok, you must be lazy or slow”. Pulling myself up I try running faster and fall even harder after hitting the next hurdle. Then someone takes the time to show me how to run hurdles and like an Olympic hurdler, I outrun the other classmates. The key, though, is that I have to do it differently, the way that works best for me. Learning is like a tailored suit; it takes a while and is unique to everyone.- DML
How shall we recognize him or her? Alfred said, "I can think okay." The dyslexic's intelligence, vision, hearing, motor control and physical development are from very good to poor but mostly around average, as with everybody else. He has no more problems with home life, school attendance and emotional life than anyone else - except as they result from the frustration and discouragement caused by failure. "It's just my word's," said Alfred.
"I forget them." He cannot learn and remember whole words by sight so he has trouble with reading in the regular class. Perhaps he cannot remember letters, so he gets them twisted - b for d, and so on. Often he cannot call up the words he wants to say, "Oh, you know that think you use to write with…" "Yesterday - I mean tomorrow- sometime or other."
"And I can't manage them." The words come out wrong, "basgetti and cheese", or in the wrong order, "please up hurry!"
He may be clumsy in general, or he may have beautiful coordination except for the pencil so that his handwriting is irregular, slow, cramped and hard to figure out.
Managing letters in spelling is even harder. He writes p for b, was for saw, left for felt, and many others. Even in high school, what we call nuclear may be unclear to him.
He may have trouble with math. It is another language and its numbers take a lot of remembering and managing.
The dyslexic finds organization, managing his life, difficult. His possessions, his homework instructions, his sense of direction or time may often get mixed up.
It is quite probable that some other members of his family, through the generations, have found language hard to master, one way or another.
Dyslexia is not a "disease" to "have" and "be cured of", but a kind of mind. Very often it is a gifted mind - there have been many famous, productive, creative dyslexics. Every one of us is unique, different from everyone else, and people's ways of coming to terms with language are some of their normal differences.
If you are a dyslexic, this is the kind of mind you have. It is yours for life. You can teach it to work better and better, and you can congratulate yourself on its strengths and creative abilities.
Dyslexia was first general term used to
describe it. Now over 70 names are used to describe various aspects of dyslexia.
The urgent need for more dyslexia research
- It is estimated that as many as 15 percent of American students may be dyslexic. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- It is estimated that the cost of illiteracy to business and the taxpayer is $20 billion per year. United Way, "Illiteracy: A National Crisis"
- 50 percent of American adults are unable to read an eighth grade level book. Jonathan Kozol, Illiterate America
- Approximately 50 percent of the nation's unemployed youth age 16-21 are functional illiterate, with virtually no prospects of obtaining good jobs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- 60 percent of America's prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. U.S. Department of Education
- 15 percent of the population has specific reading disorders. Of these 15 percent as many as 1/3 may show change in the brain structure. Albert M. Galaburda, M.D., Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
- Over 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic. They are deliberately sought after because they have superb problem solving skills and excellent 3D and spatial awareness.
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Questions often asked about Dyslexia
What is dyslexia? The term dyslexia simply means difficulty with words. The term "dyslexia" was coined more than a hundred years ago. Over the years it has been defined in several different ways. As used here, "dyslexia" refers to intelligent children and adults who have no limiting physical or emotional problems but who, despite conventional classroom experience, do not learn to read, write, spell, and comprehend as expected. Such children, unless they receive appropriate instruction, become adults whose reading and related language skills fall significantly below their general intelligence.
What are the causes of dyslexia? The causes of dyslexia still escape the researchers but we may be on the verge of some important discoveries. Within the last decade, there has been some stimulating research in this area. The emerging premise underlying much of the research is one of neurological origin. Neuroscientists have identified that brain cells have developed differently in persons with dyslexia. These differences do not affect their general intelligence, but do make reading and related language processing more difficult.
How may dyslexics are there? Estimate of the number of dyslexic persons in the United States vary from 5% to 10% of the total population. Within this range, dyslexia varies in terms of degree of severity.
Is it True that dyslexics are often unusually capable in creative activities? Yes. Dyslexics are average or above average in intelligence. They tend to excel in architecture, engineering, science, music, art and sometimes math. They like, and are good at, hands-on activities. They often have the knack to see the "big picture" with comparative ease.
How do you identify dyslexia? Dyslexia is often referred to as "the hidden handicap". Most visible are reading, spelling, and writing difficulties. Common in oral reading and spelling are reversals, substitutions, omissions, and additions of letters, syllables, or words. Spelling is typically very poor and may be bizarre. There may be blending and sequencing problems: speech sounds cannot be put together; the days of the week or months of the year cannot be presented in order. There may be confusion in directionality (left right, up-down, etc.) and in learning to tell time. Problems in remembering things are common, especially when it involves written language. The puzzling thing about all these characteristics is that they are found in children of average or above average intelligence with no limiting physical or psychological problems which could explain these difficulties.
Are there any famous dyslexics? Yes. Thomas Edison, Hans Christian Anderson,
Albert Einstein, Gustave Flaubert, General George Patton, Nelson Rockefeller,
Erma Bombeck, athletic champions like Bruce Jenner and Greg Louganis, actors
like Susan Hampshire, Tom Cruise, and Cher to name a few.
What is Dyslexia?
HERE ARE THREE DEFINITIONS-
The word dyslexia is made of dys - poor or inadequate (learning or master of), and lexia - verbal language. When Alfred was ten years old, he put this into plain English, "I can think okay. What's wrong with me is just my words. I forget them and I can't manage them." A more formal definition has recently been proposed by the Orton Dyslexia Society and adopted by the National Institutes of Health (1994). This definition is:
"Dyslexia is one of several distinct learning disabilities. It is a specific language based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonologically processing abilities. These difficulties in single word decoding are often unexpected in relation to age and other cognitive and academic abilities; they are not the result of generalized developmental disability or sensory impairment. Dyslexia is manifested by variable difficulty with different forms of language, often including, in addition to problems in reading, a conspicuous problem with acquiring proficiency in writing and spelling.
Some people have a talent for learning their native language. Early in life and almost without effort, they seem to learn to understand speech and to make themselves understood. They learn reading, writing and spelling in the early grades at school or before. They present their thoughts clearly by word of mouth or in writing.
Most of us must work harder and need more teaching to become as competent in these skills as we need to be.
For some people, one tenth or more of us, this learning is excessively hard. It is so hard that it gets in the way of progress in personal growth, in school, and in work. If the difficulty is severe enough to become a problem and is out of line with the person's other abilities and his home and school opportunities, we can call it dyslexia, or specific language difficulty.
This is a real important problem which deserves our study and efforts. The
disability which often results is hampering, but it need be only temporary. It
can be mastered by appropriate education, suited to the inborn differences in
Voices of experience
A Column for Adults with LD by Veronica Lieb
Well into adulthood, Dr. James Russell discovered that he is intellectually gifted. He has known since childhood that he has a learning disability. Dr. Russell earned his Ph.D. from St. Louis University in 1996. He currently instructs undergraduate students at Webster University on assessment of exceptional students while maintaining a private practice in counseling and assessing adults and adolescents with learning disabilities. The misconceptions about people who are both gifted and learning disabled has personal and professional relevance for Jim. I asked Dr. Russell what the most difficult aspect is when working with the Gifted/Learning Disabled population.
Dr. Russell. This is a complex question. What comes to mind first is that being gifted and learning disabled (GT/LD) means being misunderstood. The difficulties that GT/LD people encounter in everyday living are overwhelming. For instance, they tend to experience perfectionism that all but "stops their progress." I wonder how many potential Einstein's have been lost because they were completely misunderstood?
People who are GT/LD tend to be supersensitive. It's as if they see a reality that is hidden from the conventional world. They march to the beat of a different drummer - one wherein they may have unrealistic self expectations, where they can experience a high level of frustration.
Experiencing chronically low self-esteem, they endure the callous remarks of uniformed others, such as, "If you are so smart, why can't you spell?" After hearing that statement several hundred times (actually it's more like several thousand times) even the most gifted people begin to wonder if they are even marginally intelligent.
GT/LD people are the least likely group to receive special education support services during their school years. They can be "average" students because their areas of strengths pull up the areas of weaknesses. But at what cost to the person?
At this point, you may be thinking that I am jaded. I am. Recently a
wonderful young GT/LD man, a potential Einstein, ended his life. His family is
left with an absence that is surreal. His perfectionism, super sensitivity,
unrealistic self-expectations, incapacitating frustration, and low self-esteem,
encumbered him. Even though burdened with so heavy a load, he was courageous,
kind and good until the very end. I am angry because society didn't seem to
understand him. Ii am sad for our loss because we couldn't nurture the "gifts"
of this young GT/LD person. His life is over but his essence may live on.
Hopefully, the memory of this gifted person can serve as a beacon guiding us
toward a road less traveled.
Learning disability: A respectable difference; not a deforming handicap
I wrote a column about first hand account on what it was like to grow up with a learning disability. To find out what the experts had to say about learning disabilities, I contacted three psychologists who are nationally known for their work in this area: Frank Gresham at the School of Education, University of California at Riverside, Robert Brooks at Harvard Medical School and George Nixon, a psychologist in private practice in Waco and Austin, Texas.
Accurate assessment and appropriate help. In the school system, learning disability is a term used to describe a child who has unexpectedly underachieved in the classroom, who is not mentally or emotionally disabled. In 1975, landmark federal legislation was passed with special funding to help learning disabled children have equal opportunities in our educational system. To qualify for special help, a learning disabled child has to have a discrepancy between IQ and achievement in the classroom. A lot of the professional debate relates to what is the best discrepancy formula. There are 15 categories of disability. Learning Disabilities (LD) is the largest with 52 percent of the total. Gresham points out that from 1977 to 1993 the diagnosis of LD increased nationally by 198 percent while mental retardation fell by 41 percent. His main point was that LD is becoming a catchall umbrella category for all under achievement. The truly learning disabled child is mixed in with a garden variety of low achievers, children with emotional and behavioral problems and mental retardation. Decisions are made based on where the money is, availability of teachers and space, budget and other political/legal considerations. Over identification and over labeling of LD hurts the genuine LD student. Fifty percent of LD students also have Attention Deficit Disorder. LD children often have significant emotional and behavioral problems. Some children may have more than one problem. Gresham emphasizes that learning disability programs need to address social skill deficits, acting out behavior, attention problems and academic goals simultaneously. These problems have reciprocal effects. He recommends programs that teach phonics, skills based on direct instruction techniques. California's misguided experiment with a whole language method to address learning disabilities actually made learning more difficult. He likes the Distar reading program developed by the University of Oregon. Choral reading, choral feedback, teaching of lending skills and repetition are key components.
A more humane environment. Brooks has studied the self-motivation and resilience of LD children. He analyzed the stories they wrote of their lives and experiences. Brooks is impressed with how despairing these children are. They are made to feel foolish, accused or judged when they don't understand something. LD children describe how different and ill at ease they feel. They internalize labels of "dumb" and "stupid" and often feel like giving up. Brooks recommends helping LD students to feel like they really belong, welcomed, and special in some way. They should be greeted by name with a nice smile and recognized with nice notes of appreciation. An extra 10 minutes of special attention has a big effect. LD students need to help or contribute to the school. They need to feel competent and have their areas of strength displayed (art work, special recognition) for others to see. LD students need to have feelings of autonomy and self-determination - to be listened to and given choices to be involved in their own education. For example, on a homework assignment of eight problems, they might be asked to do five or six of their own choices. Brooks feels that LD children benefit by being open about their strengths and difficulties. The problem is not motivation or low intelligence. It is a hidden disability that needs accommodation and special help in the classroom along with a focus on strengths. According to Brooks, "The least fair thing you can do is treat each child the same." These children need caring and support, not humiliation and intimidation. They need accountability and reasonable expectations. They need accurate assessments and respect for their learning style.
Rights of children. Nixon is an outspoken advocate for children with learning
disabilities. He experienced this situation as his own daughter went through the
school system. He urges parents to become familiar with their rights and
aggressively assert them. The biggest mistake he sees is that parents ignore the
problem and the child suffers in high school or college because their learning
disability was never adequately addressed. He recommends diagnosing the problem
early and treating it early. Special assistance can make a difference. If a LD
child can't do the work, find out why and address the issues. Individual
education plans (IEP
visit http://theglp.info/resources/sec-504iep) need to be modified to take into account problems with
discipline, impulsiveness and lack of attention. Too often these problems are
dealt with positively. Nixon believes that LD children should be mainstreamed
unless they are working on a specific skill such as spelling, math or a
developmentally specialized reading program. Classroom teachers need to be aware
of the IEP and make allowances for exams, audiovisual materials and for the
child's style of learning. Students should have the self-confidence to call
their disability to the teacher's attention when necessary. A learning
disability means a respectable difference and not a deforming handicap. It is a
good message for educators, parents and for the children themselves. For those
with Internet access, visit Farmer at Http/www.threadimages.com/vfarmer.htm
A Dyslexia Primer
By Tracy L. Tanner
Columbus State University
Research in Learning Disabilities
The definition of dyslexia was investigated. In brief, it is a non-curable, life-long disorder that affects an individual’s ability to process information as applied to reading, spelling, writing, and math. There exists a discrepancy between what the individual does and what the individual is capable of doing. Dyslexics are a heterogeneous group and no two are affected the same by the many characteristics associated with dyslexia. Treatment for dyslexia is only possible after the strengths and weaknesses of the dyslexic are assessed. Assessment types vary, but cognitive skills and processing skills must be assessed. Early intervention is critical to overcoming deficiencies and tests exist to identify those children at risk as early as the age of 4. Strategies for teaching dyslexic children include building self-esteem, identifying strengths and encouraging the child to capitalize on those strengths, teaching phonologically processing skills, and varying teaching styles to include using multi-sensory approaches.
Many feel that dyslexia is the most misunderstood word in the educational realm
(Richards, 2000). Because of this, identification of and strategies toward “curing” create a diagnostic and treatment conundrum.
The advice provided in this article is based on the research I have gathered and attempts to make the definition of dyslexia more clear. Additionally, common signs found in those who are dyslexic will be discussed. And finally, assessments used to diagnose and instructional strategies that aid individuals with dyslexia will be reviewed.
Literally translated, dyslexia means a “dysfunction with words” (the Latin prefix dys means “difficult” or “faulty” and the Greek root lexia refers to “words”) (Barr, Blachowicz, Katz, Kaufman). This breakdown of the word seems fairly straightforward, and the misunderstanding of its meaning seems ridiculous. If a person has difficulty with words, he or she is dyslexic. End of story? Not quite. To what type of difficulty with words does this definition refer?
Percy F., … aged 14, … has always been a bright and intelligent boy,” wrote Morgan. “… quick at games, and in no way inferior to others of his age. His great difficulty has been – and is now – his inability to learn to read” (Shaywitz).
Morgan’s description of Percy F. continued, “ … in spite of his laborious and persistent training, he can only with difficulty spell out words of one syllable.” “The schoolmaster who taught him for some years says that he would be the smartest lad in the school if the instruction were entirely oral” (BDA).
“Symptoms” experienced by Percy F. over 100 years ago as documented by Morgan are among those prevalent in individuals who are labeled as dyslexic today. He had difficulty learning to read – be damned his perseverance. Additionally, he had difficulty spelling words of only one syllable. Despite his inability to read or spell, his schoolmaster thought him capable of being at the top of his class if all instruction were given orally. Percy F. didn’t have a problem understanding spoken language; it was the laborious job of deciphering words in print that gave him trouble.
When Percy F. wrote words, he made curious mistakes. For example, he wrote scone for song, senig for shilling, seasow for seashore, and Precy for Percy. When Percy read aloud, he was unable to read a single word correctly, with the exception of a, the, of, that, etc. Other words seemed to be quite unknown to him and he could not even make an attempt to pronounce them (Garfield).
A modern-day dyslexic, explains his feelings: “… being dyslexic is like running a 100-meter race. In your lane you have hurdles, but no one else does. You feel that it’s unfair but you try running like the other competitors anyway. Then you hit a hurdle and fall flat on your face. Your parents and teachers are yelling at you to try harder, so you run faster and faster and fall even harder. Then someone takes the time to show you how to run hurdles and, like an Olympic runner, you outrun the others. The key, though, is that you have to do it differently, the way that works best for you.”
For Percy F., doing it differently would have meant that all instruction was given to him orally and that his responses during assessment would have also been given orally.
International Dyslexia Association 1994 Definition
IDA Definition Revised
What Dyslexia Is
Dyslexia is not a disease; it has no cure.
No, a cure in three months for this young man is not in the cards. However, he can learn to do it differently – the way that works best for him.
Dyslexia is a life-long condition. With proper help, people with dyslexia can learn to read and/or write well. Early identification and treatment is the key to helping dyslexics achieve in school and in life. If children who are dyslexic get effective phonological training in kindergarten and first grade, they will have significantly fewer problems in learning to read at grade level than children who are not identified or helped until third grade. (IDA).
It is not a problem of vision; people with dyslexia do not “see backward.”
Because research on brain functioning has not found evidence to support the notion of a visual basis for most reading difficulties, it is important to understand that what often appears to be a perceptual problem (reading words backwards, skipping words, etc.) usually seems to be directly related to sequential/rational information processing (Garfield).
This includes poor sequencing of numbers and/or of letters in words, when read or written, e.g.: b-d; sing-sign; left-felt; soiled-solid; 12-21 (IDA).
In other words, when students experience difficulty sequencing and organizing detailed information, they often have difficulty with the sequence of letters and words as they read (Cite).
Dyslexia and the Brain
This was never proven. In fact, current findings show that the left hemisphere does specialize in the language function and the right hemisphere controls nonverbal functions. However, the two hemispheres of the brain do not work altogether independently; there are many interrelating elements and functions. Inefficient functioning of either hemisphere reduces the total effectiveness of individuals and affects their acquisition and use of language (Lerner).
People with dyslexia are unique, each having individual strengths and
weakness. Many dyslexics are creative and have unusual talent in areas
such as art, athletics, architecture, graphics, electronics, mechanics,
drama, music, or engineering. Dyslexics often show special talent in areas
that require visual, spatial and motor integration.
George S. Patton Jr. didn’t learn to read at all until he was 12-years-old and continued having difficulty reading all his life. He got through school by memorizing his teachers’ entire lectures. But not being able to read didn’t stop him. He is thought to be one of the greatest strategists in military history and gained fame as a four-star general in World War II (Drew, Hardman, Egan).
Albert Einstein was thought to be “simple-minded.” He didn’t speak until the age of 3, and even as an adult found searching for words laborious and was unable to express himself in written language. He discovered that he could achieve through visualizing rather than using oral language. His theory of relativity was developed in his spare time. Time magazine named him the most important person of the 20th century (Drew, Hardman, Egan).
Tom Cruise has never learned to read due to severe dyslexia and was unable to finish high school. As one of today’s most accomplished actors, he memorizes his lines from an auditory source, such as a cassette tape or someone reading to him (Drew, Hardman, Egan).
Early Detection Crucial
According to the statistics, they are not alone. The International Dyslexic Association reports that 74 percent of the children who were poor readers in the third grade remained poor readers in the ninth grade. And, of course, this followed them into adulthood. Today, one big push is early detection of dyslexia. But what does an individual with dyslexia look like? Dyslexia strikes all groups, regardless of age, race, or income (IDA). The fact is he or she will look just like any other young child anxious to begin his or her school career. As stated earlier, a person with dyslexia may even appear brighter than the normal child.
Educators owe it to these young minds to become aware of traits exhibited by dyslexics so that early assessment and intervention can take place.
How Dyslexia Looks
When answering the questions, “What is dyslexia like,” and “How shall we recognize a person with dyslexia,” he recalls how a young dyslexic, Alfred, explained it to him.
“I can think okay,” Alfred said.
The dyslexic’s intelligence, vision, hearing, motor control and physical development are from very good to poor, but mostly around average, as with everybody else. He has no more problems at home, attending school or with his emotions than anyone else – except as a result of the frustration and discouragement caused by failure.
“It’s just my words,” Alfred said. “I forget them.”
He cannot learn and remember whole words by sight, so he has trouble with reading in the regular class. Perhaps he cannot remember letters, so he gets them twisted – b for d, and so on.
Often he cannot call up the words he wants to say. “Oh, you know that thing you use to write with …” “Yesterday – I mean tomorrow – sometime or other.”
“And I can’t manage them” The words come out wrong, “basgetti and cheese,” or in the wrong order, “please up hurry!”
Like Alfred, many dyslexics have trouble getting their words out orally, and when they try to write them down often they are jumbled. This results in their difficulties with spelling. However, reading and writing letters in the wrong order is just one manifestation of dyslexia and does not occur in all cases (IDA).
Discrepancies Will Exist
One of the strongest clues that something is wrong is when a child, who attends school on a regular basis, appears to be average or bright when talking, but struggles to read, spell or cope with math. It is common for dyslexic children to be quite able, especially in the areas of creativity (art, drama, drawing, etc.) and physical coordination (physical education, swimming, sports, model making, etc.). However, there are differences in the neural links in their brain that makes it hard for them to deal with text (and often with numbers) without extra support. A reading age or grade level of two years below where the child is expected to be is a sign of possible dyslexia (Dyslexia Teacher). If a discrepancy between the pupil’s ability and his/her actual achievement exists, it is necessary to look at other possible symptoms associated with dyslexia as they apply to the child, and assessment is needed.
Reading, Writing Spelling Difficulties
Difficulties with reading
Difficulties with spelling
Dyslexic children also experience difficulties with jumbled spellings. These are spelling attempts in which all the correct letters are present, but are written in the wrong order. Examples include: dose/does, freind/friend, siad/said, bule/blue, becuase/because, and wores/worse. Jumbled spellings show that the child is experiencing difficulty with visual memory. Non-dyslexic children and adults often use their visual memory when trying to remember a difficult word: they write down two or three possible versions of the word and see which spelling “looks right.” They are relying on their visual memory to help them, but the visual memory of a dyslexic child may not be adequate for this task (Dyslexia Teacher).
Writing letters or numbers backward
A family history of learning difficulties
This has been found to be more common in boys than girls and is thought to be due to an excess of the male hormone testosterone during pregnancy. If there is a history of learning difficulties among one or more members of the family, it might be significant (Dyslexia Teacher).
Confusion over left and right
Difficulties with math
Difficulties with organizing themselves
Difficulty following 2- or 3-step instructions
Delay in learning to tell time
Phobias and related mood and obsessive/compulsive disorders
As mentioned earlier, dyslexia is not a disease to be cured. Although early diagnosis represents the best possibility for intervention that will allow a dyslexic to learn, that is not always the case. Many dyslexics are never properly diagnosed as such and go through their entire lives feeling frustrated by their inabilities to read and write. Knowing the common signs associated with dyslexia is imperative. And realizing that these signs differ from childhood to adulthood and being aware of the signs through the different stages will allow educators of all ages to diagnose, assess, and use strategies that will alleviate the burden those affected feel.
In the IDA’s ABCs of Dyslexia, commons signs associated with pre-school, grades K-4, grades 5-8, high school and college graduates, and adults are specified.
Common Signs: Pre-School
-- Word reversals – tip for pit
-- Inversions – m and w, u and n
-- Transpositions – felt and left
-- Substitutions – house and home
May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x /
Davis said she had missed his point. The genius of these famous people didn’t occur in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it, he insists.
Of course, having dyslexia won’t make every dyslexic a genius, but it is good for the self-esteem of all dyslexics to know their minds work in exactly the same way as the minds of great geniuses. It is also important for them to know that having a problem with reading, writing, spelling or math doesn’t mean they are dumb or stupid. The same mental function that causes dyslexia is a gift in the truest sense of the word: a natural ability, a talent. It is something special that enhances the individual. Dyslexics don’t all develop the same gifts, but they do have certain mental functions in common (Davis).
Here are the basic abilities all dyslexics share:
They can utilize the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions
(the primary ability).
In diagnosing dyslexia, the ranges of areas that must be considered include the child’s cognitive ability, the skills in language, reading and writing, and the processing components (Richards).
The KABC has been around since 1983. It assesses intelligence (sequential and simultaneous processing) and achievement in vocabulary, arithmetic, and reading for age/grade levels 2.6 through 12.6 years. The K-ABC can be helpful in determining general intellectual ability and overall achievement in vocabulary, arithmetic and reading. However, the K-ABC should be used cautiously with students who have diverse backgrounds because some test items may be biased (Cohen, Spenciner).
The WISC-III was published in 1991 to assess intellectual ability and areas of strength and weakness for age/grade levels 6 years through 16 years, 11 months. The WISC-III can be used when conducting a psychoeducational assessment, diagnosing special needs, determining eligibility for services, and during clinical and neuropsychological assessment (Cohen, Spenciner).
In addition to these tests, any of the wide range of standardized tests for language, reading, and writing can be used to identify skills in these areas, according to Richards. However, in identifying dyslexia, the student’s performances must be analyzed and compared. For example, reading of real words in a list may be compared to reading of nonsense words in a list. Does the child make the same types of errors or different errors? Are there more or fewer errors in one task? (Richards).
Phonological Awareness: analysis and synthesis of the sound structure
of oral language. The order of progression of phonological awareness starts
with syllables and moves toward smaller units of speech sounds. Phonological
awareness provides individuals with the ability to break words into syllables
and component phonemes, to synthesize words from discrete sounds and to
learn about the distinctive features of words (Lennon, Slesinski)
There are two versions of the CTOPP, which are intended to provide a reliable, valid, and standardized measure of phonological coding for kindergarteners and first graders, ages 5 and 6, and the second version for second graders through college students, ages 7-24 ( Lennon, Slesinski).
Early Identification Procedures
As stated earlier in this paper, the earlier intervention is provided, the easier deficiencies are to overcome. Joseph Torgesen, a Distinguished Research Professor of psychology and education at Florida State University has been part of the research effort sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to identify the nature, causes, and best approaches to instruction for children with moderate to severe reading problems. In his article, “Catch Them Before They Fall: Identification and Assessment to Prevent Reading Failure in Young Children,” he focuses on early identification of children at risk for problems in learning to read.
Torgesen cautions that in selecting procedures for early identification of children at risk for reading difficulties, it should be noted that prediction accuracy increases significantly the longer a child has been in school. He noted that prediction of reading disabilities from tests given at the beginning of first grade is significantly more accurate than from tests administered during the first semester of kindergarten. This is due to the widely varying range of children’s preschool learning opportunities. Children may score low on early identification instruments in the first semester of kindergarten simply because they have not had the opportunity to learn the skills. However, if pre-reading skills are actively taught in kindergarten, some of these differences may be reduced by the beginning of the second semester of school. Torgesen recommends the screening procedures that will be described not be used until the beginning of the second semester of kindergarten.
Torgesen admitted that batteries containing multiple tests generally provide better prediction than single instruments, but he doesn’t believe the increase in efficiency is large enough to warrant the extra time and resources required to administer them.
His identification procedure involves administration of two tests:
A test of knowledge of letter names or sounds.
Research in phonological awareness began in the 1970s and since then, more than 20 different tasks have been used to measure awareness of phonemes in words. Torgesen groups these measures into three broad categories: sound comparison, phoneme segmentation and phoneme blending.
Sound comparison tasks – a number of different formats are used that
require children to make comparisons between the sounds in different words.
A child might be asked to indicate which word from a list begins or ends
with the same sound as a target word. For example: Which word begins with
the same first sound as cat: boy, cake or fan? Additionally, tasks that
require children to generate words that have the same first or last sound
as a target word would fall in this category. Sound comparison tasks are
among the least difficult measures of phonemic awareness and are particularly
appropriate for kindergarten-age children (Torgesen).
One measure of phonemic awareness that Torgesen suggests is suited for early identification purposes, 5-9 years, and is widely used is the Phonological Awareness Test. Published in 1995, the test contains five different measures of phonemic awareness: segmentation of phonemes, phoneme isolation, phoneme deletion, phoneme substitution, and phoneme blending.
The phoneme isolation test, which requires children to pronounce the first, last, or middle sounds in words, has the most appropriate level of difficulty for kindergarten screening and any of the others could be used for first- or second-grade assessments (Torgesen).
The test also has a measure of sensitivity to rhyme, which Torgesen said is not included in his earlier list of measures of phonemic awareness because he believes they appear to be measuring something a little different, and less predictive of reading disabilities from those measures that ask children to attend to individual phonemes. For the same reason, measures of syllable awareness are not included in this group (Torgesen).
The tests are explained at the company’s web site: http://www.dyslexia-test.com/
Parents who answer “yes” to four or more of the following questions are recommended to administer the test to their child to receive a clear assessment:
Are there any family members who experienced difficulty learning to
read or spell when they were at school?
The Dyslexia Test 7-16 measures reading and spelling achievement of the child taking it and compares this to his or her age group. Additionally, the child’s intelligence is measured to establish whether there is a discrepancy between his/her intelligence and achievement. Each of the indicators of dyslexia is also examined to determine the possibility of attention deficit or delayed learning (Direct Learning).
The Dyslexia Test for Adults includes tests in reading, dictation, comprehension and other areas and is designed to be taken by the adult without anyone else’s help (Direct Learning).
The tests are returned to Direct Learning via the mail, and the test results are evaluated. A full assessment report is sent to the parent or adult and summarizes all the findings. The results of the evaluation are outlined and put in a clear conclusion. For 4- to7-year-olds, individual recommendations are made for early remediation. Learning strategies for the 7- to16-year-olds are made, and the report can be shown to the child’s school. For adults who test dyslexic, recommendations of ways to manage the difficulties with dyslexia are included in the full, detailed report (Direct Learning).
Strategies for Teaching Dyslexics
who has provided much information for this paper, answered the question: What strategies, possibly introduced to you by an educator during your school years, helped make the difference that allowed you to realize you could succeed despite dyslexia? in the following way: “HOPE, that I could make it and (the fact) that I could do other things well. I also learned to read by phonics.”
Self-esteem Building Strategies
One piece of advice targets the fact that oftentimes children with dyslexia become the butt of jokes and are ridiculed by their peers. He suggests saying, “I love you” to the child with dyslexia every day. Often people with LD are singled out daily. This is especially true in a school setting. Many kids are targeted by peers and are laughed at for making mistakes or being “stupid.” Those three words of comfort should come from those who love the child unconditionally
he also suggests keeping labels to a minimum and trying not to use them at all except for diagnostic purposes. Once the diagnosis is made, the label is not what’s important; it is the strategies used to overcome that make the difference.
Also, include the opinions of the dyslexic child in family discussions, and take their suggestions to heart. Knowing that they have contributed to the well being of the family improves self-esteem and helps the family, too.
Educators should compliment the child for trying something difficult, no matter what the grade. “Emphasize to the child that their worth as a person is not related to their test scores or how well they did on a particular assignment,” he suggests.
At All Costs – Avoid Humiliating
This is easy.
In the first chapter of his book, “The Gift of Dyslexia,” Davis shares a totally personal, humiliating experience he suffered at the hands of a teacher. He describes it as a scene from his life in 1949.
The clock on the classroom wall ticks slower and slower. Tick … tick … tick … “Please hurry! Please hurry! Please … please … please hurry!”
The words are whispered barely aloud by the young boy. Every muscle in his body is tense. His fingers twitch and tremble. His knees, pressed tightly together, quiver and touch the walls of the corner. He rocks slowly back and forth, but is careful not to dislodge the folded white handkerchief, his label of unworthiness, draped like a flag across the top of his head.
“Please … please!” he whispers again. Then he sucks in his breath and winces. But it doesn’t help, nothing can. Within minutes it starts, a trickle at first, then all of it. He silently hopes there isn’t so much that it makes a puddle on the floor. He hunches over, pressing his face tight into the corner. His wrists cross into an X in his lap, hoping to hide the wet spot. Now he is glad he won’t be leaving the school when the other kids do. Maybe they’ll all be gone when he leaves, and nobody will see; nobody will tease him.
He has hoped this hope at least a hundred times before, but maybe this time he won’t hear those awful words: “Retard! Retard! Look at the retard. Retard pissed his pants again.”
He is startled by the bell that signals school is out for the day. In the corner, amidst the clatter and clamor of the kids leaving, the boy sits motionless, hoping nobody looks in his direction. If he could be invisible he would be. Not until the room is quiet does he dare move, does he dare make a sound.
As the noise fades, the ticking of the clock accelerates. Tick … tick, tick!
Barely aloud, the boy whispers something that only he should hear.
“What did you say?”
The loud voice booms right behind him.
If he hadn’t already done it, he would be wetting his pants now. He presses into the corner as tightly as he can and tries to be as small as he can be. One of the hands that put him in the corner grabs his shoulder and pulls him around.
“What did you say?” the voice demands.
“I asked God not to make me sit in the corner any more.”
Davis explains that child’s prayer, his own prayer as it is, is the sole reason he wrote the book. Whether educators are aware or not, their treatment of the dyslexic child is important. In Davis’ case, failure and ridicule made him stronger. However, in just as many cases, as proven by the statistics of people in jail who are dyslexic, poor treatment can cause them to quit, to retreat inside themselves, to believe they are unworthy human beings without “HOPE”.
“Remember, your worst day as a teacher or parent of a child with learning disabilities is still better than the average day a child with LD will have in school.
“Successful” Dyslexic Strategies
There is no simple formula for treating a dyslexic child. Each one requires his or her own individualized program. Thelma Good is an adult dyslexic writer. In her article, “Finding My Own Solutions,” she muses over how she has managed to become a writer while continuing, of course, to be dyslexic.
Computers with their spell checkers have helped her. She also said voice dictation software helps. She uses a split keyboard, because it gives her a better sense of which hand is which. She was taught to type 10-fingered and said she thinks that helps to keep the sense of where the letters are on the keyboard (Good).
To distinguish left from right, Good taught herself that wristwatch means left and no watch means right. To aid her organizational deficits, she files by color and style of folder (Good). Another dyslexic 9-year-old girl uses her wristwatch, which has hands, to remember which way to write her numbers. Three, five and seven are the hardest for her. All she has to do is look at her watch and copy them down. According to her father, it doesn’t always work, but it’s another little trick to use.
Strategies for Teachers
Focus on strengths while working on weaknesses.
The use of visual aids, such as video and other forms of visual representation, are of key importance to the dyslexic’s understanding. Visual diagrams and bullet points enable the dyslexic to see and understand the information being relayed more effectively and in a far shorter time. Plowing through truckloads of text is time consuming and often tiring. Short-term memory difficulties means that usually what is read never fully gets remembered or understood. Using diagrams, models and charts as notes are a useful tool in linking concepts and revising subject areas at speed. Unlike heavy blocks of swaying text, images are usually pleasurable to look at for the dyslexic. The diagrams that promote learning and itemize key points should be plain and to the point to be most effective (Juggins).
Phonics is Key to Reading
In an English alphabetic system, individual letters are abstract and meaningless, and must be linked to sounds called phonemes, blended together and pronounced as words, at which point meaning is finally realized. To learn to read English, children must learn the connections between the approximately 44 sounds of spoken English (the phonemes), and the 26 letters of the alphabet (Lyon).
Research shows that in order for a beginning reader to learn how to connect or translate printed symbols, letters and letter patterns, into sound, the reader must understand that speech can be broken into small sounds and that the segmented units of speech can be represented by printed forms – phonics. This information is absolutely necessary for the development of accurate and rapid word reading skills (Lyon).
Phoneme awareness and the development of the alphabetic principle is critical for beginning readers because if they can’t perceive the sounds in spoken words, they will have difficulty decoding or “sounding out” words in a rapid and accurate fashion. The development of phoneme awareness, the development of an understanding of the alphabetic principle, and the translation of these skills to the application of phonics in reading and spelling words are non-negotiable beginning reading skills that all children must master in order to understand what they read and to learn from their reading (Lyon).
McCormick echoes those sentiments: “For students to gain control of word identification strategies – particularly, learning letter-sound relations and how to use these to identify unknown words – they must have developed sufficient phonemic awareness.
Most emergent literacy programs and beginning reading programs build instruction in phonemic awareness from easiest to more complex, for instance: 1. rhyming activities, including those that require learners to produce rhymes themselves; 2. hearing individual syllables in words; 3. hearing initial sounds of words; and 4. hearing sounds within words (McCormick).
Exercises Developed by Researchers
For rhyme production activities – explicitly point out that rhymes sound
alike at the ends of words. Read to students daily from rhyming texts.
Students can use poetry as springboards to orally create their own rhymes.
Multi-sensory Teaching Approach a Must
This approach uses more than one of the senses to help a child learn. Although all children benefit from this approach, it is especially effective for dyslexic children who may have difficulties with either or both of the commonly used senses in learning – sight or hearing. As stated earlier, the dyslexic child’s vision may be affected by difficulties with tracking, visual processing or seeing the words become fuzzy or move around. The child may have auditory memory or auditory processing skills that are weak.
Involving the use of more of the child’s senses, especially the use of touch and movement will give the child’s brain tactile and kinetic memories to hang on to, as well as the visual and auditory ones (Bradford).
Some examples of multi-sensory teaching methods follow:
To help clear up the confusion many dyslexic children have with the
letters “b” and “d,” a tactile experience of the letter “b” would be to
get the child to draw the letter really large on the carpet. This involves
the child using his/her arms, his/her sense of balance, his/her whole body.
The child will remember the day his/her teacher had him/her write on the
carpet making this big shape and can use that memory the next time he/she
has to write the letter (Bradford).
In Conclusion …
ABCs of Dyslexia: Common Signs (2000). [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001.Available: http://www.interdys.org/abcsofdyslexia
Barr, R., Blachowicz, C. & Kaufman, B. (2002). Reading Diagnosis for Teachers: An Instructional Approach (4th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Bradford, J. Using Multi-Sensory Teaching Methods, Dyslexia Online Magazine [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001. Available:
British Dyslexia Association (2001). Dyslexia in Context. (BDA Publication No. X02) London.
Davis, R. with Braun M. (1997) The Gift of Dyslexia (Revised Edition). Perigee Books, New York.
Direct Learning. Dyslexia Testing for Children and Adults: Home Dyslexia Assessments. [On-line] Retrieved Novembr 30, 2001. Available:
Drew, C., Egan, M., & Hardman, M. (2002). Human Exceptionality: Society, School, and Family (7th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
The Dyslexia Syndrome (2001). Dyslexia On-Line Magazine. [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001. Available: http://www.dyslexiaonline.com/information/syndrome.html
Dyslexia Teacher. Recognizing Dyslexia [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001. Available: http://www.dyslexia-teacher.com/t7.html
Evans, R. Learning Disabilities: Dyslexia. [On-line] Retrieved November 23, 2001. Available: http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Quad/5006/dyslexia.html
Good, T. Finding My Own Solutions, Dyslexia Online Magazine [On-line] Retrieved November 25, 2001. Available: http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag10.html
Home Dyslexia Assessments. Direct Learning. [On-line] Retrieved November 30, 2001. Available: http://www.dyslexia-test.com/
The International Dyslexia Association Article – Just the Facts … Dyslexia Basics (1996) [On-line] Available: http://www.interdys.org/abcsofdyslexia/infobasic.asp
Garfield, G. (1980) Dyslexia: To Read or Not To Read. Essays of an Information Scientist Vol. 4, p. 409-413.
Juggins, M. Enabling the Dyslexic Student to De-code Information, Dyslexia Online Magazine [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001. Available:
Learning Disabilities: What is Dyslexia? Retrieved November 23, 2001 from the World Wide Web. Available: http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Quad/5006/dyslexia.html/
Lennon, J. & Slesinski, C. (1999). Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP: Cognitive-linguistic Assessment of Severe Reading Problems. [On-line] Retrieved November 29, 2001. Available: http://alpha.fdu.edu/psychology/comprehensive_test_of_phonologic.html
Lerner, J. (2000) Learning Disabilities: Theories, Diagnosis, and Teaching Strategies (8th ed.) Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
McCormick, S. (1999). Instructing Students Who Have Literacy Problems (3rd ed.). Prentice-Hall, Inc. New Jersey.
National Center for Learning Disabilities (1999). About LD: Dyslexia. [On-line] Available: http://www.ld.org/info/indepth/dyslexia.cfm
Richards, R. (2000). Our Fast Food Culture and Dyslexia. LD Online. Retrieived November 11, 2001 from the World Wide Web. Available: http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/assessment/richards_dyslexia.html/
He. What is Dyslexia: Dyslexia, What You Need to Know. Dyslexia My Life. Retrieved November 11, 2001 from the World Wide Web. Available:
Shaywitz, S. (1996). Dyslexia. Scientific American. Retrieved November 11, 2001 from the World Wide Web. Available:
Torgesen, J. (1998) Catch Them Before They Fall: Identification and Assessment to Prevent Reading Failure in Young Children. American Educator/American Federation of Teachers Spring/Summer 1998.
What Causes Dyslexia? Dyslexia Online Magazine. [On-line] Retrieved November 11, 2001. Available: http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag24.html
Glossary of Terms
Cognition – All the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, and remembering.
Distractibility – The tendency to attend to irrelevant external stimuli, a practice which detracts from attending to the task at hand.
Fine-Motor Coordination – Eye-hand coordination
Hyperactivity – A condition characterized by uncontrollable, haphazard, and poorly organized motor behavior. In young children, excessive gross-motor activity makes them appear to be on the go, and they have difficulty sitting still. Older children may be extremely restless or fidgety, may talk too much in class, or may constantly fight with friends, siblings, classmates.
Motility – Being capable of or exhibiting movement.
Neuropathologist – A person who studies the pathology of the nervous system.
Phonemes – A language’s smallest distinctive sound units.
Pre-Reading Skills – The knowledge that visual clues (letters) have specific sounds that they represent.
Psychosomatics – Of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance.
Refractive Error – Visual disorders that occur when the refractive structures of the eye fail to properly focus light rays on the retina.
Sequencing Problems – Difficulties with remembering or acting on linked information, such as a set of instructions, cataloguing, map-reading or telephone numbers. It can be linked to left/right confusion. To the dyslexic person there seems to be no logic to the sequence and therefore, often the dyslexic gets them in the wrong order.
Tunnel Vision – The field of vision is limited at its widest angle to 20 degrees or less. Also referred to as pinhole vision or tubular vision. Severely limits a person’s ability to participate in athletics, read, or drive a car.
Visual Acuity – Determined by the use of an index that refers to the
distance from which an object can be recognized. Normal eyesight is defined
as having 20/20 vision.
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Finnish researchers have found a region of DNA in a single chromosome they believe is linked to an inherited form of the learning disorder dyslexia. The discovery comes from a study of the chromosomes of Finnish families in which several members are dyslexic. Dyslexia is a developmental language disorder characterized by problems in reading, writing and spelling despite normal intelligence. Previous research has identified possible locations for dyslexia genes, as well as areas of the brain that are affected in the disorder. Dr. Jaana Nopola-Hemmi of the University of Helsinki and colleagues report on their discovery in the October issue of the Journal of Medical gennetics. The investigators evaluated 140 families for dyslexia. Extensive testing and genetic analysis identified dyslexia in 21 people and, of that group, 19 shared similar genetic sequences in a region of chromosome 3.
According to the researchers, this chromosome region where the
new dyslexia gene is believed to be is associated with deficits in certain
``essential components'' of the reading process. These include awareness
of speech sounds and short-term memory. ``The results implicate a
previously unreported chromosomal
Experts believe that finding the genes linked to dyslexia may help them identify children at high risk for the learning disorder. If the condition can be spotted earlier in life, therapy might prevent the development of dyslexia or at least reduce the severity of the condition.
SOURCE: Journal of Medical Genetics 2001;38:658-664.
Dyslexia and Decoding words.
Dyslexia can mean a specific reading disability of a person with an average or higher IQ, as described in “Reading Problems: Consultation and Remediation” by Dr. P.G. Aaron and R. Malatesha Joshi, 1992, Guilford Press, 285 pages. In that book, the authors advise school psychologist and reading specialists how to help teachers identify and remediate their students’ specific reading disabilities (SRD). The authors state that the reading skill consists of two major components. A component of the reading skill is an “elementary” psychological process that has sufficient “independence” from other processes and “operates upon internal representations of objects and symbols.” The two major components of the reading skill are the process used by the brain to decode written language and the process used to comprehend the meaning of the written or spoken words when they appear individually and when they are combined into phrases, sentences and paragraphs.
Decoding is the ability to independently recognize and pronounce the written word. “Findings of experimental, neuropsychological , genetic, and developmental studies indicate that these two components (decoding and comprehension) are more or less insulated from each other and, therefore, modular and independent”. Id, at 56. Some persons decode very well but show poor comprehension, described as having a “Nonspecific Reading Disability.” (NSRD) (at 85). Others poorly decode but show average or above average comprehension. Those are categorized as having a Specific Reading Disability (SRD) (id.). Others decode poorly and poorly comprehend. Those are categorized as low ability readers (LAR). (id.) The book focuses on how to help teachers dealing with the SRD population.
Those in the SRD population may have trouble with processes factors, such as decoding, inference making, and metacognition, or they may have trouble with content factors, such as vocabulary size and schemata of the reader. The authors state that “Comprehensive assessment of the reading skill of any individual involves the evaluation of both process and content factors.” (at 86).
The authors distinguished between reading disabilities and reading defects and stated that “reading defects that arise from visual-optical processes are not considered reading disabilities.” (at 87).
The authors used the term reading disabilities for reading problems that are attributable to “intrinsic factors (which) include deficient phonological processing skill, comprehension deficit and peculiar cognitive learning styles”. They recognized that teachers and school personnel need to distinguish reading disabilities from reading deficits that are caused by extrinsic factors such as poor motivation, limited reading experience and an environment not conducive to learning. The distinction between the intrinsic and the extrinsic factors has clear implications for selecting the appropriate corrective instruction. (id at 88).
The authors state that “The most fundamental deficit of SRD is poor word-recogniation skills. Skill at recognizing words is strongly correlated to the speed of initial reading acquisition (Stanovich, 1991). A major source of deficient word-recognition skills is weak phonological-processing skills. The phonological skills deficit theory of SRD (or dyslexia) can successfully account for the many symptoms individuals with this type of reading disability display, an accomplishment which neurological and percep[tual explanations of dyslexia cannot match.” Id. At 89. The authors state that the symptoms of SRD include
a slow rate of reading relative to others their own age in spite of
years in school, often with average comprehension in untimed tests
below average comprehension on timed reading tests.
normal listening comprehension. The authors state that: “There is no
discernable deficit in the listening comprehension of individuals with
SRD, when comprehension is evaluated in terms of normal, oral communication
or exchange of information….The fact that the reading comprehension of
college students with SRD tends to be close to normal when assessed by
untimed tests indicates that the poor reading comprehension seen in these
subjects under certain testing conditions is more apparent than real. It
is highly probable that in these subjects, the phonological processing
factor becomes a bottleneck during reading and operates as a limiting factor.
In skilled readers, decoding has become a highly automatic task, thus releasing
attention to be directed as comprehension. In the case of subjects with
SRD, decoding remains an attention-demanding operation, preventing them
from directing attention entirely to comprehension. This may be why subjects
with SRD tend to do much better in tests of listening comprehension (which
do not require the grapheme – hpneme transformation) than in tests of reading
comprehension. Thus, poor reading comprehension is not a primary deficit
but is secondary to the phonological processing deficit.” Id at 95.
The authors state: “Because individuals with SRD differ in the extent
of their decoding deficit, past reading experience, and amount of remedial
instruction previously received, a certain degree of variability in symptoms
can be expected among disabled readers.” (id. 89).
Seeking The Biological Basis Of Dyslexia
Neuroscientists in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences are adding fuel to the debate over dyslexia.
Most researchers agree that the reading disability stems from an inability to link specific sounds to written letters and words. But any consensus quickly breaks down when scientists discuss the underlying biological causes that lead to those difficulties.
In work presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Zhong-Lin Lu, Frank Manis and Anne Sperling showed that dyslexic children have a harder time than non-dyslexics filtering out a signal from background “noise” during tests of visual perception.
The team, which also includes the University of Wisconsin ’s Mark Seidenberg, speculates that the deficit may affect the whole brain.
If confirmed, the research could lead to a better understanding of the physical basis of the learning disability as well as improved identification of children with dyslexia. That could lead to earlier interventions.
The most common reading disability, dyslexia affects between 5 and 15 percent of Americans, with an estimated 14 million suffering from a severe form of the reading disability. Dyslexia may show itself as problems in learning to read, writing legibly, spelling or calculating math problems.
Even in reading a simple word like “cat,” the brain must recognize the three distinct sounds represented by each letter (“cah,” “ah” and “tuh”); recognize the sounds in the proper order (cat vs. tac vs. act); blend the sounds into a word; and mentally map the sounds onto the letters written on the page.
People with dyslexia may run into trouble during any of these steps that, in strong readers, become automatic, said Manis, a professor of psychology and a dyslexia expert.
Its results can be devastating, especially in the Information Age, when reading is critical to success in school and careers.
Although most dyslexics can and do learn to read with special training, many dyslexic children and adults are never identified.
A number of studies have suggested that people with dyslexia have a deficit in one of the brain’s visual processing pathways, the M (magnocellular) pathway that processes motion and brightness.
The same studies showed no deficits in the overlapping but distinct P (parvocellular) visual pathway, which processes colors and fine details.
The M processing deficit explanation of dyslexia, however, lately has come under increased scrutiny by scientists.
In the recent study, the USC team recruited 55 children aged 8 to 12, with 28 identified as dyslexics and 27 as non-dyslexics. The children were asked to complete a series of tasks testing their language and reading skills before completing a number of visual tasks. The children hit a button when they saw a rectangle of black-and-white stripes appear on a computer screen.
Adjusting how much the stripes contrasted with the background, the team compared the ability of the children to detect two different patterns, a flashing pattern that stimulates the M pathway and a stationary one processed by the P pathway.
The team found that dyslexics and non-dyslexics were equally able to detect both M- and P-type patterns. It was only when researchers added visual noise—in the form of TV “snow”—on top of the pattern that a difference emerged.
Under the “noisy” conditions, both the M- and P-type patterns had to be 10 percent more contrasting for children with dyslexia to detect them compared with non-dyslexics.
“People with dyslexia may have a harder time distinguishing a signal from the noise—not because they can’t perceive the signal, as had been thought, but because they are not as adept as filtering out the background, non-essential sensory information,” said Lu, associate professor of psychology and an expert on vision and attention.
“In fact, the deficit we found is not specifically visual—we think of it as a sign of a basic problem in sensory perception. Next, we want to look for this same deficit in the brain’s auditory pathways,” said Sperling, whose doctoral dissertation was based on the study. She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the college in August and is now a postdoc in neurology at Georgetown University .
In terms of impact on reading, poor filtering ability could distort speech perception in infancy, complicating the development of categories of phonemes [speech sounds] and later, letter recognition and the child’s appreciation of spelling-sound links, Sperling said .
The team has planned a number of follow-up studies to further test the hypothesis.
“The study needs to be replicated, with different kids, different types of vision tasks and with auditory processing tasks. I’d like to do this in younger kids as well—if it’s there, we should be able to pick up on this difference even in kindergartners,” Manis said.
“The biggest gain that we who work on dyslexia could get right now would be identifying children with dyslexia as early as ages 4 to 5 , before the reading problem becomes acute,” he said.
Imaging Study Reveals Brain Function Of Poor Readers Can Improve
A brain imaging study has shown that, after they overcome their reading disability, the brains of formerly poor readers begin to function like the brains of good readers, showing increased activity in a part of the brain that recognizes words. The study appears in the May 1 Biological Psychiatry and was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), one of the National Institutes of Health.
"These images show that effective reading instruction not only improves reading ability, but actually changes the brain's functioning so that it can perform reading tasks more efficiently," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD.
The research team was led by Bennett Shaywitz, M.D., and Sally Shaywitz, M.D, of Yale University , in New Haven , Connecticut . Other authors of the study were from Syracuse University , in Syracuse , New York ; Vanderbilt University , in Nashville , Tennessee ; and the NICHD.
According to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the results show that "Teaching matters and good teaching can change the brain in a way that has the potential to benefit struggling readers."
Along with testing the children's reading ability, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a sophisticated brain imaging technology, to observe the children's brain functioning as they read.
In all, 77 children between the ages of 6 and about 9 and ½ took part in the study. Of these, 49 had difficulty reading, and 29 children were good readers. Of the 49 poor readers, 12 received the standard instruction in reading that was available through their school systems. The remaining 37 were enrolled in an intensive reading program based on instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.
In the study, the 37 poor readers in the intensive reading program outpaced the 12 poor readers in the standard instruction groups, making strong gains in three measures of reading skill: accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. These gains were still apparent when the children were tested again a year later. Moreover, fMRI scans showed that the brains of the 37 formerly poor readers began functioning like the brains of good readers. Specifically, the poor readers showed increased activity in an area of the brain that recognizes words instantly without first having to decipher them.
The intensive reading program the 37 children took had strong components in phonemic awareness and phonics. Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify phonemes, the individual sounds that make up spoken words. The word "bag," for example, is made up of three such elemental units of speech, which can be represented as bbb, aaa, and ggg. The brain strings together the 40 phonemes making up the English language to produce hundreds and thousands of words. In speech, this process is unconscious and automatic.
Beginning in the 1970s, NICHD-funded researchers learned that developing a conscious awareness of the smaller sounds in words was essential to mastering the next step in learning to read, phonics. Phonics refers to the ability to match spoken phonemes to the individual letters of the alphabet that represent them. Once children master phonics, the NICHD-funded studies showed, they could make sense of words they haven't seen before, without first having to memorize them. Further NICHD-supported research found that instruction in phonemic awareness was an essential part of a comprehensive program in reading instruction that could help most poor readers overcome their disability.
In the 1990s, the Shaywitzes had used fMRI to learn that reading ability resides in the brain's left half, or hemisphere. Within the hemisphere, three brain regions work together to control reading. In the left front of the brain, one area recognizes phonemes. Further back, another brain area "maps" phonemes to the letters that represent them. Still another brain area serves as a kind of long-term storage system. Once a word is learned, this brain region recognizes it automatically, without first having to decipher it phonetically.
Poor readers, the researchers had learned in the earlier studies, have difficulty accessing this automatic recognition center. Instead, they rely almost exclusively on the phoneme center and the mapping center. Each time poor readers see a word, they must puzzle over it, as if they were seeing it for the first time.
In the current study, the researchers discovered that, as the 37 poor readers progressed through their instruction program, their brains began to function more like the brains of good readers. Specifically, the brains of these children showed increased activation in the automatic recognition center.
"This study represents the fruition of decades of NICHD-supported reading research," said G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D, Chief of NICHD's Child Development and Behavior Branch. "The findings show that the brain systems involved in reading respond to effective reading instruction."
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD publications, as well as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD Web site, http://www.nichd.nih.gov, or from the NICHD Information Resource Center , 1-800-370-2943; e-mail NICHDInformationResourceCenter@mail.nih.gov.
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