What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia can be best described as a range of difficulties that make the acquisition of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes mathematics difficult for those affected. Dyslexic children may also have difficulties in the following areas: short-term memory, speed of processing, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and fine motor skills.
Those who can be classified as dyslexic, are at the same time, sometimes gifted in other ways, such as being creative thinkers or having excellent oral skills, which help bolster their confidence and self-belief and thus make their difficulties pale in comparison.
It is important to note that Dyslexia knows no boundaries, occurring independent of intelligence level, language and socio-economic background.
A longitudinal study conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and the University of California Davis, which was published in the January 1, 2010 issue of the journal, Psychological Science, throws a new light on Dyslexia. For the first time, researchers have found empirical evidence showing that the relationship over time between IQ and reading differs for non-dyslexics compared to dyslexic readers. They found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only “track together, but also influence each other over time.” In children with Dyslexia, however, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a dyslexic can be both very intelligent and still have difficulties reading.
About 60% of dyslexic people have phonological difficulties and struggle to sort out the sounds within words. This means that they have problems with reading, writing and spelling. The majority of dyslexic children have difficulty with language, memory and sequencing processes of basic mathematics.
Causes of Dyslexia
Dyslexia has been firmly established as a developmental condition that is present from birth but its cause has not been fully confirmed. Dyslexia is strongly inheritable and research has been carried out looking for a genetic cause.
According to Professor Snowling, of the British Dyslexia Association, early identification of this gene could ‘lead to positive outcomes for literacy and other skills’.
There is a hypothesis that the neurological differences in the brains of dyslexic people also give some of them visual, spatial and lateral thinking abilities that enable them to be successful in a wide range of careers. These are seen as the benefits of having Dyslexia.
Further studies in which f/MRI scans were used have also shown that people with Dyslexia do not use the same part of their brain as the non-dyslexic group when reading, and it is therefore assumed now that the dyslexic group are not using the most efficient part of their brain for this task, or at least not consistently (Susan Barton).
However, a lot more research needs to be done before we can fully understand the reasons for Dyslexia.
Typical symptoms of Dyslexia
- Not being able to make a connection between letters and sounds.
- Difficulty learning to read and spell as a result.
- Difficulty writing thoughts down on paper.
- Short-term memory deficits.
- Slow, inaccurate reading.
- Leaving out words when reading aloud.
- Losing a place in text when reading.
- Not understanding what s/he is reading.
- Difficulty learning times tables.
- Specific visual and/or auditory problems.
- Difficulty copying down from whiteboard.
- Difficulty following instructions.
- Difficulty with fine motor skills (tying shoelaces, etc.).
Tips for parents/teachers
To get the most out of a dyslexic child/adolescent, it is important that both parents and teachers focus on what s/he does well and build up self-confidence in this way. At the same time, beware of getting the child involved in too many extracurricular activities as doing so would take away the free time this child needs to develop his/her creativity. Dyslexic children experience enough stress while compensating for their specific difficulties and it is therefore of the utmost importance that whatever they do well is practiced in a balanced way.
Here are a few tips for Primary/Elementary school teachers
- Develop enough knowledge about Dyslexia so that you can identify the first signs of it in your students.
- At the first signs of difficulties, talk to the child to find out the exact nature of his/her difficulties; make notes as you learn more.
- Make a point to speak with the child’s parents to find out about the child’s language development history and to see if there is a history of Dyslexia in the family.
- Monitor the child’s progress carefully.
- Notice how s/he learns.
- Inform the parents to have the child assessed by a psychologist as soon as possible as the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.
- Adapt your methodology to meet the visual needs of dyslexic children.
As children enter Secondary School, their problems become different. At this point, specific one-on-one help is needed in the following areas:
- Improving reading skills.
- Developing appropriate study skills.
- Organizational skills.
- Brainstorming strategies to get ideas down on paper.
- Specific instruction for identifying key points in text.
- Note-taking skills with help of graphic organizer.
- Summarizing skills.
- One-on-one math tutoring, using visual methods.
- Computer literacy.
For Secondary School teachers, some specific strategies include the following:
- Be aware that you may have a student whose Dyslexia has not yet been identified.
- Once you realize that a student may have Dyslexia, proceed as indicated above for the Primary school teacher.
- Be aware that note-taking may be an area of weakness for a dyslexic student and provide a Graphic Organizer for him/her (ideally for the entire class) to make it easier for these students.
- Complete some information from the material you intend to cover each day on the Graphic Organizer and leave space for the student to complete it with keywords or phrases (even pictures), the goal being that the student has notes from which s/he can revise for tests and examinations.
- Teach your class the textbook reading techniques that are best used for students with Dyslexia and/or AD/HD, taking note of the title/heading, highlighting keywords, noting bold-faced text, finding the topic sentence in each paragraph and reading the conclusion.
- Break down long assignments into smaller sections, each with a short-term deadline (do this for the entire class and explain it clearly).
- Advise parents to get subject tutors and one-on-one help for the subjects in which s/he is experiencing the most difficulty.
- Do not judge the dyslexic student for the level of his/her written text; be careful to focus on the quality of the ideas presented.
- Monitor the student’s ability to record homework assignments and inform the parents what assignments are due on a weekly basis if this is a problem.
Comorbidity with other conditions
Dyslexia is highly comorbid with AD/HD, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. With this in mind, it is important to be aware when the presenting symptoms are no longer caused by Dyslexia but possibly by one of these conditions and to know what additional interventions are needed. In the case of AD/HD, it is of the utmost importance because of the nature of AD/HD. You will find more information about this elsewhere on this website (Neurodiverse Conditions).