Dyslexia — what is it?
Dyslexia is not simply letter reversals or not trying hard enough. With the advancement of technology, researchers have been able to observe the brain while people who struggle with reading are reading information. From this research, they determined people with the current definition of dyslexia often struggle with language development along with distinguishing sounds found in our language and transferring them to text.
Language is a natural skill that we all develop at different levels, whereas text has been created by man. About 20% of the population’s brains have difficulty processing human-created symbols. There is no correlation between intelligence or creativity. Dyslexics are often very visual and creative in their thinking.
Children who appear to be dyslexic often have a family history of dyslexia. The spectrum of dyslexia is wide and a person may only exhibit minor indicators, whereas others may exhibit many indicators to an extreme.
With early identification and frequent interventions, the characteristics can be minimalized, making education and reading easier for children with dyslexia. Not hearing sounds in words and rhyming as a preschooler is an indicator, along with rapidly reading colors, objects or letters. With practice, preschoolers and kindergartners have no problem mastering these skills and move on to letter recognition and sound representations.
Normal reading patterns are pre-alphabetic, partial alphabetic, full alphabetic and consolidated alphabetic. Pre-alphabetic begins in preschool and increases during kindergarten. This is when the child begins to become aware that letters have meaning and begins to use visual clues.
Partial alphabetic is when the child knows their letter names and is becoming aware of sounds in words and linking them to the letters. This happens most often toward the end of kindergarten and during the start of first grade.
Full alphabetic awareness should be strong by the middle of first grade. Students understand the phoneme/grapheme relationship and are able to blend words. Consolidated understanding should be mastered by the end of first grade and at the latest in the first part of second grade. This means the students are able to read decodable texts fluently along with being able to spell words applying their phonic knowledge.
Dyslexic students often exhibit other instructional difficulties, such as dysgraphia (inability to write coherently); visual processing issues; auditory processing issues; attention problems, such as ADHD; memory struggles; language development; mood swings; and coordination. One thing for sure is that dyslexia is not a determination of intelligence.
Dyslexia is not just found in one gender, though how the different sexes display frustration with dyslexia can be quite different. Boys most often become frustrated and become active, often leading to behavior problems. Therefore, they are often identified earlier. Girls many times become complacent and quiet. They are often not identified as having dyslexia until upper grades or even in college. Even though they have the same struggles, many appear to be able to develop coping skills and are able to move through the system.
Dyslexia affects every person differently. They may have some of the same characteristics, but their brain makeup is different. Often, they have problems with spoken language, reading, writing and other subjects in school. But they may also deal with self-image issues and interactions with peers. It is something they deal with for life. They carry that worry and anxiety with them every day. Many times it leads to depression later in life.
Though there are weaknesses and struggles, many dyslexics have strengths that others may not have, such as thinking outside of the box. They are often able to imagine in a three-dimensional mode and are able to see the “big picture” when presented with projects. They usually love to problem solve.
These are all skills we need in every part of our society.
Dr. Scott Smith is a 40+ year Umatilla County educator and serves on the Decoding Dyslexia-OR board as their parent/teacher liaison.