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What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluid word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is not a disease; it has no cure. Dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence. It is not a problem with vision. People with dyslexia do not “see backward”. Dyslexia affects millions of people all over the world, regardless of age, race or income. Some famous dyslexics include children’s book writer Hans Christian Anderson, U.S. Army General George Patton, Italian artist, painter, and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci, the first president of the United States George Washington, and actors Whoopi Goldberg, Henri Winkler and Tom Cruise.

In recent years, many famous and successful adults have gone public about their learning struggles, attributing a wide range of difficulties to “dyslexia”. The good news is that this type of publicity raises public awareness of learning disabilities, which currently affect approximately 2.9 million students receiving special education services in the United States.

Dyslexia is defined in several ways by different groups. Medical professionals, educators, the media, scientists and the legal system, all define dyslexia differently. Often the definitions are inconsistent and incomplete. It can be very frustrating for parents seeking help for their children with learning problems. Often, the parents and school officials are talking about the same disorder, but calling it by different terms.

A dyslexic learns at his/her own level and pace, and typically excels in one or more other areas. Some of their experiences include difficulties with concentration, perception, memory, verbal skills, abstract reasoning, hand-eye coordination, social adjustment (low self-esteem is a commonly observed behavioral characteristic), poor grades and underachievement. Often, people with dyslexia are considered to be lazy, rebellious, class clowns, unmotivated, misfits, or of low intelligence. These misconceptions, without understanding dyslexia’s effect on the person’s life, lead to rejection, isolation, feelings of inferiority, discouragement and low self-esteem.

Individuals with dyslexia can be helped in learning to read by special teaching methods. Often, a child’s learning disability is not detected early and they are allowed to fail two or three grades without effective intervention. Unless these children are identified early and appropriate instruction provided, they may be passed along in school until basic reading instruction is no longer available. If they get help in kindergarten or first grade, they will have significantly fewer reading problems in the higher grades. 74% of children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade. This means they can’t read well as adults. It is never too late for individuals with dyslexia to learn to read and process and express information more efficiently. Research shows that programs using multi-sensory structured language techniques can help dyslexic children and adults learn to read.

The causes of dyslexia are neurobiological and genetic. Research shows that individuals inherit genetic links for dyslexia. If one of your immediate family members is dyslexic, the more likely one of your children could also be dyslexic. Doctors don’t know for sure what causes dyslexia, but they say there is a correlation between left-handedness and the learning disability in many families. It is estimated that one in ten children is dyslexic. More males are affected than females.

Dyslexic children can usually succeed at the same levels as others once they are diagnosed and start receiving extra support and attention at home and school. Children suspected of suffering from dyslexia undergo a series of reading, spelling, drawing, math and intelligence tests, as well as visual tests, laterality tests, visual scanning tests, sequencing, and other tests to examine which brain functions are interfering with their acquisition of normal school learning.

Dyslexia also affects adults, but those who receive attention early in life often learn how to compensate for the disability by adulthood. Dyslexic adults, however, tend to continue to have difficulty with language skills throughout their lives. A dyslexic diagnosis is no barrier to success.

Common Characteristics of Dyslexics

When you have a dyslexic child, it is recommended you work closely with school officials to identify the areas in which your child needs remedial work. In most cases, once the type of dyslexia is determined, a special teaching program can be established for your child. The school may also involve you and your child in developing an Individual Educational Plan which sets forth specific goals, steps to meet the goals and timelines.