Growing, developing and learning are the facts of life for all children. Each day children are faced with many new concepts and various challenges. Can you imagine how it feels for a child to face not only new challenges life has, but to face these challenges while living with a learning disability? These challenges are met not just when they begin school either. Students suffer from learning disabilities from the moment they begin learning, not when they start school. Learning disabilities are real and they affect millions of people. One such disability that affects over approximately 15 percent of the total American population is dyslexia ( Nosek 5).
We will discuss the following issues and areas surrounding dyslexia:
What is dyslexia?
Causes of dyslexia.
Two different terms to describe dyslexia.
Characteristics of someone with dyslexia.
The learning process.
Three areas that are affected by the disability.
Focusing and behavior.
Misconceptions about dyslexia.
Seeking help through organizations.
What exactly is dyslexia? The word dyslexia is derived from the Greek dys meaning poor or inadequate and lexis meaning language. Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language(Wilkins URL). Simply put, dyslexia means trouble with reading, writing, and spelling. Dyslexia is not stupidity, laziness, lack of interest, or anything to be ashamed of. Dyslexia is not a disease; it has no cure and it will not go away. It knows no age, gender, or class boundaries. There is a significant disproportion between the sexes, however. The proportions of male to female dyslexics are 3 to 1. Dyslexia can also be compared to amnesia because it is selective (Bakker 23). Some experts use the term specific learning disability instead of dyslexia
Despite much research, nobody knows what causes dyslexia. Current research is focused on such possible causes as genetics, physiology, biochemistry, and structural changes in the brain. There are theories that something is wrong with the brain or that certain chemicals are missing. One of the most popular theory is that dyslexia is a structural defect in the brain which involves the central nervous system (Irlen 98). Numerous studies have been done throughout the years. In 1907, the idea was first expressed that the genetic factor was undeniably a reason (Bakker 27). Research to find causation is still being probed.
There are two terms to describe dyslexia, dysphonetic and dyseidetic. Dysphonetic means having difficulty connecting sounds to symbols; it also means they might have a hard time sounding out words. Dyseidetic means to have a good grasp of phonetic concepts, but great difficulty with whole word recognition and spelling still exists (Wilkins URL). Typical mistakes would be reversals such as the word at spelled ta and mistakes in phonetic spelling of a word like phone spelled fon.
The characteristics of a dyslexic person can be very different from one person to the other, just as the characteristics of students without disabilities are different. These students show a different combination of learning problems. Such characteristics are learning style, motor dexterity, time/math, memory/cognition, language/reading skills, behavior and vision. Sometimes the dyslexic youngster has early or late developmental stages, such as crawling, walking or talking (Groliers).
Once these children begin school they might appear bright and highly intelligent, but unable to keep up with their peers in reading and writing. They test well orally, but when given a written test on the same subject they can fail miserably. Others might seem dumb or lazy, when in fact their efforts just go unnoticed. These students can feel dumb, which results in a low self-esteem; they try to hide these features with compensations. Some compensations might be that they excel in other areas like art, music, drama, story-telling, designing, engineering, or in sports.
To better understand some of the problems that dyslexic people face in learning to read and write, one needs to look at the four basic steps in the learning process. The four steps include: input, integration, memory, and output.
Input- This involves what information goes into a person from the five senses. These sensory organs send the information to the brain.
Integration- The brain sorts through all the information, puts it in the right order, organizes it, and gets meaning from the message.
Memory- The brain stores the information so it can be used when needed. Memory plays a very important part in what students have to learn in school. The memory and cognition for the dyslexic person can be outstanding. They have excellent long-term memory for things such as movies, experiences, locations and faces.
Output- This is where we use the information to answer questions. This output can be either verbal or motor.
In any of these four steps, the dyslexic person can experience a great deal of difficulty. Even when the sensory organ receives the message correctly, the message can get garbled in the input and integration stages of learning. Not all dyslexics have problems in the same areas. Trying to identify the exact source of the problem can be difficult sometimes (Savage 54).
As mentioned earlier, the three areas of learning in which dyslexics struggle with are reading, spelling/writing and math.
When a dyslexic person reads he/she may experience dizziness, headaches and/or stomach aches. Reading for pleasure is out of the question. They may get confused by individual letters and numbers, whole words and especially by sequential information. What is mainly know is that while reading, the person shows repetition, transpositions, additions, omissions, substitutions, and reversal in letters and words (Wilkins URL). When reading in a small group in the first grade, they rely on other readers to say the words first, then they copy. As they get older they can read well orally, but then cannot recall what was read.
Perceptual distortions can include only a slight movement of words, so reading the page is possible although irritating and tiring (Irlen 100). Words can jump, swirl around, switch and jump of the page almost instantly. Having to read like this all the time, most likely would turn a person off from wanting to read at all.
There are special programs that are aimed to enhance reading. One specific program is called the Orton-Gillingham method. The Orton-Gillingham method is sometimes called the VAKT technique. This acronym stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactual experience (Savage 67). This method is an inventive way to help these students read. It is a multi-sensory approach that involves movement and touch; it is a slow, step-by-step process that covers all areas for the reader.
The vision problems that might occur while reading or writing include, seeing movement on paper and on a chalkboard, and having difficulty copying, especially from a distance. Dyslexics might have problems with their vision that a standard eye test will not detect. Some persons are keen-sighted and observant while lacking depth perception and peripheral vision.
There are a few motor dexterity problems that can affect the handwriting. It may be illegible or the style of it may not stay consistent; they can be ambidextrous. One might have trouble with writing in general or copying something off of the board. All dyslexics confuse their left and right while some even have trouble with over and under. The spelling is usually bad, because they tend to spell phonetically and inconsistently. They are easily distracted by sounds others might not even notice. Frequently reversing letters or placing them in the wrong order in words is very common (Wilkins URL).
Because students have trouble writing down information that is in their head, they are allowed (in some schools) to dictate their test answers rather than write them down. Older students use tape recorders, typewriters, or computers to help them get their ideas out; this also helps in producing legible work. The dyslexic person thinks with images or feelings and not usually with the sounds of words.
Dealing with time and math, dyslexics have many difficulties. These include difficulty telling time, managing their time, and being on time (Wilkins URL). It is hard to learn sequenced information. Many dyslexics depend on finger counting, tricks and gimmicks. They can count, but they may have a problem counting objects or money. They can do arithmetic when dealing with numbers only, but when these same numbers are used in a word problem it becomes difficult. The child may have trouble remembering number facts or the times tables. Confusing number symbols so that 3 and 5 get all mixed up are quite common. Because of poor organization, the numbers in an addition column may be lined up like this:
3 6 2
+ 8 69
Getting the right answer becomes impossible, simply because the numbers are not lined up properly, not because they dont know how to add (Savage 23). Decimal points being put in the wrong place and mixing up what number is the numerator and what number is the denominator, also cause wrong answers. On an average, most dyslexic students usually cannot grasp algebra or a higher math.
Dyslexic students daydream, forget things, and usually keep messy desks. Focusing on a teacher lecturing or centering in on one task for any lengthy amount of time, is impossible. All this affects their work in the classroom. To help keep the attention of these students, the best strategies are hands-on experiences, demonstrations, visual aids and observations. An assignment that is modeled by the teacher, is better understood if it is brief.
Another area of concern, is recognition; this isnt the highest region of success. Such particulars that are not recognizable, are inexperienced facts and information or items that happened in a sequence. Unfamiliar territory is always a challenge.
With dyslexic people, behavior is varied. Most are very unorganized in their everyday lives. In class they have a range of being the class clown or troublemaker, or they go to the other extreme of never saying a word. They can be very emotional when it comes to their class work, especially in their troubled areas of reading writing and math. Some may be uncoordinated or poor at ball and team sports. Others might be prone to motion sickness. Their sleeping can be exceptional light or very deep. They can be bed-wetters beyond an appropriate age. Also the dyslexic usually has a strong sense of justice.
Many people do not have a true understanding about what true dyslexia is. These people have preconceived notions about the abilities of dyslexics. Some of these misconceptions are as follows:
Dyslexia is caused by poor vision or poor hearing
Dyslexics see and hear adequately. Their reading problems are not due to problems with the sense of sight or hearing. Dyslexic pupils see symbols and hear sounds clearly; their problem lies with the registry of this information. There is nothing wrong with their eyes or ears, but in their interpretation of the information given.
Dyslexia comes from an emotional block
Dyslexics do not have learning problems, because they are emotionally disturbed. Some students may develop emotional problems as a result of the difficulties they meet while learning to read and write. Although they try extremely hard, they fail; this results in anger and frustration. As an outcome of unhappy experiences in school, problems in dealing with others may develop. In turn, the emotional problems are not the cause but may be the effect (Savage 320).
Dyslexia is related to low intelligence
In general, dyslexics have an average or above average intelligence. They are not retarded. They may be brilliant thinkers with very bright ideas. People may be deceived of their intelligence because of their low scores in the academic areas. A dyslexic student can show their intellectual ability and knowledge through listening and dictating as opposed to reading and writing their accomplishment.
Medication can help cure dyslexia
As mentioned earlier, dyslexia is not a disease to be cured. It is a learning disability that cannot be gotten rid of completely. Medication may help with some of the symptoms or characteristics of dyslexia. For example, medicines might help a person stay focused or handle headaches or nausea experienced with reading, but it will not terminate the disability (Wilkins URL).
Seeking out help through organizations in your community, reading books of interest on dyslexia, and finding out what your schools have to offer, are good ways to use the resources that are available. These domains will help someone with this learning disability to feel confident and successful by learning to live above their disability. A few organizations and societies that are concerned with helping dyslexic people are:
FCLD-Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities. This institution raises public awareness and provides funds for projects and programs.
ACLD- Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities. This establishment is organized by parents who deal with this disability daily. Its purpose is to devote time to defining and finding solutions for the broad field of learning problems.
CEC-Council for Exceptional Children. This organization works to protect the rights of people with special needs. It also works to improve the life of exceptional learners.
A college student who wanted the world to understand his frustration he has with reading, wrote this poem:
Bs and ds look the same to me-
And so do ps and qs.
Ns and us I always confuse-
And ms and ws.
The page is bright. It hurts my eyes.
The words, they jump about.
Like little worms, they wriggle and squirm.
They make me want to shout.
The teachers tell me I must try.
I try! I try! I try!
It hurts my head. It hurts! It hurts!!
And then I start to cry.
People can learn to cope and adjust to dyslexia by using different avenues, just the same as a blind person learns to survive in his environment. Dyslexics have to work with and around their condition, not dream of getting over it (Hurfort 33). Dyslexia is a condition that requires change in the persons everyday life, not just in reading and writing, in order to perform well in society. Once a dyslexic adapts, according to his or her needs, that person can do anything a non-dyslexic person can do.
Bakker, D.J. Developmental Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. Germany: Karger
Groliers Encyclopedia New York: Macmillan Education Company 1994
Hurford, Daphne. To Read or Not to Read. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Irlen, Helen. Reading By the Colors. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1991.
Nosek, Kathleen. The Dyslexic Scholar, Helping Your Child Succeed in the School
System. Texas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1995.
Savage, John. Understanding Reading Problems. New York: Simon and Schuster,
Wilkins, Angela. What is Dyslexia? http://www.interdys.org/about_dy.stm.
May 15, 1999.