Writing for the Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education blog, learning specialist Beth Guadagni reveals 5 falsehoods about dyslexia:

> Kids with dyslexia are mentally handicapped or lazy.

> Boys are more likely to have dyslexia than girls.

> People with dyslexia see letters backwards.

> Individuals with dyslexia can read better with the help of colored films.

> Dyslexia can be cured.

 

Again, all 5 of those statements about dyslexia are false. In this excellent review of what dyslexia is (and what it isn’t), Guadagni debunks these myths:

Dyslexia is a genetic, lifelong, language-based disability. It is neurological in origin; brain scans of people with dyslexia show that they process language differently than typically-developing youngsters, even when they’re just listening or speaking and not reading at all! Individuals with dyslexia are most certainly not cognitively limited. In fact, a person must have average to above-average intelligence in order to be diagnosed with dyslexia. And dyslexia is positively correlated with creativity, which will not surprise anyone familiar with Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Pablo Picasso, Stephen Spielberg, and Henry Winkler, (all of whom have dyslexia).

 

The International Dyslexia Association estimates that 15-20% of Americans have some degree of dyslexia, manifested by “slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words”:

Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit, instruction in reading, writing, and language.

 

The fact is that fewer than 15-20% of Americans who have symptoms get diagnosed with dyslexia. Many kids — especially those who don’t exhibit problem behaviors or significant inattentiveness (and especially girls) — fly under the radar and never get diagnosed with a specific learning disability. All of us probably remember a bright and talented classmate who nevertheless struggled academically. If we look close enough, however, symptoms of disordered language processing (which can occur in any language and culture) are usually present early in life:

Most individuals with dyslexia were late talkers as young children, likely because they struggled to recall and produce the sounds that make up words. Dyslexia is considered a reading disability because this task is particularly difficult for affected individuals and has an enormous impact on their lives, but spelling and even pronouncing words can pose serious challenges as well.

 

Guadagni reminds us that dyslexia is a neurologic condition with no relationship to vision. Special glasses and colored lenses, she says, are worthless:

And the belief that students with dyslexia see letters backwards is completely false. Children with dyslexia do reverse words when reading and writing, but typically-developing readers do, too. Learners tend to stop reversals when the sequence of letters begins to have significance for them, and this understanding takes much longer for students with dyslexia to develop.

 

Dyslexia is common — so common, in fact, that perhaps we should view it as a variant of normal rather than as a disorder. Yes, it makes doing what kids are expected to do — go to school and succeed — much more difficult. But it doesn’t reflect on an affected child’s intelligence, talent, or inherent “goodness”. Dyslexia can’t be cured — it persists throughout life — but it can be overcome with the proper diagnosis, empathy and compassion from parents and teachers, and effective teaching strategies:

With the right instruction, almost all children with dyslexia can learn strategies to read and write and manage their dyslexia in a way that allows them to access the kind of opportunities that interest and suit them.

 

We’ll look at the emotional toll of dyslexia, tomorrow, on The PediaBlog.

 

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