An IntroductionThe diagnosis of dyslexia is often the beginning a long journey, starting with the question of what exactly is dyslexia?
The International Dyslexia Association' s definition is "Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge."
I almost felt dyslexic reading the above definition. I think of dyslexia as difficulty reading because of the way an individual's brain processes print. The reading difficulty is not due to lack of intellectual ability, vision, hearing, English as a second language, or poor teaching.
People with dyslexia usually have difficulty interpreting the sounds (phonological components) of the language. Most people hear and process the sounds in a word so rapidly that they don't even realize they have done it. We hear the sound each letter makes in the word p-i-g and read it without dividing the sounds. People with dyslexia need structured, sequential, reading instruction that retrains the brain to decode letters into a word. People who have dyslexia also may have trouble with spelling, writing, or learning a foreign language.
As a former teacher I have seen several issues with the diagnosis of dyslexia. They include;
- Difficulty for parents and some teachers to understand how much effort a dyslexic person needs to make to learn to read
- Acknowledging that the diagnosis of dyslexia does not take away the individual characteristics of a child. A mildly, dyslexic child with an IQ around 85, ADHD, and little concern about learning may need a different approach to remediation than a severely dyslexic, focused child, with a 140 IQ, and high anxiety about learning.
- Unrealistic expectations of the amount of time needed to remediate a poor reader. Even the best instruction will require a long-term commitment.
- Lack of awareness of all the other things a child is learning while trying to improve reading skills. Children are expected to learn sports, social skills, math, history, science, music, and art while they are working at learning (for them) the very difficult skills of reading and spelling. Most adults would not like to tackle that many subjects at one time.
- Severity of the dyslexia. Some children are mildly dyslexic and with good instruction fairly quickly become better than adequate readers. Some children are severely dyslexic and need many years of instruction along with modifications in their other work so they do not fall behind.
- Problems with terminology. Parents often feel that they are listening to a foreign language when professionals discuss dyslexia: Phonemic awareness, orthographic processing, auditory processing, aphasia, executive function . . . and then there are the acronyms: ARD, IEP,LD, ADHD, FBA ...! Never be afraid to stop a person and ask the meaning of a word.
- The specificity of definitions of dyslexia. For some testers the term dyslexia covers just about any reading problems. In fact, parents may be told dyslexia can include problems in math, organization, or handwriting. Other testers give problems with math or handwriting their own term (dyscalculia or dysgraphia). Some believe dyslexia only refers to the problem of phonological (sounds) awareness. They insist that other reading problems should not be labeled dyslexia. And some testers use more specific terms such as auditory discrimination problem, orthographic deficit, phonemic awareness deficit, short or long term memory deficit or visual motor integration disorder.
- The reasons why a child can't read. Although most people with dyslexia are helped with a structured, phonemic based, multi-sensory approach to reading, the reality is there may be many factors making learning to read difficult for them. A person may have short or long term memory problems, attention deficit, spatial problems, motor problems, or a number of other issues that make learning to read difficult. Some children need more than the standard program given for remediation.