Dyslexia has been around for a long time and has been defined in different ways. For example, in 1968, the World Federation of Neurologists defined dyslexia as "a disorder in children who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing, and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities". According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, dyslexia is a learning disability that can hinder a person's ability to read, write, spell, and sometimes speak.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and persists throughout life. The severity of dyslexia can vary from mild to severe. The sooner dyslexia is treated, the more favorable the outcome; however, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn to improve their language skills.
Children with dyslexia have difficulty in learning to read despite traditional instruction, at least average intelligence, and an adequate opportunity to learn. It is caused by an impairment in the brain's ability to translate images received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of intelligence.
Dyslexia can go undetected in the early grades of schooling. The child can become frustrated by the difficulty in learning to read, and other problems can arise that disguise dyslexia. The child may show signs of depressionand low self-esteem. Behavior problems at home as well as at school are frequently seen. The child may become unmotivated and develop a dislike for school. The child's success in school may be jeopardized if the problem remains untreated.
Classroom teachers may not be able to determine if a child has dyslexia. They may detect early signs that suggest further assessment by a psychologist or other health professional in order to actually diagnose the disorder. Letter and number reversals are the most common warning sign. Such reversals are fairly common up to the age of 7 or 8 and usually diminish by that time. If they do not, it may be appropriate to test for dyslexia or other learning problems. Difficulty copying from the board or a book can also suggest problems.
There may be a general disorganization of written work. A child may not be able to remember content, even if it involves a favorite video or storybook. Problems with spatial relationships can extend beyond the classroom and be observed on the playground. The child may appear to be uncoordinated and have difficulty with organized sports or games.
Difficulty with left and right is common, and often dominance for either hand has not been established. In the early grades, music and dance are often used to enhance academic learning. Children with dyslexia can have difficulty moving to the rhythm of the music.
Auditory problems in dyslexia encompass a variety of functions. Commonly, a child may have difficulty remembering or understanding what he hears. Recalling sequences of things or more than one command at a time can be difficult. Parts of words or parts of whole sentences may be missed, and words can come out sounding funny. The wrong word or a similar word may be used instead. Children struggling with this problem may know what they want to say but have trouble finding the actual words to express their thoughts.
Many subtle signs can be observed in children with dyslexia. Children may become withdrawn and appear to be depressed. They may begin to act out, drawing attention away from their learning difficulty. Problems with self-esteem can arise, and peer and sibling interactions can become strained. These children may lose their interest in school-related activities and appear to be unmotivated or lazy. The emotional symptoms and signs are just as important as the academic and require equal attention.
There are several types of dyslexia that can affect the child's ability to spell as well as read.
"Trauma dyslexia" usually occurs after some form of brain trauma or injury to the area of the brain that controls reading and writing. It is rarely seen in today's school-age population.
A second type of dyslexia is referred to as "primary dyslexia." This type of dyslexia is a dysfunction of, rather than damage to, the left side of the brain (cerebral cortex) and does not change with age. Individuals with this type are rarely able to read above a fourth-grade level and may struggle with reading, spelling, and writing as adults. Primary dyslexia is passed in family lines through their genes (hereditary). It is found more often in boys than in girls.
A third type of dyslexia is referred to as "secondary" or "developmental dyslexia" and is felt to be caused by hormonal development during the early stages of fetal development. Developmental dyslexia diminishes as the child matures. It is also more common in boys.
Dyslexia may affect several different functions. Visual dyslexia is characterized by number and letter reversals and the inability to write symbols in the correct sequence. Auditory dyslexia involves difficulty with sounds of letters or groups of letters. The sounds are perceived as jumbled or not heard correctly. "Dysgraphia" refers to the child's difficulty holding and controlling a pencil so that the correct markings can be made on the paper.
Before any treatment is started, an evaluation must be done to determine the child's specific area of disability. While there are many theories about successful treatment for dyslexia, there is no actual cure for it. The school will develop a plan with the parent to meet the child's needs. If the child's current school is unprepared to address this condition, the child will need to be transferred to a school, if available in the area, which can appropriately educate the dyslexic child.
The plan may be implemented in a Special Education setting or in the regular classroom. An appropriate treatment plan will focus on strengthening the child's weaknesses while utilizing the strengths. A direct approach may include a systematic study of phonics. Techniques designed to help all the senses work together efficiently can also be used.
Specific reading approaches that require a child to hear, see, say, and do something (multisensory), such as the Slingerland Method, the Orton-Gillingham Method, or Project READ can be used. Computers are powerful tools for these children and should be utilized as much as possible. The child should be taught compensation and coping skills. Attention should be given to optimum learning conditions and alternative avenues for student performance.
In addition to what the school has to offer, there are alternative treatment options available outside the school setting. Although alternative treatments are commonly recommended, there is limited research supporting the effectiveness of these treatments. In addition, many of these treatments are very costly, and it may be easy for frustrated parents to be misled by something that is expensive and sounds attractive.
Perhaps the most important aspect of any treatment plan is attitude. The child will be influenced by the attitudes of the adults around him. Dyslexia should not become an excuse for a child to avoid written work. Because the academic demands on a child with dyslexia may be great and the child may tire easily, work increments should be broken down into appropriate chunks. Frequent breaks should be built into class and homework time.
Reinforcement should be given for efforts as well as achievements. Alternatives to traditional written assignments should be explored and utilized. Teachers are learning to deliver information to students in a variety of ways that are not only more interesting but helpful to students who may learn best by different techniques. Interactive technology is providing interesting ways for students to feedback on what they have learned, in contrast to traditional paper-pencil tasks.