Dyslexia can be difficult to come to grips with, but understanding it helps your child both navigate the complexities, manage their learning, and develop self-confidence and skills.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia has been studied for many years by experts. The literal definition is:
Dys = difficulty
Lexis = word
Dyslexia = difficulty with words
The International Dyslexia Association explains dyslexia this way:
“Dyslexia is characterised with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. The difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to their 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.”
So...in everyday language...children with dyslexia can find it harder to read words correctly and easily, and spelling is also a difficulty for them. This is usually because, even though they have average to superior intelligence, and even though they have been taught in reading and spelling, they still struggle with matching the sounds in language to the letters used to write those sounds.
Because they can find it hard to work out the meaning of a story, dyslexic children often read less, so they use simpler words and learn less information than they should. Teachers too often can see these students as stupid or lazy, when nothing could be further from the truth.
What are the effects of dyslexia on reading?
Reading involves many processes in the brain. One critical process is letter-sound mapping, where combinations of letters are mapped onto their corresponding sounds, e.g. the letter ‘h’ is mapped to the sound /h/. Another critical process is visual word recognition for mapping familiar words onto their mental pictures, e.g. ‘hat’ responds to a mental picture of a hat. Together, these processes allow students to pronounce words and access meaning.
Dyslexia can cause difficulty in processing the orthography (the written form) and phonology (the sound structure) of language. This has been seen in people all around the world, so it is not confined to certain languages or cultures. Although some students with dyslexia write with letter and number reversals, it is a common misconception that all students with dyslexia will present in this way.
What causes dyslexia?
Researchers have examined brain anatomy, brain chemistry and brain function, and determined that there can be some differences in the ways that a dyslexic person uses areas of their brain in processing language.
Areas of the brain that are involved in reading have been studied using brain imaging, and there can be differences in ways that the neurons fire in these structures (mainly in their left hemisphere) in dyslexic people. These can be different, and sometimes less efficient patterns of processing (including under- and over-activation) in the brain areas associated with speech, language processing, and reading.
Also, it has often been said that “the apple never falls far from the tree” and researchers have examined the genetic component of dyslexia. There have been some studies that suggest that dyslexia can be hereditary, although this is not always the case.
Whilst dyslexia is present for a person’s lifetime, effective teaching using evidence-based strategies and approaches can be highly effective in assisting people to read, write and spell effectively.
What needs do dyslexic learners have?
The same needs that every learner has!!
- being accepted as the unique individual they are
- understood in terms of their learning profile
- instructed effectively
- supported when they are facing difficulties.
In saying that, there are more specific needs that students with dyslexia have that must be approached with expert knowledge and training.
- Understand that dyslexia is not an issue of intelligence
- Access to teachers with suitable skills and knowledge
- Time to spend in one-on-one help, or in small groups of similarly-abled peers
- Recognition and diagnostic assessment
- A structured and systematic approach
- Social and emotional support
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