Reading may seem easy and automatic for people who master it without difficulty. Even children as young as two can be taught to read. And some, at age three begin reading without any aid at all. Nonetheless, reading is a complex and challenging task for our brains, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so many struggle with it.
In fact, about 15% to 20% of the U.S. population has a specific reading disability called dyslexia, which is the major cause of reading failure in school, according to the Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit in Jacksonville, dedicated to improving the health of children. The good news is that dyslexia can be identified early and kids who have it can be taught to become successful readers.
Watching a child struggle with reading, writing, and other academic areas can be heartbreaking for parents and other family members. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) strives to help parents of dyslexic children, as well as, others with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities overcome these challenges. The organization estimates that up to 10% of the population demonstrate signs of dyslexia and a recent study revealed that as many as 35% of entrepreneurs may be dyslexic. Each year, the IDA answers 30,000-40,000 direct inquiries to their national office from individuals seeking more information about dyslexia. Due to an increased demand for support services, the IDA has shifted to offer more resources directly to parents of dyslexic children.
The IDA defines dyslexia as a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, birth defects, mental illness, level of education, or economic status.
Some of the problems experienced by dyslexics include the following:
- Difficulty learning to speak
- Trouble learning letters and their sounds
- Difficulty organizing written and spoken language
- Trouble memorizing number facts
- Difficulty reading quickly enough to comprehend
- Trouble persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
- Difficulty spelling
- Trouble learning a foreign language
- Difficulty correctly doing math operations
Not all students who have difficulties with these skills are dyslexic. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia. Parents who suspect that their child might be exhibiting signs of dyslexia or another language-based learning disability are encouraged to take action as soon as they suspect a problem. The earlier a child receives intervention the sooner he or she can get on the path to successful learning:
- Contact your child’s teacher, head of school, guidance counselor or pediatrician and express your concerns.
- Request a formal evaluation of your child by a professional or request a referral for testing to confirm a diagnosis of dyslexia or another language-based learning disability.
- Visit the International Dyslexia Association’s website www.interdys.org for fact sheets and helpful resources for parents. In addition the International Dyslexia Association also has a new program designed to support parents and connect them with other parents of dyslexic children.
- Be an advocate for your child. If your child is diagnosed as being dyslexic fight for proper accommodations in his or her current school or look into specialized schools or tutors. Moreover, the Georgia Legislature enacted a special education voucher program in 2007 which helps nearly 3,000 special-needs students in Georgia attend the school of their parents’ choice, including private school, should their parents feel their special-needs child is not being adequately served in the public school system (www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/Programs/Georgia-Special-Needs-Scholarship-Program).
- Keep a positive attitude. A diagnosis of dyslexia or another learning difference is not the end of the world. Children with dyslexia are bright, capable and able to go on to college and successful careers. If your child has dyslexia it simply means that he or she learns differently. Many top CEOs, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
- Help your child keep a positive attitude. It is important to use positive reinforcement when working with children with this learning disorder. It is a well-documented fact that children with dyslexia, learning disabilities (LD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suffer with low self-esteem. Counseling may help with these issues.
The latest dyslexia research is focusing on the brain to determine whether there is a physiological difference in the brains of dyslexic individuals. In fact, former IDA President and world renowned dyslexia expert, Dr. Guinevere F. Eden, uses brain imaging technology to visualize how reading pathways of the brain are impacted by instruction, mode of communication, and writing systems. MRI scans conducted by Dr. Eden and her team show that learning areas activated in the brain of a dyslexic are different from those of “typical readers.”
Recently, Dr. Eden released the results of a groundbreaking study which showed that improvements in reading ability were accompanied by changes in brain structure after a reading intervention in eleven children with dyslexia. The study’s findings were featured in the scientific journal NeuroImage. Children in the study showed marked improvement in reading and reading related skills as the result of eight weeks of intensive instruction. MRI scans of the brain of students participating in the study, conducted by Dr. Eden and her team show four areas with increased volume at the end of the instruction, as compared with the start. Both the improvements in reading skills and changes in brain structure continued to be observed on follow-up. The study concluded that intense instruction can have positive and lasting outcomes in improving reading skills in children having difficulty learning to read.
If you would like to find an IDA Member Professional in your area, become a member of the IDA or the Parent Program, or find out more information about dyslexia and the organization, please visit the IDA website at http://www.interdys.org.#