Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a term used to describe specific learning difficulties that hinder the acquisition of basic literacy skills. In North America, Dyslexia is usually referred to as being “Learning Disabled” in acquisition of reading or written language skills. Other terms which may be used include : “Developmental Reading or Written Language Disorder” or simply, “Specific Learning Difficulty”.

A person with Dyslexia is someone who usually has average to above average intelligence and their difficulties with literacy skills are not the result of emotional problems, lack of motivation, vision/hearing problems, lack of proper educational experiences or difficulty in learning a second language. The term Dyslexia is defined many different ways. While reading is the basic problem, different aspects of reading and related problems are included. For example :

Problems learning to translate printed words into spoken words with ease (decoding).
Problems with word identification and/or reading comprehension.

Persons with Dyslexia sometimes reverse or mis-sequence letters within words when reading or writing(b/d, brid/bird, on/no). This also may show signs of one or more of the following :

  • perceiving and/or pronouncing words
  • understanding spoken language
  • recalling known words
  • handwriting
  • spelling
  • written language
  • sequencing and basic mathematical operations
  • processing difficulties in short-term memory (auditory and/or visual)
  • general visual processing deficits (interpreting symbols, part to whole relationships)
  • slow work style/processing speed
  • inconsistent/erratic performance
  • behavioural problems (avoiding/refusing work)
  • low self-esteem

Some research suggests that children with early reading difficulties in learning decoding skills also have problems hearing individual sounds in words, analyzing whole words into parts, and blending sounds into words (phonological processing).

Each Dyslexic person has their own pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Their problems can range from very slight to very severe disruption of learning.

What causes Dyslexia?

The exact cause of Dyslexia is not known. Research suggests that in many cases it is inherited and may occur in families. Some research suggests that there are slight differences in the brains of people with Dyslexia, Dyslexia is not due to bad teaching or schools.

How is Dyslexia diagnosed?

A comprehensive psychological evaluation that looks at all areas of learning and learning processes carried out by a trained psychologist. Typically this consists of an intelligence test and tests of academic achievement. Included in or in addition to are tests of memory and visual/auditory processing. A clinical interview of developmental, medical, social and educational history is also included. In children under 7, it is most important to look at how they process information. In older children, an aptitude/achievement discrepancy is an important part of diagnosis.

How many people have Dyslexia?

Studies vary as do diagnostic criteria (particularly in North America) but around 5% of the general population is a good estimate. 60 to 80 percent are males.

Some common problems

He’s not listening:

  • He may have difficulty in remembering a list of instructions.
  • He may have sequencing problems and need to be taught strategies to cope and alternative ways of remembering.

He’s lazy:

  • He may have difficulty organizing his work and need lots of support to do so.
  • He may be able to answer the questions orally but have difficulty writing them down.
  • The child may have found that the less he writes the less negative feedback he gets for making mistakes.

He’s not concentrating/can’t finish his work:

  • He may have difficulty with visual/auditory memory and need to have things repeated or need to look at each letter when copying.
  • He may need more time to complete assignments/tests or have them in a quiet area due to slow processing of information.

He doesn’t care; he’s doing this on purpose:

  • He produces good work one day and poor work the next. He knew it yesterday but refuses to produce it today. Off days and erratic performance are quite common and are to be expected of Dyslexic children.

How can parents and teachers help Dyslexic children?

The most important part of helping children is to build their sense of achievement. These children often have poor self-confidence and a low self-esteem. Focusing on their achievements and encouraging their efforts is vital.

Having Dyslexic children do hours and hours of extra homework and drill will not do much in helping them overcome their difficulties. A little extra drill is OK but should always be enjoyable to the child. Any work parents do with children should be at their rate, capacity and level. Providing lots of opportunity for success and praise is crucial to boost their self-esteem.

Keep good open lines of communication with your child’s school and teachers. Each school varies in the degree of support, which is offered to Dyslexic children. Some types of accommodation and recommendations are more easily put in place than others. Outline your concerns and willingness to help.

Having some sort of daily or at least weekly contact with your child’s teacher is a good idea. The idea behind this is to emphasize positive behaviours and accomplishments not to say how poorly the child is doing.

Small group or one-to-one teaching targeting the child’s difficulties is a standard intervention for Dyslexic children. The work is normally adjusted to the child’s rate, capacity and level so that success is assured.

Teaching approaches should be multisensory and include a large amount of structure. Take advantage of the child’s strengths.

Dyslexic children often need help getting organized. Colour coding folders and having separate homework folders is suggested. Having a small laminated list of necessary items for school posted where the child can see it is also a good idea. Praise the child for staying organized.

Practice and overlearning are also very important for Dyslexic children. Varying presentation formats and trying to make things as interesting as possible is important as Dyslexic children must often go over the same material on a regular basis.

Breaking tasks into smaller units is often difficult for dyslexic children. Giving fewer problems on a page, half a page at a time and just generally breaking things into smaller units is recommended.

It is sometimes useful for the child to have a list of questions to which he can refer that cover areas that are being developed. Example: “have you checked all the words with d and b?” Giving samples of work, which is correctly completed, may also help.

When giving directions, make sure you have the child’s attention and keep things short and clear. Use visual cues. Consider having an easy-going peer next to the child to help him stay on task and read directions/questions to him. Having questions on a tape recorder should also be considered as well as reading test questions especially in non-core subjects such as geography.

Giving the child more time to complete tests and assignments should also be considered.

With proper intervention and caring adults around them most Dyslexic children learn to cope with their difficulties and lead happy productive lives.

Additional Information on Dyslexia and Learning Disorders

KidsHealth – Dyslexia

Reading From Scratch – Dyslexia

Dyslexia Action

Mayo Clinic – Dyslexia

Dyslexia Association of Ireland

Learning Disabilities Association of America – Dyslexia