What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning disability that can cause difficulty in reading, writing, spelling, and speaking. It affects a person’s ability to read at a normal pace and causes the brain to have trouble processing letters and sounds. There are different kinds of dyslexia including, but not limited to, the following: phonological, surface, rapid naming deficit, and double deficit. Phonological dyslexia is where students have trouble breaking words into sounds and decoding words. Surface dyslexia is where students struggle with sight words and words with tricky spellings. It is common for students to have a combination of both surface and phonological dyslexia. Rapid naming deficit is where students cannot name numbers and letters quickly when they see them and affects a person’s processing and reading speeds, while double deficit is where students struggle with phonological awareness as well as naming letters quickly when seeing them. This is considered a more severe form of dyslexia.
How Can You Spot Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom?
According to Understood.org, signs of dyslexia are a bit different in various grade levels. In preschool, signs of dyslexia can include students using “baby talk” often, struggling to tell stories in a logical order, saying words like “beddy tear” instead of “teddy bear”, inability to understand basic rhyming patterns with words such as bat and cat, difficulty in recognizing the letters in their own name and learning/remembering the letters of the alphabet, and trouble with basic nursery rhymes.
In grades K-2, students struggle with letter names and the sounds they make, sight words unless there is a visual along with it, substituting words when reading out loud, confusion of letters that look or sound similar, and remembering how words are spelled, especially when they need to be applied to writing.
In grades 3-5, students struggle with remembering key details from a story, letter reversals, sounding out new words, skipping over small words such as “for” and “of” when reading out loud, spelling including writing the same word correctly and incorrectly in the same piece of writing, and avoidance. Avoidance is when students will avoid reading whenever possible and can get overwhelmed, frustrated, and upset when reading.
In grades 6-12 and in adults, struggles include remembering common abbreviations, spending long amounts of time completing reading assignments, understanding jokes or puns, and searching for words or using substitutes (such as using “gate” instead of “fence”). It is generally easier to answer questions about text when it is read out loud.
How Does Dyslexia Impact Student Learning Long Term?
First and foremost, students that suffer from dyslexia oftentimes have low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and behavior problems. These students won’t want to try again and fear making mistakes. It can affect their ability to “interact with peers in a typical way”. Frustration at the inability to read is common, and students don’t always feel good about themselves when they compare themselves to others.
Many of these impacts are seen at the middle school level and beyond. This is age where students can recognize that it is taking them longer to learn than the others around them. They can see the deficits within themselves and it can be extremely difficult to cope with. This is how behavior problems and anxiety issues can arise.
As students continue to get older, it can cause them to withdraw from friends and adults and can create many issues as adults including the inability to reach one’s full potential. The social and emotional issues created from dyslexia can be just as hindering as the dyslexia itself.
Students that do not receive support earlier on tend to struggle academically and be unable to “catch up”. The older students are when dyslexia is identified and interventions are put in place may continue to struggle and have more difficulty learning the skills needed to read well.
Different Supports/Help to Provide these Students
There is no “treatment” for dyslexia, but there are many different ways to provide educational support. According to the Mayo Clinic, many factors are considered in the diagnosis of dyslexia including a child’s development, educational issues, and medical history, home life, questionnaires answered by the child, parent, and teacher, vision, hearing, and neurological tests, psychological testing, and academic testing.
The earlier that the interventions begin, the better! Individualized education plans (IEPs) can be put in place and will provide a plan that is structured and focuses on the specific child’s need and how the school will help this child to succeed. This is a legal document and must be followed by the school district. Supports that are often used focus on learning to recognize and use the sounds that make up words (phonetic awareness), understanding the letters that make up the words, reading comprehension, reading fluency, and building up vocabulary.
Parental support and involvement are also important. The Mayo Clinic website gives many ways for parents to support students with dyslexia to succeed including addressing the problem early, reading out loud at home with their child, working hand in hand with their child’s school and teachers, and simply encouraging reading. Parents and schools working together will help the child to receive the support necessary to overcome the difficulties of dyslexia.
As much as dyslexia affects the academic performance of children, it can have many social-emotional and psychological effects as well. Early intervention is always best, but it is never too late to put supports in place. There are many successful people that have dyslexia including Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Tebow, Anderson Cooper, and Steven Spielberg. Although dyslexia can present many challenges throughout life, people can lead successful lives.
As Richard Branson stated, “Being dyslexic can actually help in the outside world. I see some things clearer than other people do because I have to simplify things to help me and that has helped others.” Sometimes disabilities can present opportunities to be embraced by those who experience them, and, in turn, those people can help others around them in different kinds of ways. People with dyslexia need to remember that they are not alone, and although it can impact learning at various stages of their life, there is nothing that they cannot achieve.