Dyslexia is a reading, spelling and writing disorder marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.
People this disorder have problems converting spoken language into written language (and vice versa). A genetic predisposition, problems with auditory and visual perception processing, with the processing of speech and especially with phonological awareness are assumed to be the cause. Dyslexia occurs in isolation and contrary to expectations: that is, the written language problems arise without a plausible explanation for them without a thorough examination by a neurologist (such as general aptitude or insufficient schooling).
The disorder refers to massive and mostly long-lasting problems of the acquisition of the written language. The term has its origin from Latin: dys- + Greek: lexis, speech (from legein, to speak).
Dyslexia is 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. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
But what does that mean exactly?
It refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students usually experience difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.
The disorder affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, and/or extra support services.
The exact causes are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions. Moreover, most people with have been found to have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. It is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn; with appropriate teaching methods, students with dyslexia can learn successfully.
Dyslexia occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels. People affected can be very bright. They are often capable or even gifted in areas such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, mechanics, music, physics, sales, and sports. In addition, it runs in families; having a parent or sibling with dyslexia increases the probability that you will also have similar problems. For some people, the symptons are identified early in their lives, but for others, it goes unidentified until they get older.
The impact is different for each person and depends on the severity of the condition and the timeliness and effectiveness of instruction or remediation. The core difficulty involves word recognition and reading fluency, spelling, and writing. Some individuals manage to learn early reading and spelling tasks, especially with excellent instruction, but later experience their most debilitating problems when more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and writing essays.
People can also have problems with spoken language, even after they have been exposed to excellent language models in their homes and high quality language instruction in school. They may find it difficult to express themselves clearly, or to fully comprehend what others mean when they speak. Such language problems are often difficult to recognize, but they can lead to major problems in school, in the workplace, and in relating to other people. The effects reach well beyond the classroom.
It is equally important to understand what dyslexia isn’t. There are great misconceptions and myths about teh disorder which make it that much more difficult for someone affected to receive help and generally be understood. It is a myth that individuals “read backwards.” Their spelling can look quite jumbled at times not because they read or see words backwards, but because students have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and letter patterns in words.
With proper diagnosis, appropriate and timely instruction, hard work, and support from family, teachers, friends, and others, individuals can succeed in school and later as adults. Individuals with dyslexia do not have a lower level of intelligence. In fact, more often than not, the complete opposite is true.
Signs & Symptons
It is crucial to be able to recognize the signs of symptoms. The earlier a child is evaluated, the sooner he or she can obtain the appropriate instruction and accommodations he or she needs to succeed in school.
General problems experienced by people include the following:
- Learning to speak
- Learning letters and their sounds
- Organizing written and spoken language
- Memorizing number facts
- Reading quickly enough to comprehend
- Keeping up with and comprehending longer reading assignments
- Learning a foreign language
- Correctly doing math operations
Some specific signs for elementary aged children may include:
- Difficulty with remembering simple sequences such as counting to 20, naming the days of the week, or reciting the alphabet
- Difficulty understanding the rhyming of words, such as knowing that fat rhymes with cat
- Trouble recognizing words that begin with the same sound (for example, that bird, baby”, and big all start with b)
- Pronunciation difficulties
- Trouble easily clapping hands to the rhythm of a song
- Difficulty with word retrieval (frequently uses words like “stuff” and “that thing” rather than specific words to name objects)
- Trouble remembering names of places and people
- Difficulty remembering spoken directions
It is important to note that not all students who have difficulties with these skills have dyslexia. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia. An individual can have more than one learning or behavioral disability. For example, in various studies as many as 30% of those diagnosed with a learning or reading difference have also been diagnosed with ADHD. Although disabilities may co-occur, one is not the cause of the other.
Adapted from Handbook of the International Dyslexia Association