Ever come across a child with difficulties in learning? A number of factors could be responsible for this, one of which is dyslexia. It takes a great deal of awareness, teamwork, and professional intervention to help identify and manage this condition.
It is not an act of stubbornness, nor due to laziness, it does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, damage to the brain, or a lack of intelligence. It is bizarre to even think of it as an act of witchcraft.
Dyslexia, characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, poor spelling and decoding abilities, is a learning disability most common in children that usually persists throughout life.
Dyslexia is thought to be caused by impairment in the brain’s ability to process phonemes (the smallest units of speech that make words different from each other) that most times has a genetic underlying cause.
With Dyslexia comes difficulty in learning to read despite traditional instruction, at least average intelligence, and adequate motivation and opportunity to learn, hence the need for personalised attention.
The whole idea behind this article is, while you tend to get frustrated dealing with a dyslexic child either as a parent or a teacher, having the right information will save you that stress and equip you to become a better caregiver.
What is Dyslexia?
Now that we know what Dyslexia isn’t, let’s check out this definition by The International Dyslexia Association for more insights.
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological 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 growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
Types and causes of dyslexia
Here are the three main types of dyslexia based on their causes:
- Primary Dyslexia: This is the most prevalent type of dyslexia. It is caused by a dysfunction of, and not damage to, the left side of the brain (cerebral cortex) and does not change with age. Primary dyslexia is hereditary or can occur through new genetic changes and it is found more often in boys than in girls.
- Secondary Developmental Dyslexia: This is caused by problems with brain development during the early stages of fetal development. The effect wears off as the child matures.
- Trauma Dyslexia: That occurs after some form of brain trauma or injury to the area of the brain that controls reading and writing. It is the least common.
What are the signs and symptoms of dyslexia?
Knowing the signs and symptoms is helpful in detecting early signs that are indications for further assessment by a professional in order to actually diagnose the disorder.
Signs and symptoms of dyslexia are:
- Difficulty with reading comprehension
- Difficulty decoding words
- Poor memory
- Difficulty with spelling
- Difficulty with expressive language
- Poor handwriting
- Difficulty with math facts and operations
- Average to high level of intelligence
- Gifted in other areas
Other subtle signs may include:
- Children may become withdrawn and appear to be depressed.
- They may begin to act out, drawing attention away from their learning difficulty.
- Problems with self-esteem can arise, and peer and sibling interactions can become strained.
- These children may lose their interest in school-related activities and appear to be unmotivated or lazy.
The emotional symptoms and signs are just as important as the academic and require equal attention.
What should parents or caregivers do if they suspect a child has the signs and symptoms of dyslexia?
1. Meet with the team of stakeholders
It is not enough to know the symptoms of dyslexia, but it should serve as a prompter to meeting with a team of your child’s teachers, pediatrician and psychologist for more answers.
If the parents’ concerns of their child’s dyslexic behaviour are found to be substantial enough from the meeting’s outcome, a decision to test the child will be made. Critical to this is the parents’ written permission.
But also, testing can sometimes be stressful for children, especially if they are unhappy about their school performance. In this case, alternative strategies are usually tried before testing is done.
The team carries out the testing and holds another meeting to discuss the test results.
Usually, the assessment plan for each child is always problem-specific. Regardless, every plan should include testing in five areas:
- Cognition (intelligence),
- Academic performance,
- Sensory/motor, and
- Health and developmental.
The tests administered are standardised and are considered highly reliable. The psychologist through the test determines
- Child’s functional reading level and compares it to reading potential, evaluated by an intelligence test.
- The breakdown in the reading process are examined to pinpoint where the breakdown is occurring.
- Whether a child performs better when allowed to give information (output), by saying something (oral), or by doing something with their hands (tactile-kinaesthetic).
- How all of these sensory systems (modalities) work in conjunction with each other.
- How a child takes in and processes information and what the child does with the information.
Whether a child learns better by:
- hearing information (auditory),
- looking at information (visual), or
- doing something (kinesthetic).
Thereafter, the psychologist determines whether or not the child has dyslexia.
3. Precautions before diagnosis
It is important that the child feels very comfortable prior to testing. The following precautions should be observed for accurate diagnosis.
- Ensure the child do not feel as if there is something wrong because testing is occurring.
- Prior to the testing, a child should sleep well and have a good breakfast.
- Parents should not try to coach the child concerning the testing.
What type of treatment is available for dyslexia?
At the moment, there is no known cure for dyslexia, but it can be effectively managed. Beware of any theories that offer successful treatment for dyslexia.
Any treatment program must involve, a combination of different multisensory strategies and methods to teach dyslexic children based on the child’s specific area of disability.
Some of these strategies and methods include:
- Having an approach structured to provide extensive practice using controlled decodable texts that builds on previously learned material.
- Teaching spelling patterns and syllables each one in isolation and providing extensive practice.
- Teaching them how to visualise to increase comprehension.
- Using audiobooks to teach reading comprehension when using books above their reading level.
- Providing a tracking aide to help avoid errors while reading like omitting and skipping words or substituting words.
- Working on activities to improve their severe deficit in phonemic awareness.
- Explicitly teaching new content using multiple sensory methods.
Some ideas include:
- Colour coding & highlighting
- Using movement
- Using songs and music
- Textured writing
- Learning game
There is variability in the severity of dyslexia in children based on the cause but early identification of those children at risk for developing dyslexia is important to allow for earlier educational interventions for better outcomes.
Unfortunately, there are others who continue to struggle significantly with reading, writing, and spelling throughout their adult lives.
It is also important to focus on the child’s self-esteem, since dealing with dyslexia can be extremely frustrating.
Lastly, it is important to recognise that many well-known and successful individuals have suffered from dyslexia, including Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg, just to name a couple.