Dyslexia - Millions Have Dyslexia Few Understand It

Dyslexia – An Overview

Kristen Pulsifer

When is comes to academics and learning, people struggle with a variety of different things.  Everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners while some are more auditory.  ‘Different strokes for different folks’, right? Then there are more difficult challenges that people face when learning.  For example, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder), Dysgraphia and Dyslexia.  These are just a few examples of some of the more common, yet challenging learning issues that many students face. Regardless of the issue, and these are real issues; each challenge makes learning basic reading, writing and comprehension skills quite difficult. 

One of the more misunderstood learning challenges, is Dyslexia.  Some people believe that dyslexia is simply when a student either confuses letters, or takes longer to read or complete assignments.  Many people believe that students will simply either grow out of it, or, if given extra time, they should be able to work through all of their school work just like any other student.  This is truly not the case.  Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that effects anywhere from 5% - 17% of the population in the United States. It takes truly special teaching strategies to help dyslexic students learn, and, more importantly, comprehend necessary, basic learning skills.  Fluency, “the ability to translate print to speech with rapidity and automaticity (ability to respond with little conscious effort) that allows the reader to focus on meaning”, is one of the toughest challenges a dyslexic person faces.

As defined in Judith R. Birsh’s book, Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, “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”. 

Some consequences of Dyslexia may consist of difficulties with reading comprehension, and decreased reading experience that hinders growth of vocabulary and knowledge.  When a person is dyslexic, information cannot be processed through the brain the way it should be.  Information may enter into short term memory, but has difficulty passing beyond into working memory and then long term memory; therefore, children who struggle with Dyslexia cannot process the necessary skills to build off of in order to become strong, fluent readers- their comprehension and decoding skills are limited.  “Individuals with dyslexia have difficulty gaining access to and manipulating the sound structure (phonemes) of spoken language.  Such a deficit prevents easy and early access to letter – sound correspondences and decoding strategies that foster accurate and fluent word decoding and recognition” (Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Judith R. Birsh).  Learning letters, sound and words is daunting to a dyslexic student. They watch their peers surpass them and they begin to shut down with thoughts of failure consuming them. Thankfully there are definitely strategies to help individuals with even the most severe cases of dyslexia, to flourish into strong readers and learners.  As mentioned before, everyone has a way that helps them to learn more effectively - some skills simply need to be more specific than others.

The first step to assisting a person struggling with dyslexia is to make sure they are appropriately diagnosed.  Screening processes are available, and school counselors and psychologists should be able to appropriately guide students and families in this process.  There are also learning therapists outside the school system that can help properly test and diagnose those concerned they may be struggling with dyslexia. 

If dyslexia is correctly diagnosed, there are several teaching curricula and methods created specifically to help dyslexic students learn effectively.  Dyslexia is not a one-way ticket down a dark and dreary alley of failure.  There are wonderful teaching strategies and specialists out there waiting for the opportunity to create fluency in a struggling student’s world. 

Once a particular learning method is selected the most important part is consistency with the learning method selected.  Students and families need to be on board and committed to the learning process prescribed to the student.  It will take extra work for students and families; but, sooner than later the reward of efficient learning will prove well worth the effort. Students suddenly realize they can learn, read, write and participate.  They have a way that makes sense and helps them through all of the work that originally felt overly daunting and difficult. It is possible.  

One of my students that I worked with throughout his high school years, now (in his late 20s) is thankful for all that his struggles with dyslexia taught him.  He specifically appreciates all of his teachers, family and councilors pushing for him to learn self-advocacy.  He reflects on how hard learning was, but realizes the tremendous work ethic it taught him.  He learned to work hard for himself and he admits that he may not have had that same strong work ethic and motivation had he not struggled and been pushed to never use it as an excuse. So, those of you who either have dyslexia or know someone who does, always be supportive, but push those individuals, when ready, to be an advocate and work hard for themselves.  

Dyslexia is one of the most common and one of the more ignored Learning Disabilities.  It effects millions of adults and children. I work with many children struggling with this issue and similar reading/comprehension issues, every day. Listen to this series from NPR and learn more.