It’s National Developmental Disabilities Awareness month, and one topic under that umbrella is dyslexia. This is a learning disability that affects millions of children and is worth knowing about.
Dr. Laura Ginther, a psychologist at the Sand Dollar Wellness Center located at 1136 Shipyard Blvd. in Wilmington, is here with some important facts that you should know about dyslexia.
1. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that can impact learning throughout a person’s academic life. According to Ginther, it’s best if dyslexia is addressed early on – around kindergarten through third grade. Dyslexia involves a cluster of symptoms, according to Ginther. “Usually around language skills,” said Ginther, “particularly reading, but it also can affect spelling, writing and the pronunciation of the words and the understanding of the spoken words.” One component to dyslexia is difficulty identifying separate speech sounds. When someone with dyslexia has trouble identifying sounds, then they might also find it difficult to identify the letter associated with said sound. She says that dyslexia is not writing letters backward. Some parents might be concerned when their child writes certain letters backward, but Ginther says this is a normal developmental process for children.
2. Dyslexia is more widespread than one may think
Ginther says research indicates that 15 to 20 percent of the population has some form of dyslexia. “It could be very mild,” said Ginther, “they might just be a slow reader or someone who may have difficulty clearly articulating speech, all the way to somebody who confuses words, can’t write or can’t continue with their academic education.” Right now, medical professionals aren’t entirely sure what causes dyslexia. “We do know that it runs in families,” said Ginther, “and what we believe is that there is a difference in the way that the brain functions in somebody who is dyslexic versus somebody who is not.”
3. Comprehensive testing is used to diagnose dyslexia
“Typically, when teachers or parents recognize that their child is having difficulty with reading,” said Ginther, “that will happen early on because we have so many markers for children to learn how to read as young as kindergarten now.” A mandated federal requirement called Response to Intervention (RTI) is put in place as soon as the school finds that a child is having trouble with reading. This means that the child will have increased instruction about one hour a week in order to improve the child’s reading, according to Ginther. If a child does not progress with increased instruction, then the system will test the child. That includes an intelligence test, academic achievement testing and a thorough evaluation of language skills.
4. There are ways to accommodate those with dyslexia
If a child is diagnosed, what’s next? Some children use a reading tutor that enforces a unique method of learning involving both hearing and seeing at the same time. “For instance,” said Ginther, “a child may gain better reading fluency if he’s listening to the book and following the words at the same time.” This is to allow children to associate the correct sound with the correct letters and words. Those who are slower readers can be granted extra time on tests. In some cases, those with dyslexia can take oral tests rather than written tests. In later grades, a notetaker can help them get the information down on paper in a fast and efficient manner. Ginther also says the use of a word processor with spellcheck can be very helpful.
5. Be proactive if your child might have dyslexia
“I think it’s important to be involved in your child’s education as early as kindergarten,” said Ginther. She emphasizes the importance of letting the teacher know if your child is struggling to read. Parents have a right to an RTI evaluation and the services involved with diagnosing and dealing with dyslexia. “One of the things that I feel as a psychologist that is most important,” said Ginther, “is that they develop a desire to learn and a sense of confidence that they can learn.” She says that when a child is struggling and is behind their peers, then the opposite effect could happen. They might not want to go to school, and dyslexia can impact a child’s self-image. They might think they aren’t as intelligent. This is not the case. “It is not a measure of intelligence, it is a measure of the difference in the way the brain functions in handling language.” Be sure to be on top of it if you suspect your child has dyslexia, because they can still have a fulfilling academic life.