What is dyslexia? Both professionals and parents are often confused by the term “dyslexia.” It has become a general term for a variety of specific learning problems. Dyslexia literally means having difficulty with the written word. It is a neurologically based reading disability. This means that the reading disability is not due to poor education, poor parental training, or poor motivation. It is not due to emotional problems. These disabilities can cause reading problems, but they are not dyslexic.
What causes dyslexia? Neurologists and brain researchers are still investigating the exact reasons and locations in the brain for this disability. Usually it is inherited, so that if one parent is dyslexic, the child may also be dyslexic. American educators see that there is an underlying inability to process language in dyslexic children. English and European educators see that there is an underlying visual perceptual and sequencing weakness. Both viewpoints are good indicators that dyslexia may be present. The confusion for the specialist is differentiating between dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and secondary reading problems.
Dyslexia in some children may be more apparent through their spelling and language. When the dyslexic child hears the spoken word, he or she may omit, substitute, or reverse the sounds and hear a completely different word than what was said. Other children may look at the printed word or letter and read it as something very different; they may read “b” as “d”, or “p” as “g”, or the word “saw” as “was.” Some dyslexic children have difficulty in one area or the other. Some have difficulty in both.
Dyslexia may occur at four or more critical points in a child’s development.
- A history of reading problems, learning problems, developmental delay, or dyslexia in the family. Since dyslexia is genetic and usually inherited, this is a strong indicator that the child has dyslexia.
- Damage done to the neurological system from the point of conception until birth. The use of drugs, alcohol, nicotine, medications, etc., can seriously influence the developing fetus. Direct injuries to the mother, or illness during pregnancy, can also directly influence the child’s neurological health.
- Any traumas during the birthing process, such as anoxia or lack of oxygen, incorrect use of forceps, or any medications given to the mother to aid the delivery, may later affect the child.
- Any injuries to the child, or illnesses such as high fevers or poisoning, can create a neurological impairment.
What are some signs of dyslexia? The following signs occur at different ages, but they can help parents and teachers identify dyslexia. One symptom alone doesn’t necessarily make a child dyslexic, but the accumulation of symptoms gives a strong indication.
- Slow to learn the names of letters.
- Slow to learn the names of colors.
- Mixing up words. Saying “aminals” for “animals,” or “donimoes” for “dominoes.”
- Reversing letters and numbers.
- Difficulty remembering directions.
- Difficulty locating objects that are plainly in sight.
- Skipping lines and losing one’s place while reading.
- Spelling errors.
- Constantly mixing up left and right directions.
- Mild speech delay.
- Problems with coordination, such as tying shoes, buttoning a shirt.
These symptoms may be noticed in children under the age of five. If these symptoms persist as the child grows older, they become significant indicators of dyslexia. A nine-year-old who has many of these symptoms has a high probability of dyslexia.
What can you do about it?
- If your child has many of these symptoms, they will be picked up most likely by your child’s teacher.
- If you see these symptoms in your child, and your child’s teacher has not noticed them, bring them to the teacher’s attention.
- If the problems persist or the child performs poorly in school, consult your child’s principal. Ask the principal to have the school psychologist do a psychological-educational evaluation on your child.
- If the school psychologist is not available, consult a private child psychologist.
- Dyslexia is a problem that requires more professional training than most parents have. If you need help with a dyslexic child, you should seek out a competent professional for assistance. Teachers specifically trained in learning problems, educational therapists, and educational psychologists are equipped to help your child.
- It is important for parents of a dyslexic child to inform themselves of specific programs and special schools that might help the child.
Prevention: Awareness of a dyslexia problem and early intervention, along with warm support for the child, are often the best things parents can do for a dyslexic child.
- The term dyslexia is often not understood by teachers or others. You may want to have your child evaluated by a psychologist.
- Many dyslexics respond to training by an educational therapist. The problem may not continue to be a problem if you get help for your child now.