All children learn to speak, read, and write at their own unique pace. When children struggle learning to read, the problem can be related to an underlying or undiagnosed developmental condition called dyslexia.
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a recognized learning disability where a child or adult has trouble with visual perception, which manifests as difficulty processing written words or numbers. This can cause them to have trouble decoding letters, numbers, and phonics, making the process of reading and writing more challenging.
What Causes Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a developmental condition that a child is born with. There may be underlying genetic factors at play, as dyslexia has been known to run in families. Individuals with dyslexia are not intellectually impaired. Instead, dyslexia affects the way their brain processes information.
Diagnostic images of the brain demonstrate that when people with dyslexia read, they use different areas of the brain to process information compared to individuals who do not have dyslexia. This causes inefficiencies in the individual’s reading skills, which can make it hard for a child to read and learn. If not caught early, dyslexia can make it especially challenging for children to learn during their elementary school years.
How Does Dyslexia Affect Reading & Learning?
Most children start learning to read by discovering how speech sounds make up words. This process of “phonemic awareness” helps them to connect those sounds to the 26 letters of the alphabet letters as well as other digraph combinations like th, ch, sh, and tr. Children then learn how to blend those sounds into common words.
As time goes on, children eventually learn to recognize words they’ve seen many times before. This creates a vast lexicon of sight words that speeds the reading process, beyond having to sound out each syllable.
With a lot of practice and exposure to new words, typical readers gradually learn to read words automatically, allowing them to direct their mental energy toward comprehending and remembering what they’ve read. This is a critical point that expedites the learning process.
However, children with dyslexia typically have trouble developing phonemic awareness and using phonics to decode words. This means that reading doesn’t become automatic, which makes reading a slow and laborious task. It can often be frustrating for the child, and they will avoid reading as much as possible. This in turn can slow their learning and academic achievement, even though they technically have the intellectual capacity to learn.
It is important to note that not all children with dyslexia perceive letters, numbers, or words as reversed. This type of problem can be a part of dyslexia, but reversals are very common among kids without dyslexia up until first or second grade. Children with dyslexia tend to struggle with phonemic awareness, phonics, and the quick recognition of sight words.
What Are the Signs of Dyslexia?
Most signs of dyslexia present in children during the preschool and early elementary school years. Some of the following signs may be included :
- Slow in learning to talk
- Struggling to pronounce long words
- Struggling to pronounce words with more than two syllables
- Frequent rhyming
- Trouble learning the alphabet sequence
- Trouble learning the days of the week, colors, shapes, and numbers
- Struggling to learn letter names and their associated sounds
- Difficulty reading and writing their own name
- Struggling to identify syllables and speech sounds in words
- Trouble sounding out simple words
- Difficulty reading and spelling words with the correct letter sequence
- Difficulty with handwriting and fine-motor coordination
- A child with dyslexia that goes unnoticed may have academic troubles such as:
- Reading below grade level
- Spelling significantly below grade level
- Avoidance of reading and writing
- Working slowly on reading and writing assignments
- Problems taking timed tests
How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?
Dyslexia is usually diagnosed during elementary school when the child shows deficiencies in reading comprehension.
Dyslexia needs to be formally diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by a reading specialist or a licensed psychologist who is trained in the diagnosing of childhood learning disabilities. Your child’s pediatrician can refer you when needed.
The longer it takes to diagnose dyslexia in a child the more likely that child is to experience reading and learning problems. Untreated dyslexia can lead to problems with self-esteem and frustrations with their own academic performance. This makes early detection very important.
Dyslexia Management & Treatment
Fortunately, there have been impressive advancements in dyslexia management in recent years. Now with the proper assistance, most children with dyslexia can learn to read and develop strategies that allow them to stay in a traditional classroom setting.
Children with dyslexia typically work with a specialist, a specially trained teacher, or a tutor, that provides them with the techniques to help them learn how to read and spell, as well as manage the way dyslexia affects their everyday activities. Your child’s teacher or pediatrician might also recommend an academic therapist who is trained to work with children with dyslexia to help them maximize their academic performance.
US Federal laws entitle children with learning disabilities, reading conditions, and other language-based learning differences to receive help from public schools. Children with these conditions which are collectively known as “Specific Learning Disabilities” receive specialized instruction, as well as accommodations such as extra time for taking tests and homework or help with taking notes in class. Different states vary in how these laws are implemented. If your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia, you should discuss these laws and accommodations with school staff.
Avail your child of all their potential resources.
What Parents Can Do
Parents often ask what else they can do to help assure that their children learn to read and write properly. This advice from the Mayo Clinic Website can prove helpful.
You play a key role in helping your child succeed.
Take these steps:
Address the problem early.
If you suspect your child has dyslexia, talk to your child’s doctor. Early intervention can improve success.
Read aloud to your child.
It’s best if you start when your child is six months old or even younger. Try listening to recorded books with your child. When your child is old enough, read the stories together after your child hears them.
Work with your child’s school.
Talk to your child’s teacher about how the school will help him or her succeed. You are your child’s best advocate.
Encourage reading time.
To improve skills, a child must practice reading. Encourage your child to read.
Set an example for reading.
Designate a time each day to read something of your own while your child reads – this sets an example and supports your child. Show your child that reading can be enjoyable.
Today dyslexia is a manageable learning disability. There exists a wide range of tools to help your child make the most out of their academic experience. Early identification is key.
If you are concerned that your child may have dyslexia, talk with your doctor, your child’s teacher, or a reading specialist.