When my son was 8, and the educational psychologist confirmed he had dyslexia, it brought tears to my eyes. Not because of the diagnosis, but because he had to deal with a “system” who didn’t get him. As an educator, I knew what was ahead in his school career, and it was not going to be an easy journey. I am not placing blame on the “system” for a lack of understanding. I was once part of that “system.” I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t educated. I didn’t understand. I feel we as educators do the best we can with the knowledge and resources we have at a given time.
Thanks to my son, I have been propelled forward in a different direction – a direction to help those with dyslexia. My understanding and education has brought about hope and help for those with dyslexia. In honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month, I write this blog with the intent of helping the public understand just a few things about dyslexia and share the “voices” of those who have this learning difference.
Below, I outline 8 Things that Everyone Should Know about Dyslexia. This blog is based on the “voices” of those who have dyslexia and the current research that is available.
D – Dyslexia is real and affects 15-20% of the population.  Dyslexia is dimensional or on a continuum. It can range from mild to severe. One person may have a tough time putting their thoughts into words, while another may be verbally gifted. One person may have poor fluency, but can comprehend well, while another may have adequate fluency and a difficult time comprehending. Some may have ADHD, while others may not. It is not fair to cluster people with dyslexia into one homogenous group.
Y – Young Age– Characteristics of dyslexia can be present as early as 4-5 years of age. When my son was 7, I questioned whether or not he had dyslexia. I was told to “wait” and that he was too young and immature to know the answer for certain. During the last few years of teaching in the classroom, I questioned whether or not some of my students had dyslexia. Again, I was told to wait, because the child was either lazy or immature. Most often “laziness” is a misdiagnosis for a child who is struggling or bored. The “wait and see” approach is NOT helpful. It is our jobs as parents and educators to examine the symptoms and find solutions to get these children on the road to success. Early identification and intervention are critical. Remember: You have nothing to lose by investigating, but more to lose by waiting.
Voice of dyslexia: “ I thought I was just stupid until I found out I had dyslexia. Then I knew there was a name for why reading was so hard.”
Voice of dyslexia: “ I am not lazy. I am NOT distracted. I just process slowly.”
S – Self–esteem can be low. People with dyslexia are often “competing” against those who can read more efficiently, finish assignments more quickly, and more easily learn new material. This impacts their self-esteem and creates a great deal of anxiety. It is important to find things they excel at and keep reminding them of their gifts. It is also important to find ways to help them learn. In order to combat these negative feelings, it is essential celebrate and praise their strengths. Many people with dyslexia are able to “see outside of the box.” They are great problem solvers, resourceful, and notice things that others do not. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Henry Ford are just a few people who had dyslexia. These pillars capitalized on their strengths and saw dyslexia as a gift. One of my favorite books is The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide.
Voice of dyslexia: “Sometimes I feel so stupid. I feel like everyone else is smart and I can’t do anything right. I wish I had a different brain.”
Voice of dyslexia: “Being dyslexic can make one more resourceful.”
L – Language Based Learning Disability that is lifelong. Dyslexia is a language based learning disability that is NOT due to poor vision. There is no cure for dyslexia; nevertheless, people can successfully learn to read when provided with evidence-based intervention, like the Orton Gillingham approach. Although they may learn to read and write, they may still have difficulty with various aspects of reading and writing later in life.
Voice of dyslexia: “ I am listening, it just takes me longer to understand, and you may need to find a different way of explaining.”
Voice of dyslexia: “I process slowly, as well as having dyslexia, but by working hard, I have been able to achieve much.”
E – Explicit, multisensory, systematic intervention – As a classroom teacher, I had no idea how to teach reading until I learned the Orton Gillingham Approach. This approach can be applied one-on-one, in a small group, or the classroom setting. Using this approach can change the brain structure and utilize more efficient pathways in the brain for reading and will enhance overall reading and fluency.
Individuals who have had effective instruction like the Orton Gillingham approach can learn to read!
Voice of dyslexia: “It’s a lot easier since I was diagnosed and that other people know how to help me.”
X – People with dyslexia can be eXhuasted by detail. For example, pages that have too many words on it or too many instructions can be very overwhelming. Providing text that has larger print can make a world of difference. Many people with dyslexia also have eXceptional hearing, which interferes with what they understand. These auditory processing issues get in the way of filtering out the noises that they need to hear and those that are unnecessary. This is great in a “survival situation,” but in the classroom, it can be very frustrating when trying to filter out noisy situations. It also affects how they discriminate sounds, for example, “seventy” and “seventeen.”
Voice of dyslexia: “My teachers explain things too quickly and then I don’t understand or mix things up. I am trying hard to listen, but they go too fast and sometimes it’s too noisy.
Voice of dyslexia: “A lot of words on a page and assignments immobilize me.”
I – Inherited– Dyslexia is inherited or genetic. Quite often a child who has dyslexia will have a parent who has dyslexia as well, but it may manifest in both family members differently. The neural wiring of a person with dyslexia is not typical. Brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia functions. Dyslexia is NOT an intellectual deficit, and many people with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence. They will often have strengths in areas that are not related to reading.
Voice of dyslexia – “I have to work twice as hard as individuals who don’t have dyslexia to keep up with them.”
Voice of dyslexia: “My mom has dyslexia, that’s why I have it. We understand each other.”
A – Accommodations and modifications are an absolute must for helping students with dyslexia succeed. I see accommodations and modifications like the “eye-glasses” for someone who has impaired vision. Not providing accommodations is like telling someone who cannot see that they do not “need” their eyeglasses. Schools can implement these supports by providing extra time and readers for tests. Parents can provide this at home by breaking down homework tasks into small chunks. Both environments can provide assistive technology like audio books, or speech to text programs for writing. There are so many ways to provide these “eye-glasses” that the population with dyslexia need.
Voice of dyslexia: “I felt alone until I realized I had dyslexia, and other people do as well.”
Voice of dyslexia: “It helps when I can have extra time for a test, or someone reads for me.”
These are just a few important things that parents, teachers, and administrators should know about dyslexia. It is important to acknowledge and understand the struggles that result from having dyslexia and use this awareness and understanding to bring about positive change.
Dyslexia Basics (n.d) retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-basics/
The National Council for Special Education. Identifying Dyslexia: The Early Primary School Signs. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.sess.ie/dyslexia-section/early-primary-school-signs-ages-5-7-years
Shaywitz, S. E. (2004). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: A.A. Knopf.
OGOA Blog writer, Marcy McIver has a Bachelor of Education in Special Education and a MSc in Brain Based Learning. She has been teaching for 15 years and has spent the last three years providing remedial intervention to children with dyslexia. She is passionate about helping students with various learning differences and how to better support this population using cognitive neuroscience to maximize motivation and learning.