Dyslexia is a particular type of learning disability commonly observed in children. It results from a neurological disorder of the brain and is not synonymous with the learning difficulties caused by other non neurological causes. The most common symptoms of dyslexia include difficulty in reading, writing and especially in spellings. Mirror writing, inability to retrieve words and to blend words to make new sounds etc is all signs of dyslexia. There is no permanent cure for this condition’ however, special learning tools and trained educators can help a dyslexic to overcome the difficulty to a large extent. But a dyslexic will always have trouble in reading and writing.
The US National Institute of Health has defined dyslexia as a learning disability which affects the ability of a person to read, write, spell and even speak. It is the most common learning disability in children affecting 1 in every 5 students. So, almost 15 to 20% of the population suffers from dyslexia.
The term dyslexia was coined by Rudolf Berlin in 1887, though the disease was identified by Oswald Berkhan in 1881. Since then, it has become a well established fact that a huge number of children are affected with dyslexia. Even famous persons like George Washington, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, John Lennon, Mozart, Cher, Tom Cruise, Agatha Christie and F. Scott Fitzgerald were affected by dyslexia.
Causes of dyslexia
Dyslexia is a neural impairment of the brain. The specific cause of this condition is still under investigation. However, researchers agree that genetic condition probably plays an important role in dyslexia. This means that if one of the parents has dyslexia, there is a 40% to 60% chance that the child will develop dyslexia. This is even greater for a child whose identical twin is diagnosed with the condition. However, the exact way in which genetic development affects the brain is still not known.
This genetic development leads to the phonological impairment. This works in the following way:
- Speaking and understanding languages is a natural capacity of t he brain. So, you need not break up a word into phonemes (smallest sound unit of a word) in order to say it.
- However, when you read or write this word, you first need to identify the letters associated with the phonemes, and then arrange them in a way that forms the word.
- This is known as phonological processing. Dyslexics have difficulty in performing this task.
- This may be due to poor performance of some areas of the brain.
- Researchers have identified low level of activity in three key areas of the brain of the dyslexic as compared to those who do not suffer from this condition. These three areas are Broca’s area (produces written word), pareito-temporal region (analyze written word) and occipito-temporal region (identifying written words).
- A group of researchers in Yale identified that front part of the brain is over stimulated when dyslexic tries to read, but crucial area in the central and backward region are not stimulated enough.
It is seen that children speaking transparent languages like Spanish where a letter produces one sound only find it much easier to read and write. On the other hand, children have far more difficulty in coping with non transparent languages like English where a single letter can be pronounced in many different ways. So, often children with transparent languages are not diagnosed with dyslexia till they begin to learn a non transparent language.
Signs and symptoms of dyslexia
There are a number of signs and symptoms of dyslexia. Most of them become manifest as the child learns to read and write. So, mostly it is children between ages 3 and 5 who are diagnosed with dyslexia.
The most common signs are as follows:
- Slow reading filled with errors is the best known symptom of dyslexia.
- Another of the most prevalent sign of dyslexia is a reversal in words or numbers. This gives rise to mirror writing effect where the child writes the letter or number backwards. However, they do not read a word in reverse direction. Research shows that they pronounce a word backwards (pat for tap) because of the recency effect where they tend to pronounce the most recent sound that they read first.
- Dyslexic children have difficulty with left and right and neither of the hands may become dominant on the other.
- Inattentiveness and distractibility are common symptoms.
- Dyslexics find it difficult to read and understand written language.
- They find it difficult to break down a word into phonemes or to associate the sound of a letter with the alphabet.
- They may omit words during reading or substitute a simpler sounding word for it.
- They can sometimes pronounce a completely unrelated word for what they are reading.
- They may find it difficult to remember dates, lists and telephone numbers.
- However, dyslexia is not related to intelligence and it does not affect the IQ of an individual. In fact, research shows that dyslexics make excellent use of their right brain so that they have highly developed thinking skills and they love puzzles. They often excel in areas not related to reading and writing and has the ability to see the big picture.
Some important facts about dyslexia are as follows:
|Prevalence of dyslexia||80% of all people with learning disabilities|
|15% of all Americans|
|Percentage of parents who wait for more than a year to get help for dyslexia of their child||44%|
|Percentage of people with poor reading skills who are dyslexic||70 – 80%|
|Percentage of dyslexic children who are receiving school services for their disability||Less than 30%|
How common is dyslexia in various ages?
Normally, dyslexia is a childhood condition that is diagnosed when a child first begins to read and write. However, mild to moderate cases of dyslexia can go undetected for many years. It is seen that dyslexia is age and sex neutral. This means both girls and boys can get this disorder and it is equally prevalent in all age groups. It is also not affected by ethnicity or socio economic status.
- For children with dyslexia who are less than five years old, slow development of motor skill, difficulty in picking up objects, understanding concepts and remembering stories are common.
- Children in elementary and middle school will begin to experience difficulty in reading and writing. So, they will be reluctant to read. Illegible handwriting, reversals of letters and numbers and huge number of spelling errors occur.
- High school students will continue to face difficulties and will be extremely reluctant to read or write. They will have trouble with math and word problems.
- Finally, dyslexic adults avoid reading; instead they rely of mnemonic techniques. Letter reversals and poor skill with words and numbers persist.
Treatments for dyslexia
You cannot grow out of dyslexia. It is a lifelong condition. However, special educational tools can be adopted to make the learning process simpler for the dyslexics.
- Clear, systematic and explicit instructions should be given to the student.
- Multisensory methods of teaching should be used.
- Intensity and duration of instruction needs to be greater.
- Children should be encouraged to develop other means of expressing their talents.
- Above all a sympathetic attitude combined with scientific technique is necessary.