Dyslexia: What it is, and what it is not
People often believe that dyslexia is a visual difficulty which presents as reversing letters and numbers. In attempt to find a quick fix for the problem, parents often take children to optometrists where they are ‘diagnosed’ with visual difficulties and prescribed glasses to “stop the letters jumping all over the page.”
Dyslexia is NOT a visual problem.
Dyslexia is NOT related to intelligence.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a problem understanding and working with the sound system of language. It is often genetic and many parents recognise their own difficulties at school when they see their child having difficulty.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that occurs because of the way the brain processes written information. Children with dyslexia may present with the following difficulties:
- Problems learning the letter sounds for reading and spelling
- Difficulty reading single words, such as on flash cards and in lists.
- Reading slowly with many mistakes
- Poor spelling
- Difficulty matching the phoneme (letter sound) with grapheme (written letter).
In turn, this results in academic difficulties.
Dyslexia is often diagnosed when the child is learning to read, however there are some red flags that can be used to alert you of a possible difficulty early on.
A child with dyslexia may have trouble identifying and generating rhyming words.
They may have difficulty reciting common nursery rhymes accurately. Often, parents assume that the child knows the rhymes because they sing them in the car with the music or in the class group. However, often, these children don’t get the words quite right, or mumble the words that they are unsure of. I have often heard children sing nursery rhymes like this.
A child with dyslexia may have difficulty hearing the syllables in the word.
They may have difficulty hearing where to break the word up and often add in an extra syllable into the word. E.g. /te/ /le/ /a/ /phone/.
A child may have difficulty learning the sounds that the letters make. Whilst they may be able to recite the alphabet by rote, they may have difficulty or are slow when retrieving the sound that the letter makes.
Unlike language, we are not born with the innate ability to read. I discussed some of the skills that are important for learning to read here.
Reading is a complex process that involves recognising the sounds in words. For example the word telephone is comprised of 3 syllables /te/ +/le/ +/phone/.
Each of the syllables have sounds that make up the syllables. It is like the carriages (syllables) of a train, and the sounds in each carriage are like the people in the carriage.
A child with dyslexia may have difficulty hearing all the sounds in each syllable.
In order to read, the child has to understand that each of the sounds is represented by one or more letters. In the example above, the sound /f/ is represented by a /ph/ and the long /o/ sound is represented by an /o/ with a silent /e/ at the end.
A child with dyslexia may have trouble answering questions about something they’ve read. But when it’s read to them, they may have no difficulty at all.
When reading, a child with dyslexia may guess at unknown words because it is too difficult to work out the sounds or blend them together.
Dyslexia is not something that can be out-grown. However there are specialised reading intervention programmes that can be implemented to assist your child.
The earlier the intervention occurs, the better the prognosis.