Guest Post by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Dyslexia Training Institute
The word dyslexia has unfortunately been used, abused and misused throughout the years which has made teachers, administrators, and school psychologists resistant to using this word, but dyslexia does have one definition and there are specific symptoms associated with dyslexia. The bottom line is that is does exist, not matter what name people give it (i.e specific learning disability, etc). In fact, according to Sally Shaywitz (2003) it’s prevalence is actually one in five children, which is twenty percent. Think about that. Twenty percent of the school population has dyslexia – to some degree. Dyslexia, in the simplest terms, is a difficulty with phonological processing that makes it challenging to decode words, spell, and comprehend what has been read. For those with double deficit dyslexia, they also have difficulty with rapid naming, which makes it difficult for them to names things (letters, etc) which makes the impedes fluency. Some students have both; some just one. But the purpose of this article is to debunk some common myths while also providing the correct information along the way.
Dyslexia in the Classroom
“They see the letters or words backwards.” Although this has been a running joke on countless sitcoms, comedy stages and just around the dinner table, it is totally untrue. People with dyslexia see letters and words the same way those without dyslexia do, they just take an alternate neurological route to connect that letter with its appropriate sound. It takes them longer and sometimes they don’t allow themselves the time to process that information and guess, which makes it appear as though they are seeing a different letter. This is why allowing struggling students the time to process their answer is paramount for them to give a correct response. We have to teach them to allow themselves the processing time as well.
“If they read more over the summer, they would improve.” I have seen comments made on the report cards of struggling readers by well-meaning teachers that say something to the effect of, “If he just read more this summer he would improve his reading.” To steal a line from Richard Lavoie, the kid with dyslexia is working harder than anyone else in that class. The student with dyslexia takes twice as long to read as the child without dyslexia. They do not have an intellectual deficit or a motivational problem (although after years of failure this could come into play) they understand what they read, they have opinions about what they read, they just may not be able to read as quickly. What they need over the summer is an intensive intervention implemented by a trained professional, not to be told to read more.
“Let’s wait until the third grade to have him tested.” No, no, no. Dyslexia is not something that is outgrown, in fact once kids hit the third grade, or even worse yet, the fourth grade, they have are having significant difficulty that may be starting to affect their emotional health. The key to helping someone with dyslexia is to have them identified as early as possible. The introduction of Response to Intervention (RTI) is a positive step in the right direction, provided the student is not released from the program too soon. But the main point here is that waiting is never a good idea for a child with dyslexia.
Those with dyslexia and those that love them tend to find the school system overwhelming and frustrating, if those that work with them start to become educated about what approximately twenty percent of their students are dealing with may just be the difference between liking school and not liking school.
Read More About Dyslexia:
Dyslexia and the Special Education Law
Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute and the San Diego Learning Center. She is an adjunct professor of reading and has her doctorate in Literacy from the University of San Diego and San Diego State University.
Heather Livingston says
This was a nice and clear article. Aside from response and thinking time, what are some examples of how the student could be helped in the classroom? What would this look like?
Great article. I will use this one on my course on special needs students.
I am so thankful I read this article. I have strong suspicions about one of my students but no one seems to be listening. I have begun researching dyslexia on my own for more information. What type of testing can be done?
Brandi Jordan says
Thanks so much for asking! I’ll forward your question to Dr. Sandman-Hurley, as I’m sure she’ll be able to give you a much more comprehensive answer than I.
Letter reversals is such a common misconception about Dyslexia (and from my understanding letter/number reversals are very common for kids until 3rd/4th grade). How do you help people really understand? Where can we go to find more information to help both educators and parents understand? Thanks for sharing this! I want to learn more!
I bought the books that were recommended. Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz is a great book that really lets you know what’s it’s all about. It’s geared for both teachers AND parents. I highly recommend it.
Dr. Jill says
Wish this information was more widely known. There is so much misunderstanding about dyslexia.
Linda Sanchini says
I agree, waiting until third grade is too late. The indicators and data collected during kindergarten, first and second grade should be able to move the process of identifying students earlier. Watching a slow growth in fluency whether it be by a DRA or fluency practice in the classroom is one indicator that I think should be looked at closely.