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July 15, 2010

Understanding Dyslexia by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Written By: Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley
X Understanding Dyslexia by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Understanding Dyslexia by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

How many times have you struggled to figure out why a student in your class cannot read?  He is a smart child with a creative and clever mind, but when it comes to reading, he cannot distinguish “what” from “when” or “if” from “of” no matter how many times they are on his spelling test.  Is he just being lazy?  Is it that he is not trying?  Maybe his parents are just not helping him at home? You cannot figure it out.  And so, the child gets passed on, perhaps given an IEP, labeled and continues to struggle.  Why?  Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley of the Dyslexia Training Institute shares some insight.


Understanding Dyslexia

by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

To, Ti, Tom sag the sssooonnng, song, song to kid. Nathan was reading, Tom sang the song to the kids. Listening to Nathan read is painful. He struggles through one and two syllable words, he skips words like a, and, the, of, if, and at while ignoring punctuation. He reads with no expression and often can’t remember what he just read. His spelling is almost incomprehensible and illegible. He often spells pad either bad or pat. However, when you read something to him, he can tell you every detail and usually add his own commentary. He understands everything he hears and is very bright. He has a great verbal vocabulary and is creative – and he is about to go into the fourth grade reading at a first grade level. So, why can’t he read? In one word, dyslexia.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as: a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language.

Nathan’s inability to read well isn’t his fault. He was born with a neural network for reading that works a little differently than those who don’t have dyslexia. Functional brain imaging has shown that those with dyslexia under-activate their left-hemisphere during reading activities when compared to non-dyslexic readers. This is good news for kids who think they are dumb or parents who think they have done something wrong. There is more good news; Nathan can be taught to read with the appropriate intervention. This same brain imaging research has illustrated that after intensive intervention, the brains of children with dyslexia begin to look more like those without dyslexia. Although the interventions needed to help those with dyslexia are intensive and usually one-on-one, there are things teachers can do to help with dyslexia.

Become Educated about Dyslexia. The following three books will captivate even the most pessimistic of people. Start with Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. Follow that with Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. Finish the trifecta with Reading in the Brain by Stanislaus Dehaene and you will be well-educated about how to help your struggling readers.

You can supplement this home study with professional development in dyslexia Orton-Gillingham based approaches.

Processing Time. Give more time for your struggling readers to process any questions you give them. Chances are they know the answer they just need more time for their brain to process the question and find the words. The students will find it an adjustment as well, but it is worth the effort.

Oral comprehension exercises. Students with dyslexia are often very bright and hungry for information at their grade level, not their reading level. Provide them opportunities to show you what they know via oral exams or reports. This will make sure they are not only learning the content they need but bolstering their self-confidence.

Children with dyslexia need to know they are not dumb, lazy or incapable. Implementing these strategies may do a world of good for their confidence while they receive the appropriate, intense remediation in a one-on-one setting.


About the Author


Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (, adjunct professor of reading and Literacy Coordinator for READ/San Diego. She earned her doctorate in literacy from San Diego State and the University of San Diego. She has taught hundreds of tutors to work with adults who struggle with reading as well as tutored children in her private practice.




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  • Margaret Herlihy
    July 18, 2010

    Excellent reminder of things we should always be doing.

  • Jessica Berggren
    July 17, 2010

    Thanks so much for this, My dad has dyslexia, but never got help when he went to school in the 60’s. I’ve always wondered how he would of faired had he had the appropriate help. This is also a great resource to send parents to when they want to learn more about it. Thanks.

  • DeShawn Scott
    July 16, 2010

    The extra resources are extremely appreciated. I have often wondered if a student has dyslexia, but it is hard to convince a school to test a child for this – especially when they pass all of the other “tests” they are given. This information will help me help my students. Thanks!

  • Bobbie
    July 15, 2010

    I have dyslexia but was not diagnosed till third grade. I would make awful spelling grades and reading grades, my teachers just thought I wasn’t trying. I am very pleased you posted this article, some teachers don’t know the signs of dyslexia and may be overly frustrated with a student. I know if it wasn’t for my third grade teacher taking the time to help me then I wouldn’t be where I am today.

  • janine
    July 15, 2010

    Thanks for the great article. It is super reminder. Thanks also for the resources. We always need to keep up on the latest research and information.

  • Donna
    July 15, 2010

    I am currently teaching Kindergarten, and have had students who I am nearly positive are dyslexic. It is so frustrating for them, and I am not properly equipped to help them read. My own son, 14, reads at a post-college level, but can not spell to save his life, and has extreme difficulty with writing assignments. I have always suspected dyslexia, but he is so smart, I could never get the schools to help me. What is the role of the school in diagnosis?

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