Here’s a brief overview of dyslexia: what it is and how we help people who have it.
Dyslexia is not a disease or a problem with vision. It is not the result of laziness, lack of motivation, or limited intelligence. It’s not something you can cure with medication, diet, or visual aids.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects language, reading, and writing. It can keep people from realizing their full potential as learners.
Types of Dyslexia
Dyslexia varies quite a bit. People with severe dyslexia find it extremely difficult to become readers and spellers. Others may experience milder challenges that make reading laborious and unsatisfying.
In all cases, dyslexia makes it hard to learn from and communicate through print.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder. The National Institute of Health estimates that 10 to 15% of Americans have dyslexia.
It affects people of all ages—from young children to adults—and it runs in families. No two individuals with dyslexia are the same. Many also experience challenges with ADHD, executive function, and oral language. They can be remarkably talented or even gifted.
Signs of Dyslexia
Early warning signs of dyslexia include delays in talking and language development, difficulty pronouncing or retrieving words, understanding and following directions, and remembering names, symbols, or lists.
As children enter school, they may have difficulty rhyming, segmenting, or blending sounds in words. They may struggle to learn the alphabet, link speech sounds to letter symbols, and form their letters. Some children confuse small words and have difficulty sounding them out.
Despite repeated exposure, hard work, and the efforts of parents and teachers, they may fail to recognize words. Young and old alike struggle with longer passages and remembering what they read. Their spelling is poor; their writing may lack grammar, style, and organization. They see reading as a chore. For people with dyslexia, reading can be downright unpleasant and unrewarding.
As you might imagine, school can be really hard! It can also create stress at home and impact self-esteem. If left untreated, it can lead to mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
How to Help People With Dyslexia
So how do we help people with dyslexia? We teach them how to read and write through explicit and systematic multisensory instruction.
Explicit instruction makes each task clear: it provides students with step-by-step directions and examples and gives them opportunities to practice and receive feedback, one skill at a time.
Instruction that falls under the structured literacy umbrella focuses on handwriting, phonemic awareness, decoding, and spelling, as well as verbal reasoning, inferential thinking, and reading comprehension.
It can take several years, but with help and proper instruction, students with dyslexia can learn to read and thrive academically. To do so, they need to receive a sufficient dose of high-quality literacy instruction so they can learn to read— and use reading as a tool for learning.
Accommodations for Dyslexia
Giving students accommodations in school, such as audio books and additional time, is also important.
Everyone has the right to access the wealth of knowledge found in print. Everyone deserves a chance to demonstrate what they know. We want every student, including those with dyslexia, to realize their full potential as learners.
The good news is we can teach them how to read. We just have to do it.