Understanding Dyslexia Part 1: Dyslexia and the Brain

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How to Understand Dyslexia

Three Methods:

Dyslexia is a lifelong neurological, language-based learning disability (LD) that affects many aspects of academic learning. The primary difficulty in dyslexia is an inability to recognize phonemes. Children and adults with dyslexia are often misunderstood as 'lazy' because of their inability to learn using traditional teaching methods. Knowing the signs of dyslexia, and understanding the neurobiological basis for the condition will help support for people with dyslexia.


Knowing the Signs of Dyslexia

  1. Notice a difficulty in learning rhyming patterns.In preschool children, the first sign of dyslexia a parent or caregiver might notice is that the child doesn’t easily pick up on nursery rhymes. For example, “Jack and Jill/went up the hill…” is an easy rhyme that most children find easy to memorize. A child who has dyslexia may not find this easy or simple.
    • Rhyming words, such as cat, bat, rat, might not be noticed by a preschooler with dyslexia.
    • You might notice a child who has dyslexia showing reluctance or difficulty with rhyming games.
  2. Observe difficulty with letter recognition.A child with dyslexia might have a hard time seeing that b and d are different letters. A preschool or early elementary student might not recognize the letters of his own name.
    • The child might not connect the sound of the letter with its shape.
    • You might notice that the child relies on the pictures of a text rather than the words. For example, the child might say “puppy” in reference to the word dog, relying on the picture rather than the letters d-o-g.
  3. Notice avoidance of reading out loud.Even if the child has learned to read, difficulties may persist well into teen years. While most students may be able to “sound out” or “take a guess” at the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word, a student with dyslexia is unlikely to be able to do this.
    • Learning foreign languages is likely to be very difficult for a student who has dyslexia, and he will probably avoid speaking aloud in these courses.
    • The student may have a hard time seeing or hearing the differences between words.
  4. Observe difficulty in speaking fluidly.Many people with dyslexia pause frequently as they speak. You might notice them saying, “Um….” or appearing nervous as they speak aloud. They might seem to struggle to retrieve the appropriate word, or use more general terminology, such as “stuff” or “things” rather than the proper names.
    • Their spoken vocabulary is often much smaller than their listening vocabulary. They may understand much more of what’s being said than they can express.
    • Despite an average or above-average intelligence, they may have difficulty participating in class.
  5. Be aware of organizational challenges.Someone with dyslexia is likely to have weaker organizational abilities. These might show themselves through difficulties in ordering things sequentially. Their handwriting is often awkward and hard to decipher.
    • They might seem to have poor time management, or difficulties organizing herself in relation to an expected time frame or deadline. Someone who has dyslexia may have a different concept of time than other people.
    • You might notice that someone who has dyslexia is frequently late to appointments, or even miss them altogether despite good intentions.
  6. Know that dyslexia means difficulty reading at the expected level.This means that reading ability is not a sign of intelligence, or lack of intelligence, in a child who has dyslexia. Most children with dyslexia have average or above-average intellectual abilities. Just keep in mind that a person’s reading ability isn’t an accurate reflection of his intelligence.
    • You might start to notice other signs of intelligence often associated with dyslexia, such as creativity and excellent abstract thinking skills.
    • Often you might start to see strong skills developing in non-reading areas, such as computers, visual arts, music or sports.
  7. Pay attention to coping skills in teens and adults.If a person has unidentified dyslexia, chances are she has developed a good number of coping strategies to minimize the struggles she has with reading.Some examples are:
    • Someone who has dyslexia might be better at finding clues in pictures or illustrations to grasp content.
    • A person who has dyslexia might be more able than most students to learn from listening to a presentation. She might even memorize what people say as a means of not having to write it down.
    • A student who has dyslexia might be more attentive than most to what teachers and classmates are saying.

Improving Daily Life

  1. Use visual reminders to help with time management.A child who has dyslexia may find it hard to read clocks, or to use typical written schedules. Try using picture schedules to help the child know what the day will bring. These can be hand-drawn, downloaded and printed from online sources, or found in an app of a smartphone.
    • Consider setting a phone alarm to provide additional reminders for time management.
    • Set a limit on the time the student should expect to spend on homework, as a student who has dyslexia may spend more time than his peers on the same material.
  2. Break tasks down into smaller parts.Since sequencing is difficult for most people with dyslexia, you can help support them by showing them the smaller steps that make up a larger task. Use checklists, or picture lists for younger students.
    • For example, providing a "homework checklist" which includes not only the pages to be read, and worksheets to be completed, but also steps like "get pen or pencil", "write your name on the top of the page," and "put homework in school folder when finished."
    • If the student's visual memory is poor, rote copying will not be an effective way of learning. Instead, offer notes or handouts to help the student learn the information.
  3. Provide folders to support organization.Folders or binders with pockets to help a student organize his materials. Use color-coding, which supports separating the materials into different subjects.
    • Keep pens and pencils in a packet within the notebook for easy access.
    • It can be a good idea to check and make sure that a student with dyslexia has the homework assignment written down correctly, and placed in the same position within his notebook every night.
    • Consider providing a homework checklist to help with organization.
  4. Help a person with dyslexia create models to support learning.Automated processes, the kind of rote memorization that allows for easy access to familiar activities, is often more challenging for someone with dyslexia. Poor memory recall is one of the hallmarks of the dyslexia. A better way of learning is to teach a person with dyslexia to rely on models that can provide a framework for effective learning.
    • An example of such a framework is the rule “I before E except after C…” which can help a person who has dyslexia with spelling.
    • Other supports include providing acronyms for accessing organizational systems. For instance, SLUR might be taught as a way to remember “Socks, left (drawer), Underwear, right (drawer).”
  5. Use an electronic reader (e-reader).Studies suggest that people with dyslexia may find reading easier when using an e-reader rather than printed paper.E-readers limit the amount of text appearing on a single line, which prevents visual crowding on the page.
    • In particular, people who have dyslexia and who have issues with visual attention may benefit from the use of e-readers.
    • Some people who have dyslexia also prefer using certain fonts with e-readers.

Supporting Someone with Dyslexia

  1. Find a supportive community.Some of the primary challenges associated with dyslexia aren’t based in the learning challenges, but rather in the misunderstandings of peers and teachers. Dyslexia is simply a different way of thinking, neither better nor worse than other ways. If you can find communities that accept and acknowledge the differences associated with people who have dyslexia, you’ll be more able to help your child (and yourself) experience success.
    • Low self-esteem, behavior problems, anxiety, aggression, and difficulty with friends are all associated with unsupported people who have dyslexia.
    • Emotional support for those with dyslexia is very important. It’s easy to feel lazy or less intelligent than other people in an academic environment that is based on reading skills.
  2. Encourage participation in a therapy or a support group.Support groups for students with learning disorders such as dyslexia can are good places to meet others with a similar learning style. Group therapy are more intensive than support groups, and provide individualized strategies within the group setting that can help you navigate your life situation.
    • Look for a group setting that feels active, dynamic and positive.
    • In a group therapy setting, each person should have his own goals. These goals should be attainable, measurable, and relevant to his life.
  3. Look into individual therapy.Working with a therapist can people with dyslexia and their parents better identify the way dyslexia affects an individual. A good therapist will be aware of the latest research and treatments for dyslexia, and use techniques that have been shown to be effective. The client's own interests and goals should inform the treatment program.
    • The therapist will help create goals for the client’s progress that are both specific and measurable.
    • For instance, if the goal is to “improve the ability to spell new words,” you can’t measure this, and it’s not specific. Instead, a more appropriate goal would be to “increase the participant’s ability to spell words using the –rer pattern from 60% to 80% accuracy on an informal assessment.”
  4. Understand what it’s like to be a person with dyslexia.If you do not have dyslexia, you can provide better support for someone who has dyslexia by learning more about dyslexia. It’s not as simple as reading words backwards (an archaic idea people once had). If you have dyslexia, you’re likely to have trouble reading words even if you’ve read them many times before.
    • You’re more likely to read slowly, and reading takes a great deal of effort. You’ll probably feel very tired after reading.
    • It’s easy for people who have dyslexia to mix up letters in a word, such as reading “own” as “won” or “left” as “felt.”
  5. Talk to your school’s educational team about accommodations.A student with dyslexia might require more time to complete assignments or tests. She might need someone else to take notes for her, or to record lectures or spoken information in class. You might be able to access your course material through an audiobook, rather than printed textbook.
    • Computer software is available for certain subjects that “reads” the textbook out loud.
    • Using spell-checker software may be permitted to help support the dyslexic student.
  6. Notice the strengths associated with dyslexia.People with dyslexia do not have low intelligence, and most people with dyslexia have average or above average IQs. People with dyslexia might be “people-oriented,” and have strong interpersonal skills. There is also research exploring whether people who have dyslexia may have stronger than average abilities in science.People with dyslexia also have other skills with information processing, such as:
    • The ability to focus on “the big picture” rather than the details. As a result, they may be skilled problem-solvers and more creative thinkers than people who do not have dyslexia.
    • Being able to visualize 3-dimensional information with ease, and to reorganize existing designs into creative new ways of being.
    • Having good visual-spatial skills, and strong pattern-recognition abilities.
  7. Learn about successful people who have dyslexia.People with dyslexia become doctors, musicians, artists, architects, scientists, teachers, economists, and many other professional occupations. Children and teens with dyslexia may benefit from having someone successful who also has dyslexia as a role model. A role model can be useful for building self-esteem in children and teens with dyslexia.
    • When you meet successful adults who have dyslexia, ask what strategies these adults used to work through their challenges.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How can I get rid of the symptoms of dyslexia?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You cannot get rid of the symptoms. The best you can do is practice reading, and work with a tutor, teacher, or other individual that is trained to work with individuals that have reading disabilities.
  • Question
    What does 'dyslexic tendencies' vs. 'she has dylexia' mean?
    Top Answerer
    Dyslexia comes in all shapes and sizes. There is a huge variety of ways in which it shows, as well as how bad it is, from very mild to extremely severe. "Dyslexic tendencies" probably describes the milder forms of dyslexia; "it only shows every now and then, is not a huge obstacle for reading and writing and can be handled well without much stress".
  • Question
    Why does my dyslexia feel like it has an on-off switch?
    Community Answer
    It is most likely triggered by anxiety or high-stress situations. You should speak to your family doctor about it and they can help you find strategies to reduce your stress in certain situations to decrease your symptoms of dyslexia.
  • Question
    Is it possible I have both tourettes and dyslexia?
    Community Answer
    Yes. It's common to have co-occurring diagnoses. Talk with the appropriate professionals about this.
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Kelli Sandman-Hurley explains how dyslexia works, and the different ways people's brains operate.

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