There are many myths and misconceptions about dyslexia.
In fact, it’s a very complex and confusing topic for parents and educators alike…
So this week I decided to answer some common questions we get asked about dyslexia in children.
What is Dyslexia?
The word “dyslexia” literally means “difficulty with words”. Its meaning comes from the Greek roots:
- DYS – impaired, difficulty with, or inability to; and
- LEXIS – word.
In fact, there has never been a single, broadly accepted scientific definition of dyslexia as a specific disorder and it has been used mainly as a general term applied to anyone who has difficulty with reading or who tends to confuse or mix up sequences of letters and numbers.
What are the Causes of Dyslexia?
At one time it was believed that dyslexia was caused by visual and perceptual difficulties. However, this theory has since been refuted.
The weight of research evidence has shown that difficulties with acquiring reading skills stem from difficulties with the mental processing of either a) phonological information (sound structure of words) or b) entire sentences and paragraphs, (or, in some cases, both).
As a result, deciphering or comprehending written language is extremely difficult for the afflicted person.
From a medical perspective, dyslexia is considered to be a neurodevelopmental disorder. In other words, the normal growth and development of the brain is altered in such a way as to impair the development of reading skills.
How is Dyslexia Diagnosed?
Dyslexia is now known as “Specific Learning Disorder” (in the reading domain) in the just-released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the American Psychiatric Association’s standard classification system for mental disorders.
The criteria for diagnosing Specific Learning Disorder (in relation to reading) in the DSM-5 are as follows:
A. The person must have a history of persistent difficulties in the acquisition of reading, writing, arithmetic, or mathematical reasoning skills during the formal years of schooling, including a difficulty in at least one of the following:
Avoidance of activities relating to any of the above skills.
B. The person’s current abilities in one or more of these academic skills are well below the expected range for their age, level of education or intelligence, as indicated by scores on a standardised academic achievement test in reading.
C. The learning difficulties are not better explained by other developmental, neurological, sensory or motor disorders.
D. The learning difficulties (without any accommodations or interventions) significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require these skills.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia?
Reading impairments in dyslexia may be present in one or more of the following three areas:
Word reading accuracy.
Reading rate or fluency.
Reading problems are not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional, educational opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions.
What should you look for?
Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading;
Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read (e.g., may read text accurately but not understand the sequence, relationships, inferences, or deeper meanings of what is read);
Avoidance of activities requiring reading or comprehension skills;
Problems with verbally sounding out words;
Guessing at unfamiliar words rather than sounding them out phonetically;
Inventing answers to comprehension questions, rather than referring to the passage just read;
Reversing, substituting or omitting letters or numbers (e.g. confusing b, p and d).
Diagnosing dyslexia is not an easy task. Although there may be early signs of dyslexia and other learning difficulties in preschool children, early assessment may not be accurate before around age six.
This is because of the normal processes that are involved in developing reading and writing skills. Mastering new skills takes time and practice. Before we learn to talk, play, cook, and drive properly, we make mistakes which we learn from.
Similarly, when we learn to read and write, it is a normal part of the process to make mistakes. Therefore, it is common for young children to reverse, substitute and omit letters as they learn.
However, if these mistakes continue in later years, it suggests that the child may have a genuine learning disorder.
What Tests are Used to Diagnose Dyslexia?
Currently, there is no one single test that can be used to accurately and definitively diagnose dyslexia.
A standardised cognitive (intelligence) and educational achievement test should be administered to identify the child’s learning profile and signs of specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
(Note: Beware of organisations claiming that dyslexia can be identified without using a cognitive assessment. Obviously, a reading test can identify reading problems (…!) but it will reveal nothing about the child’s learning profile — their underlying cognitive strengths and weaknesses — and it will leave many unanswered questions when it comes to determining suitable interventions to help the child improve their skills.)
Further assessment of specific areas of weakness (e.g. memory) or specific screening tests for dyslexia may also be helpful to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s learning difficulties.
What Happens After Diagnosis?
Although dyslexia (or Specific Learning Disorder) is a lifelong condition, children frequently respond well to early and appropriate interventions and in some cases may even develop good reading comprehension skills despite impaired individual word reading skills.
Please remember that early diagnosis and intervention is vital because there is a link between reading problems and behaviour problems.
Furthermore, the longer the child has difficulties with reading, the more likely they will become self-conscious about these problems, which will affect their self-esteem, and could even potentially lead to other problems such as anxiety or depression.
If your child is displaying any of the signs and symptoms listed above please consult a child psychologist who specialises in Educational and Developmental Psychology for advice about learning difficulty assessment and suitable interventions.
And if you are in Melbourne and would like some some extra help with this issue?
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