Why is it so difficult to read?
Your school-aged daughter is “reading” her book to you out loud, but she seems to be struggling. You go to her teacher to see how she is progressing in class and find out that your daughter isn’t reading on grade level. You take her to be evaluated by her doctor and find out that she has dyslexia. What does this mean? How can you help her?
Dyslexia affects the areas of the brain that process language and is when an individual has difficulty reading because they have a hard time identifying speech sounds and how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Most people with dyslexia have normal intelligence and vision. It seems to be genetically linked because it often runs in families. Environmental factors do play a role. Besides a family history of dyslexia/other learning disabilities, some risk factors include premature birth, low birth weight, exposure to nicotine/alcohol/drugs/infection during pregnancy causing an alteration in fetal brain development, and individual differences in the parts of the brain that enable reading.
Symptoms of dyslexia aren’t usually noticeable until a child starts to learn to read. However, sometimes they appear before a child starts school. This can include late talking, learning new words slowly, problems forming words correctly (ex. reversing sounds in words or confusing words that sound alike), problems remembering or naming letters/numbers/colors, and difficulty learning nursery rhymes or playing rhyming games. Symptoms for school-aged children are reading well below the expected level for age, problems processing/understanding what is heard, difficulty finding the right word/forming answers to questions, problems remembering the sequence of things, difficulty seeing (and occasionally hearing) similarities/differences in letters/words, inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word, difficulty spelling, spending an unusually long time completing tasks that involve reading/writing, and avoiding activities that involve reading. For teens and adults, symptoms are difficulty reading (including reading aloud), slow/labor-intensive reading/writing, problems spelling, avoiding activities that involve reading, mispronouncing names/words, problems retrieving words, trouble understanding jokes/expressions that have a meaning not easily understood from the specific words (idioms), spending an unusually long time completing tasks that involve reading/writing, difficulty summarizing a story, trouble learning a foreign language, difficulty memorizing, and difficulty doing math problems.
Dyslexia can cause several complications, which are more noticeable the longer the condition goes untreated. One of the problems is trouble learning because reading is a skill that most other school subjects use. Another issue, if left untreated, is social problems, such as low self-esteem, behavior problems, anxiety, aggression, and withdrawal from friends, parents, and teachers. As a result of both of these, adults can have long-term educational, social, and economic consequences. Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to have dyslexia and vice versa, making dyslexia harder to treat.
Dyslexia treatment focuses on several vital areas. These are learning to recognize/use the smallest sounds that make up words (phonemes), understanding that letters/strings of letters represent these sounds/words (phonics), comprehending what is being read, reading aloud to build reading accuracy/speed/expression (fluency), and building a vocabulary of recognized/understood words. Typically, with early intervention in kindergarten or first grade, most children improve their skills enough to do well in school. Schools have a legal obligation to take steps to help children diagnosed with dyslexia with their learning problems. This involves creating a structured, written plan (Individualized Education Plan, or IEP) that outlines your child’s needs and how the school will help them. Teachers can use various techniques relating to hearing, vision, and touch to improve reading skills.
At home, parents can help their children succeed by implementing several strategies. The first is to address the problem early, which means being aware of the signs, so you know when to seek treatment. Part of this step is working closely with your child’s school to ensure they have all the tools they need. Also, make the environment at home conducive to learning by having a quiet, organized space for them to study and have designated study time. While all of these are important, the most significant things you can do start well before your child goes to school. These include reading to them aloud starting when they’re infants, encouraging reading time, limiting screen time, and setting a good example by taking time each day to read yourself. If your child does have dyslexia, show them support by praising their talents/strengths and talk to them about the condition, so they know it’s not a personal failure.
For adults with dyslexia, seek help with reading and writing (regardless of your age). You can also find out about additional training and reasonable accommodations from your employer or academic institution under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s vital to remember that just because you have dyslexia doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific way to prevent dyslexia from occurring. If you’re a pregnant woman, avoid anything that could increase your baby’s risk of developing the condition. If you have a family history of the disorder, monitor your children for any signs that they have it too. The best way to prevent long-term complications is to get earlier intervention. So, knowing what to look for and what to do are essential.
Dyslexia is a challenging condition, but it can be effectively managed, so you or your child can thrive. If you have any questions or concerns about dyslexia, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the International Dyslexia Association at https://dyslexiaida.org/