So we’re all on the same page, let’s define dyslexia. What is dyslexia?
Today we’ll talk about what it is and what it isn’t.
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Do you teach a learner who confuses or reverses his b‘s and d‘s? Maybe she reads words backwards such as was instead of saw. Do these things mean that your learners have dyslexia?
Have you ever wondered this about your learner or child? Today we’ll explore more about this topic so you can better determine the truth.
What is Dyslexia?
The definition and our understanding of dyslexia has indeed grown over the years. Before the 1980’s, not much was known about it. And what was “known” wasn’t exactly accurate. In 2000, Sally Shaywitz wrote her book, Overcoming Dyslexia. This book unlocked new ways to see into the dyslexic brain. Many educators will say that this book radically changed their view!
So, what exactly is dyslexia?
While there are plenty of long and complicated definitions out there to be had, I love the simplicity and comprehensive definition that Marianne Sunderland gives in her book, Dyslexia 101.
“We now know that [dyslexia] is a biological condition, genetically based, that results in structural differences in the brain. These differences can affect: short term memory, visual and auditory processing, phonological processing (especially in hearing the smallest sounds in words, speed of processing information, organization, and sequencing.”
In the definition, the word processing was used quite a bit. Marianne goes on to say, “This processing glitch can manifest itself in numerous ways such as slow, inaccurate reading, terrible spelling, a difficulty with penmanship (also known as dysgraphia), speaking clearly, pronouncing new or long words, or learning a foreign language.”
For our purposes, we are going to focus more on the reading aspects of dyslexia.
Learners with Dyslexia May Have Trouble…
- Processing and matching letter sounds to the letter symbols on the page, also known as phonics or the alphabetic principle.
Processing at a phonological level. This includes skills like rhyming, isolating sounds in words, sounding out words, blending sounds in words, or segmenting sounds in words. This negatively affects both reading and spelling.
Recognizing and/or pronouncing “known” words quickly, which can negatively affect both fluency and comprehension.
- Organizing information they’ve been taught for easy retrieval later
So, now that we’ve covered what dyslexia is, let’s quickly talk about some things that it isn’t.
- Just a “disability.” While it’s certainly true that technically (and legally), dyslexia is a learning disability, I prefer to think of dyslexia as a learning difference, not just a disability. For me, the underlying notion with a learning disability is that someone is broken, and I need to fix them. On the other hand, a learning difference means that someone learns differently than me, and I need to be sensitive to that in my teaching so they can better understand. This topic is so complex, entire books could be written about it!
Simply a visual perception problem. While learners with dyslexia can have visual problems, it has more to do with processing visual and auditory stimuli.
Reversing letters or words. Young readers and spellers commonly reverse letters and words as they learn to move from left to right. Learners who have dyslexia may reverse letters or words, but just because your young learner or child makes these reversals DOES NOT automatically mean he is dyslexic.
A problem only for boys. Both boys AND girls can be diagnosed with it.
Outgrown over time. While students in the lower grades who are identified and worked with may do better, it lasts through adulthood.
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