Your Child Has Dyslexia, Now What?
Dyslexia is a scary word for parents. Before deciding on a strategy — beating dyslexia or managing it — there is a minefield of misinformation and confusion around dyslexia to navigate. Two misconceptions stand out:
- Dyslexia is related to IQ. Not True. Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty learning to read despite intelligence, motivation and education as per Sally Shaywitz.
- Dyslexia is a vision-based disability. Almost Never True. Almost all dyslexia is caused by language processing difficulties, not vision issues. It is neurobiological in origin.
We could add a third misconception that dyslexia is hard-wired or fixed. This is more controversial and we will come back to it later.
Dyslexic Children Make The Same Errors As Struggling Readers
Dyslexic children mispronounce, switch letters and skip words while reading. Struggling readers make these same errors, just not as many. There is no dyslexia chromosome or dyslexia gene. Dyslexia is a more severe reading difficulty on the same continuum as children with lesser reading difficulties.
Many children who start slowly with reading end up getting on track as their language skills mature and with a little help at school and at home. Their errors gradually reduce suggesting they are symptomatic of the challenge of learning to read, nothing more.
By contrast, children with dyslexia typically will not get on track on their own.
This is a differentiating aspect of dyslexia. The errors persist beyond age 6 or 7 when most children start to read with more confidence. The cognitive glitches causing the dyslexia are too severe to self-correct through normal maturation. That is to say children generally do not get over dyslexia naturally, without outside help.
There is hope, however. We know it’s possible to exercise and improve the cognitive skill gaps that hold back struggling readers. These same exercises can help dyslexic children. While there are no guarantees, there are too many stories of children and adults beating dyslexia to ignore.
The notion of beating dyslexia is controversial in some quarters, because many consider dyslexia permanent and unmovable. However, as we have discussed, the cognitive skills gaps that cause dyslexia, like physical skills, can be exercised and improved.
Reducing the Symptoms of Dyslexia Or Just Coping With It?
There are two ways to deal with a dyslexia diagnosis:
- Manage or cope with the symptoms and/or
- Try to reduce symptoms by going after the underlying problem
The most common approach is not to figure out how to beat dyslexia, but rather to just manage or accommodate the symptoms. This includes aids like tinted dyslexia glasses and dyslexia fonts. It also includes behavioral coping strategies at school such as putting dyslexic children at the front of the class and providing a reader/writer for tests. Finally, there is the use of tutors to help with homework and study for tests.
These strategies have no chance of beating dyslexia because they do not address the underlying difficulty. And so long-term nothing changes. The day to day frustrations of dyslexia are still there. Furthermore, as long as the dyslexia persists, so does the cost of tutoring and extra support. This status quo is expensive for parents and frustrating for the child who labors on with dyslexia.
Schools Work Around Dyslexia — Instruction Is A Coping Strategy
Part of the reason these management strategies still dominate popular thinking is familiarity. The schools are in the business of instruction, not resolving cognitive skill delays. And so they manage children “as is” — they work around difficulties, they do not try to resolve them. They know how to instruct, and so that is what they do. Even if your dyslexic child is unable to absorb the material.
Familiarity is a theme at home also. With tutoring you know what you’re in for. Namely, help through the school year, with the likelihood that your child will need help again next year. And with tutoring there are daily results, such as homework completion.
Skepticism Over The Chances of Beating Dyslexia
In contrast to tutors, exercises that aim to reduce dyslexia symptoms take time and the results are unknown at the outset. Spending time on the dyslexia itself, instead of the symptoms, is speculative to be sure and requires a leap of faith.
The concept of a way to improve dyslexia or a “dyslexia cure” or indeed anything that reduces dyslexia symptoms is still somewhat controversial. This is despite the large number of dyslexics that have gone on to great heights. This includes dozens of famous writers for goodness sake. Writers! Surely these successful individuals have overcome their dyslexia symptoms at least somewhat.
The Gift of Dyslexia
Should we be embracing dyslexia? The argument is that battling dyslexia builds creativity (as dyslexic children look for work-arounds), strength of character and a good work ethic, and so it can be a gift.
However, dyslexia is still a learning disability that intrudes into every aspect of life. It is true that children who come out the other end of a dyslexia diagnosis are often the better for it. They have strengths, values and empathy for the struggles of others as a result of their battle with dyslexia. However, most children would prefer a childhood where everything is a bit easier as it is for many of their peers.
The Brain Is Constantly Changing
The ability for dyslexics to develop into great writers should not be a surprise since brain function is not only NOT fixed, it is actually in a state of constant change. The brain is a self-organizing organ that is always looking to improve efficiency. This is neuroplasticity.
And yet, despite this evidence that dyslexia is not a constant, some dyslexia websites, including International Dyslexia Association state that “there is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies.” This message is unusually definitive, possibly at least in part to support parents looking to get accommodations for their children at school.
Nevertheless, on another level it is a distracting certitude. It suggests there are no ways to truly help those with dyslexia, implying that it’s not even worth trying. Many authoritative websites disagree with the idea that the only way to improve dyslexia is with coping strategies. Understood.org enumerates a number of ways to reduce dyslexia symptoms, as does WebMD.
Growing Number of Evidence-Based Treatments
Therefore, if you can move the needle even modestly, it implies that dyslexia is movable. And if it is movable even modestly, new potential opens up. As a result, it should be no surprise that there are now dozens of dyslexia treatments available, many of which have research to back up their claims that they help dyslexia.
In addition, many of these therapies and programs, including ours, have been around for years and subject to countless research studies. Therefore, there has been plenty of time to have had their dyslexia help claims disproved if that is indeed the case.
Many struggling readers grow out of their reading difficulties because of a gradual maturing of the language and phonological processing skills needed for reading. Dyslexic children can benefit from this same maturing path, they just need more stimulation than so-called struggling readers. Most dyslexia programs tap into this opportunity, providing additional exercise to accelerate the natural development process.
Evaluating the Causes of Dyslexia
Part of the decision around trying to reduce the symptoms of dyslexia versus coping with it comes down to identifying the source of the dyslexia. If you know the cause, then you have a clue about how to beat dyslexia, addressing that cause. However, some causes of dyslexia are tougher to treat than others.
Phonological Awareness Is The Key
Language processing is fundamental to listening and reading. If a child cannot hear the difference between words like ‘pin’ and ‘thin’, or ‘fan’ and ‘van’ phonological awareness will be delayed, reading will be delayed, and dyslexia is possible. These causes of phonological difficulties in early life can lead to dyslexia:
About 40% of dyslexia is inherited. If your child has signs of dyslexia, and there is dyslexia in your family, then your child is at risk for dyslexia.
Ear Infections Early On
Frequent colds or ear infections in the first 3 years of life can impair hearing, depriving the developing brain of time to master the language. Also known as “glue ear,” these ear infections are known to cause of dyslexia.
Did Not Hear English At Birth
Equivalent to a processing delay is not hearing English from birth. Learning English in later life requires a much higher level of language processing skill. Even a slight processing glitch can cause dyslexia.
If your child has an identifiable language issue, the chances of beating dyslexia or reducing symptoms are promising since language processing is a skill that can be exercised and improved. If however your child has a recognizable learning disability, such as ADHD, then that is your most likely dyslexia source. For other causes, you may need to get a professional evaluation.
Target The Cause
As with most other problems, the best help for children with dyslexia is to address the underlying source of difficulty. For instance, if your dyslexic child also had ADHD symptoms, you may want to seek help for the ADHD. However, if you look hard enough and as is most often the case, your dyslexic child will have signs of listening difficulties. Consequently, you should seek out programs that work on language and language processing.
Dyslexia with no identifiable clues as to the source is problematic from a treatment perspective. Beating dyslexia is a noble goal, but there is no point investing in a treatment if you are not sure of the source of the dyslexia.
Dyslexia Help From Gemm Learning
We target the language processing first, specific reading skills second, using Fast ForWord software with remote oversight. Online protocols are individualized for each student.
The elementary-age programs focus primarily on phonemic awareness, reading speed, fluency, comprehension and learning efficiency. Middle and high school programs cover this territory also, before moving to reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Our reading program for dyslexia by age
To find out if your child is a candidate for one of our programs, call Gemm Learning for a free consultation.