Teaching to Prevent and Treat Dyslexia

Dyslexia is considered one of the most common learning disabilities. A cognitive language disorder related to both reading and speech, dyslexia is characterized by difficulty learning to read and comprehend written language, despite normal or even above-average intelligence. Although it is true in some cases, a common misconception is that all dyslexics write words or letters backwards and/or interchange letters while they are reading.

Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia

Learning to read can be difficult for even the most advanced children, as educators and parents can confirm. Early childhood symptoms that often correlate with a dyslexia diagnosis later in life may include:

  • Delayed speech
  • Trouble learning letters and letter sounds
  • Letter and word reversal
  • Trouble determining left from right
  • Spelling

It's important to remember that not all children—or adults—who have experienced some or all of these difficulties are dyslexic. Many young children have trouble reading and reverse letters until they have mastered the skills. Formal testing is the only true way to confirm and diagnose dyslexia.

What Causes It?

As with many disabilities and diseases, an exact cause of dyslexia is not completely clear. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has been linked to genes that control brain development. As such, dyslexia often runs in families. Inherited genes apparently affect sections of the brain that deal with language and the ability to convert writing into speech.

The International Dyslexia Association reports that brain imaging studies have found differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions compared to the brain of a person who does not have dyslexia. There is no "one size fits all" type of dyslexia. It is different for each person. Its severity can also vary from person to person.

Sight Reading Linked to Dyslexia?

Just like the "Do vaccines cause autism?" debate that has surfaced in recent years, causes and treatments for dyslexia have been speculated for generations. Some people feel that the sight method of teaching children to read, common in preschools and elementary schools across the country, is contributing to dyslexia. This 2014 opinion piece by Sam Blumenfeld claims that the use of picture books causes children to use images to interpret words, giving the letters themselves no true meaning.

Crazy? Maybe. Maybe not. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

Dyslexia Problems and Treatments

Whatever its cause, and whether picture books with sight words may be to blame, children with dyslexia are at a disadvantage in most subject areas—not just language arts—and often have trouble keeping up with peers in the classroom. If left untreated, dyslexia can also lead to low self-esteem and behavior problems. Difficulty or a complete inability to read can prevent children from reaching their full potential as adults, which can have social as well as economic consequences. An adult who cannot read will have limited job opportunities available.

Research and Breakthroughs

Scientists and educators continue to study the causes of dyslexia and its effects on learning. Researchers at Exeter University in the United Kingdom developed a series of exercises, which they "tested" on a group of students with the learning disability for two years. While the learning disabled students did not completely catch up to their non-dyslexic peers, their learning abilities had improved greatly.

The University's treatment method focuses on the cerebellum, the back part of the brain, which is believed to be the section of the brain responsible for balance and coordination as well as the way the ability to read and write eventually become "automatic" for most people. The study included exercises and physical tasks, such as balancing on a wobbling board and tossing a bean bag from one hand to another. Excitingly, students maintained the improvements that they made, which was unprecedented in previous studies.

Other Possible Dyslexia Treatments

More common techniques used to enhance the learning abilities of people with dyslexia include the addition of specific educational tools and strategies. Although dyslexia is a lifelong problem, the sooner intervention and help begins, the better.

Some teachers have found techniques involving hearing, vision, and touch can greatly help improve reading skills and comprehension. For example, tracing the shape of letters in words or re-listening to tape-recorded lessons can help students with dyslexia process information. These tasks have been found to benefit students without dyslexia, as well.

Educators can create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) specifically for a particular child's needs and abilities. An IEP can help a dyslexic student achieve more in school. Working with a tutor, teacher's aide, or reading specialist may also help.

Children with dyslexia who receive help in kindergarten and primary grades often improve their reading, writing, and comprehension skills enough to succeed academically in high school and beyond. It is important for educators to realize that parental involvement is also a key to success. While there is no "one size fits all" diagnosis or cure for dyslexia, one thing is for sure: encouraging words and the constant reminder that "I'm here if you need me!" can work wonders in the classroom.