Reading is an extremely challenging experience for children who live with dyslexia. This neurologically based disorder interferes with the child’s ability to acquire and process language. Dyslexia varies in its severity and is manifested by difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic. It is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but it may occur together with these conditions.
Dyslexia is life-long and often familial, but children with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to appropriate and timely intervention. Dyslexia was recognized more than a century ago and has since remained a topic of controversy. Some refer to it incorrectly as a reading problem or a reversals problem. Even dictionaries perpetuate the confusion by defining it as an impairment of the ability to read and linking the disorder to a genetic defect or brain injury. Instead, dyslexia is a specific difficulty in dealing with language. Typical problems include understanding spoken or written language and in organizing, storing, and retrieving language information. Dyslexia is a challenge that, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects 15% of the population.
Children with dyslexia often lack phonemic awareness, which involves the ability to recognize, think about, and manipulate the individual sounds in words. This lack of phonemic awareness often is apparent as early as age three or four. They are frequently unable to deal with rhyme and often demonstrate a delay in the acquisition and/or use of spoken language. Children with dyslexia are typically highly creative and intuitive, and they are excellent hands-on learners.
Characteristics of dyslexia, as identified by the International Dyslexia Association, include:
• Lack of awareness of sounds in words, such as sound order, rhymes, or sequence of syllables
• Difficulty decoding words — single word identification
• Poor sequencing of numbers or of letters in words when read or written
• Problems with reading comprehension
• Difficulty expressing thoughts orally or in written form
• Delayed speech development
• Imprecise or incomplete interpretation of language that is heard
• Confusion about directions in space or time
• Confusion about right hand or left hand
• Difficulty with handwriting
• Difficulty in mathematics, often related to sequencing of steps, directionality, or the language of mathematics
Although it is not curable, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention. People with dyslexia can learn, but they must be taught in a manner appropriate to their particular strengths and weaknesses.