Understanding Dyslexia

During the school years, plenty of children struggle with reading. Most of them catch up after a few months, as a result of the getting the extra help that they need, others even improve without any intervention at all. However, for some kids, a different kind of help over a longer period of time, will be needed. Which is one of the main red flags to indicate whether there is a reading problem or a specific language disorder as dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a brain-based issue that makes children have enduring and unexpected difficulty with reading, spelling and consequently, writing. To further understand what dyslexia is, it is necessary to describe its most common characteristics:

To begin with, dyslexia is a life-long condition, as kids do not outgrow dyslexia, but with the right support, their skills can improve. It has nothing to do with intelligencebecause in fact, studies have shown that there is a discrepancy between the children’s abilities and what they are achieving. We can clearly see that kids with dyslexia often struggle with reading despite having the intelligence to be much better readers.

On the other hand, dyslexia is not a problem of vision or laziness, but with understanding and working with language. Reading and spelling are hard for kids with dyslexia because first, they will have to recognize those individual sounds and then they will have to understand that each of those sounds is represented by one or more letters, often causing fatigue and frustration. Children with dyslexia usually have difficulty with this basic language skill called phonemic awareness, so you may see your child having trouble with rhyming or isolating the sounds in words that make it difficult for your child to match letters to their sounds. This skill is called decoding and children use it to sound out words.

Lastly, dyslexia is also a common learning issue and it should not prevent your child from achieving her goals or her dreams. Many successful people have it and they use their own strategies and routines that help them achieve high standards. Besides, researchers have been studying dyslexia for over a century, so there is plenty of information on what measures to take, as well as what would be more convenient for your child, because dyslexia occurs on a continuum, which means that, even if two family members have dyslexia, the severity might vary, hence, what they need to improve, as one of them might have mild dyslexia while the other could have a profound case of it.

So, what are common signs to look for in dyslexia?

A young child with dyslexia may:

  • Start to speak late (no actual speech until after age 2)
  • Say muddled-up words (aminal for animal or gabrage for garbage)
  • Have trouble learning simple rhymes
  • Have a hard time following directions
  • Have difficulty with short words; repeat or leave out words like and, the, but
  • Have trouble differentiating left from right

In school, kids with dyslexia are likely to:

  • Have significant difficulty learning to read, including trouble sounding out new words and counting the number of syllables in words
  • Write words with letters in the wrong places, like saw instead of was and vawe instead of wave (called transposing letters).
  • Struggle with taking notes and copying down words from the board.
  • Add or leave out small words when reading (which can totally change the meaning of the text).
  • Lack fluency in reading, continuing to read slowly when other kids are speeding ahead and show signs of fatigue.
  • Have trouble correctly spelling even familiar words; they will often spell them phonetically (cmpt instead of camped).

Outside of school, kids with dyslexia can:

  • Have trouble understanding logos and signs
  • Have difficulty learning the rules to games
  • Struggle to remember multi-step directions
  • Have trouble reading clocks and telling time
  • Have a particularly hard time learning a new language
  • Have emotional outbursts as a result of frustration

What should parents do?

If you notice that your child is not getting the hang of reading, and you are worried about it, chances are that these fears are well-founded. So, it is better to get professional advice than to waste precious months wondering if your concerns are valid, because if it turns out that your child has dyslexia, or any other learning difficulty, the sooner you get a diagnosis the better.

To determine if it is a specific reading ability deficit, an evaluation must be carried out. Therefore, other possible causes for the deficit must be ruled out, such as hearing problems, social, cognitive or environmental factors. Since dyslexia is mostly about how children read, usually kids must wait until they are school-aged (or have had significant early reading instruction) to get an accurate assessment. So, if the kid starts school and struggles with the alphabet, speech sounds, and text, then it is time to quickly have him assessed so you can quickly start the intervention that can help him most.

The tests that your child can undergo (depending on his age) include the following:

  • Language tests
  • Vision and hearing tests
  • Early screening tests
  • IQ tests
  • Performance tests
  • A full test battery

The evaluation will measure your child’s intellectual capacity and reading skills, to determine if there is an achievement gap.

What can help:

The most important thing is to get specialized reading instruction for your kid, as it helps children to learn to break words down into their component sounds, match the sounds to letters and then blend those sounds together. Which is where they struggle the most.

Reading programs based on this approach use multisensory techniques: as tracing letters in sand while say that letter and its sound or clap out syllables in words. These methods are proven to be effective for kids with dyslexia.

Other tips for parents include: using audiobooks, reading apps or help your child by reading out loud together every day. Choosing books that tap into your child’s passion can also help develop an interest in reading. Playing rhyming games, reading nursery rhymes and singing songs can also be a fun way to help him build early reading skills.

Finally, it is important to highlight that even though children do not outgrow dyslexia, they can become skilled readers and strong learners, thus, with the right support, they can succeed in school and in life.

Gloria Rios
Division of Speech Therapy
Gloria Rios
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
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