Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities, affecting one in five people in the United States. Children with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read, remembering what was read, spelling and organizing their thoughts. It may be noticed as early as kindergarten — or it may go undiagnosed.

According to the National Institutes of Health, dyslexia is caused by differences in the structure and function of the brain. It describes a unique kind of mind that learns differently. It’s not the result of low intelligence. In fact, most children with dyslexia are very bright and creative — but their basic reading and spelling skills are weak.

Often considered a reading disability, dyslexia is more accurately called a language disability. Children with dyslexia may not only have trouble translating language to thought (as in reading or listening), but also may have difficulty translating thought to language (as in writing or speaking).

The most common assumption about children with dyslexia is they see letters backward. While that may be the case in some instances, dyslexia means that a person’s brain has trouble processing and making the connection between letters and sounds. That makes it tough to break words into separate speech sounds, like c-a-t for cat. When it’s hard for a child to do that, it’s really hard to connect speech sounds to different letters like “buh” for b, and blend them into words. The child usually has trouble with auditory, perceptual, ¬organizational and/or memory skills. Concepts such as up and down, right and left, or today and tomorrow can be difficult to grasp.

Another common misconception about ¬dyslexia is that it’s an eye disorder. However, it’s a good idea to have your child tested by a pediatric ophthalmologist to rule out any eye problems. If his eyes are normal, the problem is an educational one and should be dealt with by speech pathologists and/or educators. Eye exercises have not been shown to be of any benefit.

Some common signs of dyslexia are:

It’s important to note that while a child’s dyslexia is usually first noticed when he enters school, it’s often the child’s parent, not the teacher, who makes the initial “diagnosis.” If your child’s teacher claims your child is lazy in class or is exhibiting some behavior problems, trust your own instincts and judgment. If you suspect your child has dyslexia, take him to a speech pathologist trained in this type of language disorder for a thorough evaluation. If the speech pathologist determines your child does have dyslexia, she can work with you and your child’s school to develop a structured treatment program.

Because dyslexia is not a disease, there is no “cure” for it. Children don’t grow out of it, either. However, early intervention can help. Treatment involves instruction in several areas: phonemic awareness (see below), phonics rules and the application of phonemic awareness, and decoding skills for reading, writing and spelling. It also requires close cooperation between parents and the child’s teacher, speech-language pathologist or reading therapist.

There are a number of strategies that help kids learn to manage the effects of dyslexia. These include:

For children with dyslexia, there is usually a wide gap between their IQ (which is normal) and school achievement (which is below average). This can lead to low self-esteem. It’s important to help the child feel good about himself by reminding him of all the things he does well. Encourage him to pursue his interests and find new ones where he can be successful.

Akron Children’s Hospital’s Speech and Hearing Department offers dyslexia therapy groups for kindergarten through middle school students. The weekly sessions provide language-based intervention for children with reading and writing difficulties. For more information, call the Speech and Hearing Department at 330-543-8264. 

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