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Helping Children With Dyslexia

Dyslexia, or specific reading disability, is a common learning disorder in children characterised by difficulty in reading. It occurs in children with normal vision and intelligence and may go undiagnosed for years until adulthood.

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that is caused mainly due to certain inherited traits that affect how the brain works. Like other kids , children with dyslexia can succeed in school with specific tutoring and a formal education programme. Emotional support from parents and teachers also plays an important role.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia is linked to certain genes that govern the development of brain, affecting parts of the brain connected to language. It is considered to be an inherited condition that runs in families. Scientists have also found certain structural brain differences in patients with dyslexia, specifically in the left hemisphere. The brain activity too, in areas recognised to be important in linking the written form of words with their phonetic counterparts, shows little activity. Instead, children with dyslexia make up for it by using more of the front brain section known as Broca’s area, associated with other traits of language processing and speech.

Thus, the risk factors to dyslexia include:

  1. A family history of the disorder
  2. Specific differences in brain areas that enable reading

How is dyslexia recognised?

Symptoms of dyslexia may be difficult to identify before a child joins school. Usually, once a child enters school age, a teacher is the first person to notice the problem, and the condition becomes more pronounced when the child begins to read.

However, certain cues may indicate dyslexia at different stages, even before the child enters school. Following are the symptoms of dyslexia at different age groups:

 

Age Group

Before School

School Age
(Signs become more apparent)
Teenagers and Adults

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs and Symptoms

  1. Late talking and difficulty in pronouncing words (e.g. ‘mawn lower’ instead of ‘lawn mower’)
  2. Delayed learning of new words
  3. Difficulty rhyming
  4. Problem recognising letters
  5. Difficulty matching letters to sounds
  6. Difficulty learning the alphabet, numbers, days of week and common word sequences
  7. Problem in learning the correct usage of new vocabulary words
  1. Reading at a level below the expected level for the child’s age
  2. Problem remembering facts and figures
  3. Difficulty in understanding rapid instructions or problems in processing and understanding what is heard
  4. Trouble following more than one command at a time
  5. Difficulty in following a sequence of directions
  6. Inability to sound out pronunciation of an unfamiliar word; relying heavily on memorisation
  7. Difficulty spelling
  8. Seeing words’ letters in reverse (e.g. ‘saw’ for ‘was’ or ‘b’ for ‘d’)
  9. Difficulty in seeing and/or hearing similarities or differences in letters and words
  1. Difficulty reading (level below than normal for age)
  2. Reading aloud
  3. Difficulty in understanding jokes, idioms, or proverbs
  4. Trouble in summarising a story
  5. Difficulty managing time
  6. Difficulty learning a new language
  7. Trouble with memorising

        The most characteristic sign of dyslexia is the delay in the age by which a child begins to read. Most children are ready to start reading by first grade or kindergarten, but those with dyslexia are not able to grasp the basics of reading by then. Parents who notice this sign or other symptoms must raise this concern with the child’s paediatrician (child specialist), who may refer the child to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) or a neurologist (doctor who specialises in brain disorders) to rule out other causes creating the reading disability. Undiagnosed and untreated dyslexia causes the reading difficulties to continue into adulthood.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

A single test cannot diagnose dyslexia. Instead, the disorder is identified through a series of tests that includes detailed questioning of parents by the doctor regarding the child’s development, education and medical history, filling out of questionnaires, neurological testing (vision, hearing and brain), psychological testing and testing of reading and other academic skills.

 

What are the treatment options?

Treatment of dyslexia is generally not done through medication, unless the child has another condition like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dyslexia is treated through education, and the sooner it is identified and acted upon, better are the chances of learning development. Through varied tests that also include psychological testing, a suitable teaching programme needs to be developed and followed by the child’s teachers. Commonly used techniques involve hearing, vision and touch to improve reading skills.

A reading specialist also plays an important role in focusing on the following areas:

  1. Learning to recognise small sounds that form words.
  2. Gaining understanding that sequence of letters represent a given sound.
  3. Understanding what is being read.
  4. Improving the ability to read aloud.
  5. Building vocabulary.

 

Role of parents in helping a child cope with dyslexia

Many children with dyslexia are poorly understood. It is a learning disability and has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence. Parents of a child or young adult often fail to understand clearly the child’s poor performance at school, his/her struggle to read a book, inattentiveness, lazy appearance or generally not as smart as s/he seems. In addition to the parent’s confusion, the young person himself/herself is likely to feel frustrated at his/her inability to pick up skills as easily as friends of same age.

Parents can play an important role in addressing these issues and providing the support needed by the child or young adult in coping with dyslexia.

  1. Addressing the problem at an early age – Detecting dyslexia early, say in kindergarten or first grade, and approaching a doctor for help can improve reading skills for children and help them succeed in junior classes and high school.
  2. Reading aloud to the child – Reading to the child or listening to recorded books as soon as six months of age can prove beneficial.
  3. Working together with the child’s school – Interacting with teachers and staying updated on the child’s progress at school can help working on a specific education plan for the child. Additional tutoring sessions with a reading specialist can also be helpful.
  4. Being supportive – Low self-esteem is common among children and young adults with dyslexia. It is important for parents to routinely express love and support and highlight the child’s strengths and achievements.

 

Read more about Mental Illness.

 

Sources:

“Clues to Dyslexia in Young Adults and Adults,” ldonline.org, Sally E. Shaywitz, 2004, LD OnLine, http://www.ldonline.org/article/71/

“Dyslexia – Health Tools,” WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/children/tc/dyslexia-health-tools

“Dyslexia,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/basics/symptoms/con-20021904

“Dyslexia,” NHS.uk, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyslexia/Pages/Introduction.aspx

“Teens and Adults with Dyslexia,” Australian Dyslexia Association, http://dyslexiaassociation.org.au/index.php?page=teens-and-adults-with-dyslexia

“What Is Dyslexia?” ncld.org, The National Center for Learning Disabilities Inc., NCLD Editorial Team, http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia

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