Updated: Jun 23
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. This month is dear to our hearts at Lorraine M. Hightower, LLC. This blog is dedicated to spreading the word about dyslexia! Read on to find out not only what dyslexia is, but how to recognize the signs of dyslexia, what to do if your child may have dyslexia, and why awareness and early identification is so important. Join us in sharing information about this most common learning disability!
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a language processing disability due to difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition, poor spelling (encoding) and the ability to sound out unfamiliar words (i.e. decoding). Dyslexia is often due to a deficit in phonological and/or orthographic processing. That is, a difficulty in processing how language sounds and how it looks. This deficit is unexpected in relation to the person’s average or above average intelligence. Dyslexia may also impact a person’s ability to comprehend what they have read, accurately interpret and solve math equations as well as learn a foreign language.
Some students with dyslexia are even considered Twice Exceptional. This means that the child has some gifted abilities and also struggles with a learning disability, such as dyslexia. Dyslexia, like a lot of other disabilities, can occur on a continuum from mild to severe. Wherever your child lands on that continuum, they can benefit from remediation and accommodations to help them access the curriculum.
Why is it so important to make people aware of dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability.
According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, 1 in every 5 children have dyslexia. Some may be severe cases, while others may be less severe, but dyslexia touches the lives of twenty percent of the student population. This means that in a typical classroom, a teacher could encounter around 5 students with dyslexia in each class. This is why teacher training in dyslexia and appropriate reading remediation is critical.
80% of the special education population who have ‘learning disabilities,’ have dyslexia. A dyslexia diagnosis is often missed because another more understood disability gets identified first. For instance, a child may be diagnosed with ADHD, so their struggles with written language get attributed to the known issues with attention. By overlooking their language processing disorder, the child will not get the multi-sensory, structured, explicit, sequential, and phonologically based approach that they need to learn.
48% of the prison population has been found to have dyslexia. People who struggle to read have low self esteem and are left out of a society so heavily based on printed language. Read more about the correlation between dyslexia and the prison population here. With increased awareness parents and schools will be able to recognize the disability and remediate, not leaving so many children behind.
Early identification and remediation is the key!
Students are taught to read in kindergarten through 3rd grade. After that, students are expected to read to learn. Therefore, if a child is still learning to read in 4th grade they are beginning to miss out on the curriculum they are supposed to be learning, as well as no longer being taught how to read in the general classroom. So their difficulties begin to multiply... because they cannot read the content, they begin to fall behind in other subjects... because they still need reading instruction they fall farther behind in their reading skills.
Students with dyslexia should be taught to read from the start with a multisensory, structured, explicit, systematic approach that is taught in a sequential and cumulative order, requiring mastery at each level. This type of instruction is evidence based to work for them, as well as for the general population learning to read. Exposing young children to print in this way allows them to process written language in a way that works with their learning differences. A study from the University of Washington showed that “targeted, intensive reading programs not only leads to substantial improvements in reading skills, but also changes the underlying wiring of the brain's reading circuitry." This will lead to early success in reading and more motivation to continue reading!
While it is never too late to try to remediate a student with dyslexia, it is much more difficult. Once a child has been taught reading techniques, even if they are not effective for the child, it is challenging for that child to unlearn those techniques. A child who is now being taught to read in an appropriate way for them not only has to learn the new skills, but has the added burden of unlearning their old skills.
Knowledge is power... and empowerment leads to pride!
People with dyslexia often have creative minds and tend to see the world a little differently. This often leads to people with dyslexia making big things happen in the world! Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Cher, Steve Jobs, Erin Brokovich, Bruce Springsteen, Agatha Christie and Steven Spielberg are just a few of the changemakers in this world with dyslexia.
Parental pride can motivate children. When parents show pride in their child’s differences and abilities it leads children to value that part of themselves. By boldly accepting and embracing your child’s dyslexia, and all that comes with it, you can allow your child to accept and embrace that part in themselves. If you have a child with dyslexia and want to show your pride, share our blog and tag us! We will send you a free Dyslexia Awareness Car Magnet! (see below)
Awareness and acceptance of dyslexia can help children avoid shame about their disability and learn to play to their strengths. Listen to Ben Foss, a proud dyslexic, inventor, and entrepreneur share his story of growing up with dyslexia, then choosing strength over shame.
Do you want to help spread the word about dyslexia?
Share our blog on your Facebook page, tag our business page in your post, and we will send you this
FREE Dyslexia Awareness Car Magnet!
How do I know if my child might have dyslexia?
There are different signs of dyslexia that parents can notice at different ages. For example, at the toddler and preschool level you may notice a speech delay. Children with dyslexia are often late talkers or have other speech difficulties. Read this article in Scientific American to learn more about the link between dyslexia and speech processing.
As they enter the classroom the signs of dyslexia become more apparent. Their reading and spelling will lag behind their peers. Even if they study for a spelling test and pass the test, they will not be able to retain that newly learned word after the test. Sometimes students with dyslexia will sound like fluent readers because they memorize text and recite rather than read it. By being able to sometimes pass spelling tests and sound fluent by memorizing, school systems often think that the child will be “fine” or “grow into their reading”. Students with dyslexia will only fall farther behind without appropriate remediation. This is why we cannot stress enough the importance of early identification.
We have compiled a free downloadable list of the Top 10 Signs of Dyslexia Parents Often Miss. This free download includes a list of many other easy to miss signs and examples so you know exactly what to look for. Please share this resource to help parents of young children recognize the signs and get their child the support they need early on.
What can I do if I suspect my child has dyslexia?
The best thing to do if you think your child may have dyslexia is to refer your child for evaluation for special education services with your local school district. You can create that referral for children even before they are school age. Many preschool children receive special education services through the public school system. Nothing is gained by waiting to start this process and get help for your child. The evaluation and eligibility process can take up to a half of a school year, so get the process started as soon as possible!
Here are a few things to keep in mind when writing your referral for special education services:
Send your referral to your child’s assigned school’s special education designee.
Make your referral in letter form that may be attached to an email.
In that letter request a comprehensive evaluation for a Specific Learning Disability and include that you suspect ‘dyslexia.’
Specifically request that the school district evaluate your child’s phonological and orthographic processing abilities as part of their evaluation.
Many parents think the best place to find a diagnosis for dyslexia is at their pediatrician's office. That is not the case. Dyslexia is not diagnosed by a pediatrician, as it is not a medical disorder. There is no prescription to help with dyslexia. Dyslexia will be identified by the school and diagnosed by private clinicians such as neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, and some speech and language pathologists. It is a neurologically based disability that is highly inheritable. Parents can go directly to private clinicians for an evaluation, however that can be very expensive. I recommend parents start the evaluation process with the school system before seeking an independent educational evaluation.
While waiting for your child’s evaluation, I also recommend that parents request informal accommodations in school to help their child access the curriculum. For instance, a child does not have to have a formal Individualized Education Plan to be able to access speech to text features on their computer or audiobooks. You may also request that your child be excused from reading aloud in front of the class, or be provided with a copy of the class notes instead of having to copy something the teacher has written. These informal accommodations can level the playing field for your child until an eligibility decision for special education services can be made.
We know you are passionate about serving children with dyslexia. Can you tell us a little bit about what started you on this journey?
I always say that Jonathan, my son, is my why. And that is true; Jonathan’s own struggles spurred me to learn about dyslexia and its effects on children. But it was also more than that. It was the fact that I knew that the public school system, as it currently operated, would leave my son, and the 1 in 5 children like him, behind. Ten years ago schools were not only unwilling to speak of dyslexia, they had no plan to help students with this most common learning disability.
My son Jonathan was a bright, intelligent, and a curious young boy! However, from the time he was very young I saw that some things were more difficult for him than for his peers. Jonathan began speaking late and received speech services from a young age. He would mix up syllables when speaking and had trouble catching a ball. He loved stories, but never wanted to read them himself. He struggled to memorize the ABC Song. None of these signs alone were too concerning, and could be explained away, but something nagged at me as a mom. I just knew that something else was going on.
By the time my son was in 3rd grade he was being celebrated as a fluent reader. He was even given a gift of an indoor hockey set by the reading specialist! But this didn’t jive with what I was seeing at home. I knew that my son avoided reading and writing at all costs. I knew that when he read for me, I did not hear fluency. I decided to have him privately tested and found that he was reading at the bottom 5% of his peer group. This was heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine telling my son, who felt so good about the progress he believed he was making in school, that he was not a “star reader” after all but severely dyslexic.
Jonathan is a bright boy. The program they were using to measure reading fluency used a lot of guided and rehearsed reading. It turns out, my son was memorizing the passages. He would then recite the passage from memory and answer all of the comprehension questions leading his teachers to believe that he read it. His teachers told me time and again that he was doing fine, and that his letter reversals and spelling issues were developmentally appropriate. However, I knew that after 2nd grade reversals are no longer appropriate. His teachers were kind and engaged with Jonathan; they were teaching reading in the best way they knew how. But they just didn’t know what they didn’t know.
At that time, teachers and administrators didn’t even want to say the word “dyslexia.” They knew that if they acknowledged it, they would have to remediate for it, and they did not have the training or programs in place to do so. I knew then that I had to find other like-minded organizations that would help me work to increase training for teachers and administrators in dyslexia and structured literacy. I found Decoding Dyslexia Virginia, a grassroots movement and helped them pass the first piece of dyslexia legislation in Virginia.
Since then, more legislative bills have passed and teachers across the commonwealth continue to receive dyslexia education as part of their teacher training, as well as in professional development. Parents are also becoming more informed and accepting of their child's learning differences and willing to share their family's experience to help others. These strides prove that with advocacy and awareness our children with dyslexia can learn and reach their full potential!