What is dyslexia?

ABC'sDyslexia is perhaps the most commonly known learning disability. Usually people think of dyslexia as reversing letters (d for a b) or having trouble learning to read. But dyslexia is much more complex than just switching letters or not catching on with reading.

Dyslexia is a language based learning disability, meaning it involves all aspects of acquiring and processing language. Learning to read is one aspect of processing language. It involves recognizing letters, breaking down sounds and learning how to put them together to form words and sentences. Then, once an individual can identify words, there is the more complex task of understanding the meaning of those words and sentences. Other forms of processing language include understanding the spoken word, understanding abstract meanings or nuances (such as jokes), being able to organize your thoughts to write clearly and fluently, spelling correctly and even speaking easily.

As with other learning disabilities, dyslexia is not a sign of laziness or low intelligence. An LD person thinks and processes information differently than a non-LD person. Dyslexia is a neurological (brain) disorder that occurs in people of all economic and ethnic backgrounds.  It also occurs in individuals who are exceedingly talented in a particular area. For example, there are many people with dyslexia who are gifted in areas that are not language based, such as sports, computer science, math, acting or art. Countless extraordinary and famous people have dyslexia.

Dyslexia does not go away. There is no pill to cure it. It stays with a person throughout life. However, it can be successfully managed through identification and treatment. If you think that your child is struggling with learning to talk, understanding language, learning to read or with schoolwork, do not hesitate to seek help. The sooner your child gets help, the sooner she can start catching up. And, it is important to get help as soon as possible so that her confidence and self-esteem are not damaged.

To learn if your child has dyslexia or any other kind of learning disability, ask that your child be evaluated through the Early Intervention system (birth up to age 3) or through your local school district (age 3 and older).

What treatment helps dyslexia?

If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia through a formal evaluation, then she will probably qualify for special education services. These services will be geared to address your child’s unique disability. For example, if your child is having trouble decoding words, the school will target an intervention to address this difficulty. If your child is having difficulty with writing, the intervention will focus on writing. Usually the intervention involves help in more than one area (reading, writing, comprehension).

An individual learns in a variety of ways – through hearing, seeing, touching or feeling, or using her body. A child with dyslexia usually learns more easily through materials that are provided in digital or auditory modes. Acquiring information through different paths helps your child to learn and remember material.

In addition to different types of teaching methods, there are modifications and accommodations that can be put in place in your child’s classroom to help her learn. For example, your child may receive extra time on tests, books on tape, or other support. With appropriate treatment, kids with dyslexia can learn to read and write well. And, as I indicated in my blog post on learning disabilities, scores of famous and successful people have dyslexia.

Where can you find support and more info?

There are several organizations that provide support and information about dyslexia and other learning disabilities. I highly recommend visiting NCLD  where you can view or download The Dyslexia Toolkit. This step-by-step guide will help you to identify and treat dyslexia at any age, and provides tips for living and learning with dyslexia.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with LD, I attended an info session for parents. During the session, the class was given materials that were intended to show us what it feels like to be in our children’s shoes. It was hard knowing that our children were suffering in ways we had not imagined. But, it also made us better parents – empathetic parents. Once we got this message, advocating for our kids became a clearer mission.

Bottom line

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition but it need not define your child. If you suspect language challenges in your child, request that your child be tested. Then, work with your school system to get her the appropriate help she needs to enable her to reach her potential.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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2 Responses to “What is dyslexia?”

  1. Lisa O'Brien Says:

    Thank you for the article!
    I suffer with dyslexia and so many times my husband is just amazed at how my brain works, this article may help him understand more.

    Has dyslexia been found to be genetic?

    Thanks again,

  2. Barbara Says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Here is what the experts say:
    The NCLD says “Learning disabilities have a genetic component and often run in families.”
    The DSM 5 adds that “Prematurity or very low birth weight increases the risk for specific learning disorder, as does prenatal exposure to nicotine.”
    The NIH adds that “Sometimes, factors that affect a developing fetus, such as alcohol or drug use, can lead to a learning disability.”

    March of Dimes

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