So, what is dyslexia exactly? Sally Shaywitz, in her book, Overcoming Dyslexia (2005), offers a definition of dyslexia, which was provided by the International Dyslexia Association, as a language-based disorder, often hereditary, that presents with a lack of accuracy and fluency in a student’s oral reading and marked by weaknesses in his/her spelling and decoding, ensuing from weaknesses in phonological awareness. Dyslexics are those students who present with such difficulties despite receiving valuable reading instruction and having average to above-average intelligence. Naturally, difficulties in comprehension and vocabulary can also result.
I was not surprised to learn that it tends to run in families (Marshall, 2004; Peterson, 2019; The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2021; TED-Ed, 2013; Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, 2017; Marshall, 2004), as my husband struggled greatly in school and we now believe that he had dyslexia. Nor was I surprised to learn that most dyslexics have average to above-average intelligence. Someone once said that dyslexics could not do what most of us could do, but could do what most of us could not. I was amazed at my son’s ability to understand, perceive and even create things, that us ordinary folk could not even fathom.
What did astonish me was that girls are plagued with this disability as often as boys (Gentry, 2014; The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2021; TED-Ed, 2013). Many experts believe that boys are diagnosed more often because they tend to misbehave more than girls when experiencing academic difficulty (Gentry, 2014; The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2021; Shaywitz, 2005). Every dyslexic suffers, however, and its prevalence is much greater than I ever imagined (Overcoming Dyslexia, 2017; The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2021; TED-Ed, 2013). Dr. Louisa Moats, a national literacy expert, found that 5-12% of our below basic readers are dyslexic! (Our Dyslexic Children, 2020). Similarly, Shaywitz (2005) concluded from a Connecticut study, that “one child in five” had a reading disability. Likewise, based on Marshall’s (2004) research “approximately 15% of all school children have dyslexia” (p. 32). These statistics are startling, to say the least!
Nevertheless, what I found, and still find, most alarming is that many educators, therapists, and specialists do not know ‘how’ to address dyslexia correctly. (Our Dyslexic Children, 2020; Overcoming Dyslexia, 2017). Attorney Peter Wright, a National Expert in Special Education Law, emphatically stated that dyslexia “is not a learning disability but a teaching disability” (Our Dyslexic Children, 2020). My practice sees many students who are products of uninformed specialists and ineffective programs. It is no wonder parents and teachers are confused. (This is a systemic problem, and although not the purpose of this paper – it needs to be addressed through proper teacher training and education with focus and persistence.)
Furthermore, the time that is wasted before a child can receive effective instruction is indeed critical, as the research proves the importance of early intervention (Marshall, 2004; Our Dyslexic Children, 2020; TED-Ed, 2013; Schwarzberg, 2021; Shaywitz, 2005). Moreover, delaying effective instruction makes it harder for the dyslexic student to progress (Marshall, 2004; Our Dyslexic Children, 2020; TED-Ed, 2013; Schwarzberg, 2021). Therefore, teachers and parents need to be aware of the symptoms from a young age.
Next week, we will explore the symptoms.