A Series on Dyslexia – Part III: Signs and Superpowers

According to Shaywitz (2005), signs that a child may be dyslexic can be demonstrated as early as preschool, when a child struggles to remember letters and/or has trouble rhyming.  In kindergarten and first grade, a child may have difficulty segmenting a word, grasping correct sound-symbol associations, and/or decoding words properly (Shaywitz, 2005). By second grade and higher, the child may have labored reading, clearly lacking fluency, and tends to simply guess when faced with an unfamiliar word (Shaywitz, 2005). Spelling tends to be poor, handwriting may be messy, writing becomes extremely challenging, and there appears to be difficulty remembering words, dates, names, etc. (Shaywitz, 2005). Disorganization and inconsistency appear to be hallmarks of the disorder as well. Nonetheless, the symptoms can vary greatly, as every dyslexic is unique (American Psychiatric Association, 2018; Davis, 1994; Marshall, 2004).

In addition, dyslexia could range in severity from mild to profound and there are different types of dyslexia (American Psychiatric Association, 2018; Dyslexia Connect, 2015). More specifically, there is phonological or auditory dyslexia, indicative in children who have the greatest difficulty with decoding skills, whereas surface or visual dyslexia is characterized by labored reading and an inability to identify words that are not phonetically spelled (Marshall, 2004). When children have great difficulty remembering and retrieving words, it is called “semantic dyslexia” and “deep” or “double-deficit” dyslexia is a combination of both the phonological and semantic forms, and hence, the most profound (Marshall, 2004).  Unfortunately, my son has the latter.

Genny Schwarzberg (2021), a reading interventionist from New Jersey, shares how children with reading difficulties have a much greater chance of developing “mental health issues, dropping out of school and committing suicide.”  A student’s self-esteem may start to decline in the early elementary grades (Shaywitz, 2005), and this cannot, and should not, be ignored. I see this often in my practice, children seem almost broken, and come without hope.  (I tell them there is always hope!) But it takes time to build their trust.  Schwarzberg (2021) implores parents to first focus on the child’s mental health, as well as their executive functioning, before and while providing effective instruction.

And although dyslexia cannot be cured (The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2021; Sunderland, 2018), I venture to ask you, “Why would you want it to be cured, as it comes with superpowers?”  At least, this is what I tell my students each and every day.   Marianne Sunderland (2018), an Orton-Gillingham tutor, and creator of the Homeschooling with Dyslexia website and courses, defines dyslexia as a “learning difference” and describes dyslexics as “Big Picture Thinkers.”  Such thinkers remind me of my son, and his uncanny ability to ‘see, perceive, and create’ things that ordinary people cannot.  She eloquently outlines four dyslexic strengths which include: Spatial Reasoning, Interconnected Reasoning, Narrative Reasoning, and Dynamic Reasoning.  Davis (1994), a dyslexic himself, and founder of both the Reading Research Council’s Dyslexia Correction Center and the Davis Dyslexia Association stated that the genius of a dyslexic does not “occur in spite of dyslexia, but because of it” (p.3).  In his book, The Gift of Dyslexia, he lists several famous dyslexics including: Albert Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Woodrow Wilson, and Walt Disney to name a few.

Much like the theories of Davis (1994), Shaywitz (2005), and Sunderland (2018), Malcolm Alexander (2021), from the Dyslexia Help Organization, encourages parents and teachers to look at the child’s strengths. These are their superpowers and working from a place of strength is paramount to their success in school and life.

See you next week when I attempt to offer such hope.