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FAQ's About Dyslexia
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about dyslexia to help you better understand the learning disability.

  1. What is dyslexia?
    An individual with dyslexia has difficulty with written letters and words. Most commonly, a person with dyslexia has difficulty learning to read and spell words. They commonly add, omit, substitute, shift or repeat sounds in words (reading) or letters in words (spelling). These reading and spelling difficulties occur despite adequate teaching, home environment, motivation, intelligence, and sensory acuity (vision, hearing, and touch).

    Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis, made by a qualified physician or psychologist. Schools commonly do not use the diagnostic medical term dyslexia. Rather, the equivalent term in an educational setting is a specific learning disability (SLD). A specific learning disability in reading generally means the same as dyslexia, difficulty with reading words. However, SLD's can also indicate other learning difficulties besides reading, such as a specific learning disability in mathematics or written expression. However, this educational term (SLD) is misleading, as rarely do children with an SLD diagnosis lack the ability to read. Rather, they lack the development of the skills necessary for accurate and fluent reading. The good news is that 30 years of research clearly indicates that an individual's reading ability can be dramatically improved after proper instruction in these deficient reading skills!

  2. What causes dyslexia?
    A single cause of dyslexia has not been universally identified. However, over 30 years of research indicates that one primary cause of dyslexia is poorly developed phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to judge the number, order, and sameness or difference of sounds in words. Phonological awareness typically develops well before children are taught letters. Phonological awareness first develops during learning to speak. It helps a child be able to hear a word and learn to repeat it correctly. Another example of early phonological awareness is the ability to rhyme words (which typically develops around 3 years of age). Thus, well before children are taught letters and their sounds (commonly called phonics instruction), the brain typically learns to hear, see and feel the differences between individual sounds and sounds put together in the form of words. Individuals with poorly developed phonological awareness (and ensuing difficulty with reading) have developmental dyslexia.

    Developmental dyslexia, or a strong likelihood of developing dyslexia, is believed to result from an uncommon development of the brain before birth. This uncommon development of the brain results in a brain that is not well organized to learn the sound structure of the English language, e.g. the poor organization hinders the development of good phonological awareness. Again, phonological awareness develops before learning what sounds each alphabet letter or letters makes (phonics instruction). When letters are being taught in school, then most individuals with dyslexia will learn the specific sound for each letter or letters. However, when these sounds are put together to form a word, then the difficulty begins. To most individuals with dyslexia a word is like a solid chunk of sound. Thus, children and adults with dyslexia have great difficulty dividing a word into its individual sounds. Likewise, individuals with dyslexia typically have trouble sounding out new or unfamiliar words. This difficulty sounding out words puts individuals with dyslexia at a distinct disadvantage for developing fluent and accurate reading skills. However, dyslexia is not common only to English. Research on dyslexia has found it to exist in most any language that has graphic shapes (letters) that are associated with a sound or sounds of a language.

  3. Is there a cure for dyslexia?
    There is no cure for dyslexia. However, the primary cause of dyslexia, phonological awareness, can be greatly improved through very specific, frequent, and intense (more than an hour per day) instruction, using published programs that have been solidly proven to be effective in large scale research studies. Significant improvements in phonological awareness and its highest level of development (called comparator function) provide the foundation for greatly enhancing the reading skills of individuals with dyslexia. Well-designed research shows that children as young as 4 and 5 years of age can be reliably diagnosed as being likely to develop dyslexia (after reading instruction begins). Likewise, longitudinal research shows that early intervention (beginning in Kindergarten) can greatly reduce the reading difficulties of children at risk for becoming dyslexic. In contrast, a significant amount of research shows that poor reading skills are unlikely to be a maturation problem, as rarely do poor reading skills greatly improve just because of age. Thus, parents who are told to "wait and see" if a child gets better at reading or falls further behind are being significantly misguided. The sooner proper intervention is started, the greater the benefit for the individual with a reading difficulty.
  4. How prevalent is dyslexia?
    It has been estimated that ten to thirty percent of the population may have poor phonological awareness skills. Likewise, this same range of individuals are believed to have mild to severe forms of dyslexia. Dyslexia is not reliably related to intelligence, race, or gender.
  5. What are some of the signs that a child may have dyslexia?
    A delay in learning to talk, difficulty learning the alphabet, trouble learning to rhyme words, problems dividing words into their separate sounds, speech errors occurring beyond typical age appropriateness that involve adding, substituting, shifting or omitting sounds in words, weak language comprehension, poor fine-motor skills, sloppy handwriting, and messy eating skills are all indicators of the potential for developing poor phonological awareness and dyslexia. Current research shows that children at the age of 4 and 5 years of age who show these early indicators of dyslexia should be properly tested right away, even prior to beginning reading instruction. Unfortunately, contrary to the results and recommendations of well-designed research studies, many schools and educators encourage parents to wait until nearly third grade before referring a child for a diagnostic assessment. Waiting until 2nd or 3rd grade puts the child at a large disadvantage, as by this point they will likely be significantly behind their peers in reading skills and now have a much larger gap between their abilities and that of their peers. The larger the gap between a child's reading skills and his/her peers' skills, the more intervention will be necessary to help the child reach their grade level and potential reading ability. Similarly, the longer one delays seeking proper diagnosis and treatment, the greater the risk that the individual will develop a poor self-esteem, behavior problems, and poor motivation towards school.
  6. Will dyslexics ever learn to read?
    With well-researched instructional programs (focused on developing phonological awareness and its application to reading, spelling and speech) and proper environmental supports, individuals with dyslexia can learn to read, and read very well. Research shows that reading skills can improve more than 4-5 grade levels for children with even moderate to severe dyslexia. Improvements in phonological awareness and reading skills can occur regardless of the age of the individual with dyslexia; yes, even adults with dyslexia can benefit from proper instruction. However, the older an individual is the greater the likelihood that his/her poor phonological awareness and reading skills have inhibited the development of other academic/language skills, such as vocabulary, grammatical writing skills, and oral speaking abilities. Nevertheless, following proper reading instruction and remediation of other deficient academic/language skills, not only is college an option for many individuals with developmental dyslexia, but also a larger range of employment opportunities are available, due to having better developed reading, writing, speech and comprehension skills.
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