What is Dyslexia?

November 17, 2015 

Dyslexia-Philly-areaDespite its prevalence, the term dyslexia is often misunderstood. Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines dyslexia as “a variable . . . learning disability involving difficulties in acquiring and processing language.”

For example, there is a common misperception that people with dyslexia reverse letters and numbers. A number of graphic designers have even developed alternate fonts based on this common notion. Due to this misunderstanding about the nature of dyslexia, parents often conclude that their child with a reading problem may actually have a vision problem. It is always important to rule out any vision problems by having a child’s vision tested, but that is a separate issue from dyslexia.

Scientists—especially one neuroscientist, Dr. Sally Shaywitz—have set aside the notion that dyslexia is an eye issue. Imagine reading a foreign language: The letters will look familiar, but meaning isn’t readily available. The problem isn’t one of the eyes; it is, rather, an inability to connect the symbols with meanings. And, according to a 2009 position paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended.”

For more information, the University of Michigan has published a list of common misconceptions about dyslexia.

At its root, dyslexia is a struggle with mapping images to meanings. Phonological awareness is a common area of weakness. Some individuals with dyslexia are impeded from making connections between letters and sounds. More broadly, some may have trouble connecting an image to a particular word.

Dr. Shaywitz, co-director of The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, reports one such anomaly: “For example, a girl shown a picture of a volcano calls it a tornado. When given the opportunity to elaborate, she demonstrates that she knows what the pictured object is—she can describe the attributes and activities of a volcano in great detail and point to other pictures related to volcanoes. She simply cannot summon the word ‘volcano.’”

There is much work yet to be done in understanding dyslexia. Even so, many effective methods have been developed to compensate for the various disconnects. One such program is the Wilson Reading System, which capitalizes on many approaches to develop reading skills. Two main factors, however, stand out: the Wilson program’s step-by-step approach to identifying syllable types and its emphasis on multisensory input.

The step-by-step approach consists heavily of distinguishing all the different types of syllables and syllable sounds based on varying combinations of consonants and vowels. The goal here is to turn words into approachable pieces of sound—called phonemes—that the student can identify. The multisensory aspect incorporates color, touch, movement, sight, and sound among other things. The overall goal is to provide a dyslexic student with more avenues by which to make connections between letters and sounds and, eventually, words and meanings.

If you have questions about dyslexia or would like more information about the Wilson Reading System, call A+ at 215.886.9188 or email us at office@aplustutoring.com.


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