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What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is the medical term for a hardwired difficulty learning to read.  Children with dyslexia have normally developing intellect, but their ability to connect sounds to letters, and read fluently does not keep up with their classmates’.  This results in considerable frustration.  Most children, incorrectly, conclude that they must be “stupid” if they cannot learn to read.  They may begin to act up in school to divert attention from their reading deficit.  They may appear to have trouble concentrating, particularly when reading or writing. 

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We now know a lot about what happens in the brains of dyslexic children. Fmri scans (brain scans that take real time images of children’s brains as they read) tell us that children with dyslexia process reading differently in their brains than typically developing children.  When children and adults without dyslexia read, the information is processed on the left side of their brains, moving from back to front.  Children with dyslexia do not show this typical pattern. However, after intensive, scientifically based reading instruction, these brain differences can disappear.  The key is intensive, EARLY intervention. 

Sally Shaywitz, MD and her group at Yale, 2004 found that after a year of intensive, 50 minute per day, one on one instruction with a scientifically based reading program, not only did reading improve, but the brain activation patterns of children changed during reading tasks.  These changes continued to be measured one year after the experiment. 

Does My Child Have Dyslexia?

Because research indicates that early intervention produces the best outcomes, it is important to seek a comprehensive assessment early.  “Wait and see” often results in a significant amount of lost instruction time and also increases frustration for children.

The reading assessment begins with a clear measure of intellect, memory, attention, and frontal executive network function. These are all important building blocks in your child’s ability to read.  Auditory processing skills are then assessed, including connections between sounds and letters, and rapid access to this stored information in the brain.  Your child is then given a series of reading tests  which measure their ability to sound out nonsense words, recognize sight words, read aloud accurately and fluently, and comprehend what they have read.  

Because dyslexia often is accompanied by other learning difficulties, such as poor attention, expressive or receptive language problems, or other academic weaknesses, the comprehensive neuropsycholoigical evaluation goes on to ask and answer the questions “Are there other learning disabilities present that will get in the way of successful treatment if not addressed?” and “What are my child’s strengths that we can harness to make the treatment more effective?” 

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I highly recommend Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, MD. 

This is a wonderful book for families of children with dyslexia.