Dyslexia: The Elusive Learning Disability
Dyslexia is a special type of learning disability that causes otherwise intelligent individuals to have problems reading the written language. The disorder affects between two and five percent of the population and about half of all students classified as learning disabled. There is currently no known cure, and the condition persists into adulthood.
There are several different types of learning disabilities, and care must be taken to differentiate dyslexia from other types of learning disabilities when providing for remediation. The cause of dyslexia has yet to be found; therefore a myriad of approaches for remediation have been introduced by researchers and educators.
Early Symptoms Of Dyslexia
- delays in speech and language development
- difficulty with time and space concepts
- easily distractable
- memory problems
- difficulty copying word
- difficulty with spelling, writing, reading and math
- mood swings
Characteristics Of Dyslexia
Dyslexia first caught the attention of researchers Dejerine (1882) and Bastian (1898). They identified several congenital (at birth) neurological problems that laid the groundwork for later research. The differences noticed between the various problems have helped experts to identify three sub-types of dyslexia.
- visual dis-phonetic (eyes, vision)
- auditory linguistic dis-phonetic (hearing, language)
- a mixed type with symptoms from both
Some individuals have reading problems because of external eye muscle disorders that are deemed to be dyslexic, but this is the exception, not the rule.
What is it like to be dyslexic? Victims report that they have trouble breaking up words into sounds. Parts of words seem to not fit together right. They have to hear the word spoken first. They don't really see "words backwards" but they do often make certain letter and number reversals such as 6 and 9, b and d.
Differing Theories Of Dyslexia
There are several theories that different health professionals introduced during the later part of the 20th century. All were controversial and there is no evidence that they were ever proven to help the dyslexic. A few of the theories are listed here.
Cerebellar-vestibular malfunction: some research (Frank and Levinson,1977) has linked the blurring, scrambling and letter reversal to a malfunctioning cerebellar-vestibular system, the system that connects the brain to balance and movement. They likened symptoms to trying to read words on a passing truck. They even suggested using the motion sickness drug Dramamine to alleviate symptoms of dyslexia.
Ocular lock syndrome: Almost a decade later, chiropractic medical professionals believed that the cause of dyslexia was the bones around the eyes keeping the eye muscles from working properly (Ferreri and Wainwright, 1984.) They attempted to treat the disorder with a system of manipulating the skull bones. They also theorized that the pelvic bones should be aligned correctly to provide posture that would support better eye muscle control.
Mega-vitamin therapy: Other researchers have attributed dyslexia to a chemical disorder in the brain that can be fixed with mega-vitamins and diet (Cott, 1977,1985). This research maintained that mega-vitamins would restore neurological health. It suggested that wheat products and milk are often found in foods containing sugar, and cause certain allergies that affect learning; therefore, they should be removed from the diet.
Elimination diet: The Feingold diet, created by Dr. Ben Feingold (Feingold, 1975, 1976,1977) was based on the belief that certain synthetic chemicals such as those added to soft drinks, hot dogs, candy and food dyes has affected learning disabled and ADHD kids. He proposed that diet should be considered before any thought of drugs as a treatment for these types of disabilities.
Remediation For Dyslexia
The teacher or professional should use a diagnostic word recognition check list such as the WRATIII or other formal or informal assessment to decide on a remediation with activities to address deficits. Students with dyslexia lack having a knowledge of sounds that form spoken words; therefore they will need both a traditional phonics approach that stresses phonemic awareness and a whole-language approach with a central focus on meaning. Listed are suggestions for programs to use with dyslexic students.
- Corrective Reading by SRA: This program provides intensive, sustained direct instruction for decoding words and comprehending what has been read. For ages 7-14.
- Rewards: This program provides specialized instruction for middle and high school students. It teaches a strategy that can be used to decode longer words, and exercises to increase silent and oral reading fluency.
- Responsive Reading Instruction: This is a highly adaptable supplemental reading program that focuses on practicing phonemic awareness and phonemic decoding in the context of reading and writing.
- PALS: This program provides systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, decoding and comprehension for the pre-K-grade one student. It features high-interest children's literature.
- Passport Reading Journeys: This program provides systematic and explicit instruction for struggling adolescent readers. It features high-interest reading expeditions that are of particular interest to that age group.