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In 1968, the World Federation of Neurologists defined dyslexia as "a disorder in children who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing, and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities".
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, dyslexia is a learning disability that can hinder a person's ability to read, write, spell, and sometimes speak. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and persists throughout life. The severity of dyslexia can vary from mild to severe. The sooner dyslexia is treated, the more favourable the outcome; however, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn to improve their language skills.
Children with dyslexia have difficulty in learning to read despite traditional instruction, at least average intelligence, and an adequate opportunity to learn. It is caused by impairment in the brain's ability to translate images received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of intelligence.
Dyslexia can go undetected in the early grades of schooling. The child can become frustrated by the difficulty in learning to read, and other problems can arise that will disguise dyslexia. The child may show signs of depression and low self-esteem. Behaviour problems at home as well as at school are frequently seen. The child may become unmotivated and develop a dislike for school. The child's success in school may be jeopardized if the problem remains untreated.
Dyslexia may affect several different functions. Visual dyslexia is characterized by number and letter reversals and the inability to write symbols in the correct sequence. Auditory dyslexia involves difficulty with sounds of letters or groups of letters. The sounds are perceived as jumbled or not heard correctly. "Dysgraphia" refers to the child's difficulty holding and controlling a pencil so that the correct markings can be made on the paper.
Classroom teachers may not be able to determine if a child has dyslexia. They may detect early signs that suggest further assessment by a psychologist or other health professional in order to actually diagnose the disorder. Letter and number reversals are the most common warning sign. Such reversals are fairly common up to the age of 7 or 8 and usually diminish by that time. If they do not, it may be appropriate to test for dyslexia or other learning problems. Difficulty copying from the board or a book can also suggest problems. There may be a general disorganization of written work. A child may not be able to remember content, even if it involves a favourite video or storybook. Problems with spatial relationships can extend beyond the classroom and be observed on the playground. The child may appear to be uncoordinated and have difficulty with organized sports or games. Difficulty with left and right is common, and often dominance for either hand has not been established. In the early grades, music and dance are often used to enhance academic learning. Children with dyslexia can have difficulty moving to the rhythm of the music.
Children may have dyslexia or a learning disability if they have one or more of the following symptoms:
Letter or word reversals when reading. (Such as was/saw, b/d, p/q).
Letter or word reversals when writing.
Difficulty repeating what is said to them.
Poor handwriting or printing ability.
Poor drawing ability.
Reversing letters or words when spelling words that are presented orally.
Difficulty comprehending written or spoken directions.
Difficulty with right - left directionality.
Difficulty understanding or remembering what is said to them.
Difficulty understanding or remembering what they have just read.
Difficulty putting their thoughts on paper.
Auditory problems in dyslexia encompass a variety of functions. Commonly, a child may have difficulty remembering or understanding what he hears. Recalling sequences of things or more than one command at a time can be difficult. Parts of words or parts of whole sentences may be missed, and words can come out sounding funny. The wrong word or a similar word may be used instead. Children struggling with this problem may know what they want to say but have trouble finding the actual words to express their thoughts.
Many subtle signs can be observed in children with dyslexia. Children may become withdrawn and appear to be depressed. They may begin to act out, drawing attention away from their learning difficulty. Problems with self-esteem can arise, and peer and sibling interactions can become strained. These children may lose their interest in school-related activities and appear to be unmotivated or lazy. The emotional symptoms and signs are just as important as the academic and require equal attention.
Over 180 research studies to date have proven that phonics is the best way to teach reading to all students. They also have shown that phonics is the only way to teach reading to students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
The challenge for education authorities is to provide the leadership and to focus the resources necessary to ensure the development of dyslexia friendly schools. Being an effective school and being dyslexia friendly are two sides of the same coin. Effective schools enjoy strong leadership, value staff development and pay close attention to the quality of instruction and learning. These are schools in which all children are important regardless of ability or difficulty. Dyslexia in schools needs to be seen to have status within the school. This can be achieved by ensuring that the governors are firmly committed to supporting dyslexic children across the curriculum. The most effective way would be through the School Development Plan:
Offering comprehensive training
Formulating a common approach
Setting targets based on National Curriculum descriptors
Putting in place monitoring and evaluation systems.
Head teachers need to take the responsibility of ensuring that the philosophy of the school is dyslexia friendly. This might relate to attitudes and actions held by teachers and support staff. All staff needs to be aware that although children might have weaknesses with specific parts of curriculum access, they are likely to be at least of average ability if not a great deal higher. Parents need to be brought into the changing set up, their concerns heard and their cooperation sought where possible.
It is important to point out that it is very helpful when children receive a high mark for content and knowledge rather than always being penalised due to poor presentation skills, spelling, punctuation and grammar. The child should be getting help in these areas of weakness and should be motivated to keep trying bye having his thoughts, ideas and knowledge valued.
Within schools there is the necessity for a range of training needs to be carried out with relevant staff. It would be ideal to have a dyslexia-trained specialist in every school. To do so there is the need for mainstream teachers and knowledgeable learning support assistants in the classroom to help the child on a regular basis. In addition it would be highly useful for head teachers and governors to attend awareness-raising sessions on the needs of the dyslexic child and the benefits to the school of dyslexia provision. As Reid (1997) says of teacher training:
it is important that classroom teachers receive some training in dyslexia offering both theoretical insights and practical experience.