Dyslexia is an often misunderstood neurological learning disability which causes difficulty in language-based skills, such as reading, speaking and writing. Because it results in problems with both oral and written communication, it can be hard for people with this disorder – especially as children – to articulate what it is like for them. They assume that they share the same experience as everyone else, and feel that they are simply failing to achieve the same levels of facility with language that other people do.
This article serves as a primer on dyslexia, helping the reader to understand what dyslexia is, what it isn’t, and the problems that dyslexics often face.
While it is unknown what causes dyslexia, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) reports that, “…Brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions.” These differences may have a genetic component, but research into the roots of dyslexia is ongoing.
Sources of information and acceptance of dyslexia has grown over the recent years, but the general knowledge about this—one of the most common learning disabilities—is still small. When people hear “dyslexia” they think it’s about words moving on the page when one tries to read them. It can be, but dyslexia is much more complicated than that. The symptoms are wide-ranging—not every dyslexic has the same issues and range of severity.
Dyslexics have trouble when it comes to breaking down words into their component sounds, and recognizing how sounds and letters correspond. Common issues include reading, keeping writing confined to a defined area, and mispronunciation and speech issues. Other problems include the inability to understand what people are saying simply because the sounds become blurred together and do not resolve into a recognizable word or phrase. Dyslexics may also have trouble remembering sequences, such as the days of the week or the alphabet, or keeping a set of numbers—such as a telephone number or address—straight in their head. Some dyslexics have trouble with directional orientation, with remembering left from right and back from front. Common possible indicators of dyslexia in children include an inability to recognize that some words begin with the same letter, confusion of small words, and letter reversals.
Complicating things further, many dyslexics are not consistent in their problem areas. It is entirely possible for a dyslexic to be able to read well one day and to have trouble reading the next or to consistently misspell a word, but to misspell it a different way each time. If misunderstood, this fluctuation in skill can lead parents and teachers to assume that the trouble is not real, or that it is merely a reflection of a child’s inattention. However, it is just as frustrating for the dyslexic, who does not understand that this change from one day to the next is a part of their disorder.
Dyslexic children are often told—even by teachers and parents—that they just need to try harder, to concentrate, to stop being lazy. Such chastisement, especially from people whose opinions are crucial, can leave a child feeling ashamed, depressed, frustrated and isolated. The stress and anxiety such misinterpretation produces can follow dyslexics into adulthood. In fact, most adult dyslexics hide their difficulties with reading and writing, and many go to great lengths not to have to do in public any of things they find difficult.
Dyslexia has no relation to intelligence, or to a willingness to learn, and such misconceptions are damaging. Not only do they harm the self-confidence of the dyslexic child, but they lead to many dyslexics going undiagnosed into their adult years, and still struggling with the same self-esteem issues they faced in childhood.
Adult dyslexics tend to occupy jobs that are below their capabilities, and some have difficulty when it comes to organizing and planning. Despite this, adult dyslexics are also often talented in other areas. They tend to have good oral communication skills—possibly developed as a means of coping with poor writing skills—and often have good spatial acuity, which may be because they think in pictures instead of words. They are also generally intuitive when it comes to other people and have good “people skills,” though many dyslexic children struggle with social cues and interaction.
Dyslexics, both as children and adults, can be successful, and finding techniques to cope is a large part of that success. For instance, some dyslexics always wear a particular bit of jewellery on one hand or wrist in order to remind them which is right and which is left. Others develop memory tricks in order to remember numbers or sequences. There are a hundred things a dyslexic might do to keep things organized in their minds that someone without dyslexia never has to think about. From telling time, to counting change, to reading notices on a board, or writing even simple communications, all of these things can take more time and mental energy for the dyslexic.
Because dyslexia presents such a wide range of symptoms, and the severity can be mild to severe, different dyslexics require different approaches. However, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) “The prognosis is generally good however, for individuals whose dyslexia is identified early, who have supportive family and friends and a strong self-image, and who are involved in a proper remediation programme.”
Dyslexics can learn to cope with their disorder, with understanding, support and proper teaching techniques. Its effect on a person’s facility with language, reading and writing can be mitigated and there are strategies that can help. Dyslexia does not represent a lack of intelligence or effort when it comes to learning. Treating dyslexics as if trying harder will take care of the problem only leads to issues with depression, anxiety and loss of self-esteem.