Saturday, November 20, 2010


After profiling several rare disorders I thought I should look at something that is quite common. According to some sources Dyslexia is the most common learning disability among children - it affects an individual's ability to read, write, spell and sometimes speak even though their cognitive abilities are average and there is no hearing or vision impairment to explain the difficulty. Dyslexia can be mild or severe and is a life-long condition with no cure. However, the symptoms may change over time, and many strategies and coping skills can be learned to overcome the challenges. I was told some time ago that children with speech and language delays are more likely to have challenges later with reading, so I've been on the look out for dyslexia in my daughter for quite a while. She is now almost seven, and she is reading, but still struggling somewhat. Her teacher assures me that she's on track and progressing. I decided I should educate myself a little and learn what exactly I should be watching for.

When I started researching for this post all I knew about dyslexia is the symptom of writing letters and numbers backward or mixing up the sequence of letters or digits when reading or writing. Reversing letters and numbers apparently is quite common until age seven or eight and then should diminish. Some other symptoms of dyslexia include:
  • disorganized writing
  • challenges remembering story elements even from favorites
  • difficulty with spatial relationships - both academic and athletic
  • confusion of left and right; may not use one hand dominantly
  • difficulty moving in rhythm with music
  • may not remember or understand oral instructions
  • following more than one command at a time is challenging
  • may struggle with verbal expression, at a loss for words even if they know what they want to say.
  • emotional difficulties may arise - withdrawal, depression, poor self-esteem
  • behavioral issues - social challenges, acting out, may appear lazy
Some of these symptoms of course overlap with other disorders, so it is important to pursue appropriate assessments in order to reach an accurate diagnosis. Evidently there is a whole list of tests and assessments that can be used to pinpoint the exact area of difficulty a student is having with their reading. Appropriate strategies and coping skills can then be taught to overcome that challenge.

There are actually three main causes of dyslexia:
1) Trauma induced dyslexia occurs after some accident or other injury affects the area of the brain that controls reading and writing. This is increasingly rare in our populations, probably thanks to the now widespread use of car seats and seat belts in vehicles, and helmets for bicycling, etc.

2) Primary dyslexia occurs from the congenital dysfunction of the cerebral cortex (left hemisphere) and is an inherited disorder that most commonly affects boys. This form does not change over time and often limits reading abilities to a fourth grade level.

3) Developmental dyslexia is thought to be caused by hormonal effects during early fetal development. This form is also more common in boys, but also diminishes as the individual matures.

Parents should consult with school staff if they suspect dyslexia is affecting their child's ability to learn. If the child already has an IEP their plan can be modified to specifically address this concern. If the student does not already have an IEP the school will likely begin by assembling a Student Study Team which includes relevant school staff and the parents. Within this team a strategy to assess and support the student's learning can be developed.

For more information about dyslexia:

MedicineNet article and discussion
Learning Disabilities Online

I also thought I would mention that a friend of mine, Janet Ann Collins, recently published a children's book where some of the main characters are affected by dyslexia. It's called Signs of Trouble. She posted the cover art on Facebook today, and I'm sure that influenced my choice of topic for this post!


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