What is dyslexia? It is a difficulty either with receptive oral language skills, expressive oral language skills, reading, spelling, or written expression. It is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in the USA, affecting about one child in five. There is a strong family link, although it has also been associated with prematurity, complications in pregnancy, and accidents. Typically, research shows there is a known difference between the two sides of the brain. Research indicates for dyslexic readers, certain areas of the brain may be "underdeveloped" even though higher order thinking skills for some of these "disabled readers" may be intact. (Dr. Jeff Stern, LDA Convention, 2000, Reno, Nevada.) Some say it is a "left-brain related" problem. It is usually based on congenital deficiencies in phonologic processing or phoneme awareness. This means inability to learn typical rules that govern English (such as adding prefixes, suffixes). It typically includes problems in auditory memory, distinguishing speech, memory of sounds and analyzing sounds - such as "what is the first sound inů." ("Critical Discoveries in Learning disabilities: A Summary of Findings by NIH Research Programs in L.D.," Research Centers Report at the LDA 1996 conference," Barbara McElgunn, Research Committee.)
Several reading programs have proven more successful in teaching reading to dyslexic students over the years. There is no one "magic bullet" for instructing children with dyslexia, and the best program for your child may be one that uses certain elements of more than one of these listed below. Some dyslexics, for example, have done well learning sight words with very little use of phonics.
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Sometimes called VAKT programs (students work at the same time on as much of each sense modality as possible: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile)
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In March 2001, an article appeared citing research into the nature of dyslexia and the brain. It found that English, as a language, has proved very difficult for dyslexics. There are identical neurological signatures for dyslexics around the globe, but there is a difference in the level of difficulty encountered in cultures where one symbol represents one sound, and in English, where we have 1100 ways to spell our forty sounds. The test sample was small, but there are far fewer dyslexics in countries with consistent sound/symbol relationships than in the USA. The researcher concluded that having to learn to read the English language alone accounts for the increased difficulty dyslexic readers face. (Virginian Pilot, March 16, 2001, p. A1, A-14.)
When do you suspect dyslexia if a child is having trouble with reading? Typically by the end of first grade, children who fail to learn with traditional instructional methods should be evaluated - especially if there is any history of reading difficulty in any member of your extended family --uncle, aunt, parent, or siblings. There can certainly be additional factors to consider, such as immaturity, lack of ability to focus, or even allergies can contribute to a child's ability to benefit from reading instruction. Recent findings, however, note that unless readers establish good fluent reading habits by age nine, most children will remain noticeably behind -- even as late as high school. Drs. Stolhard and Hulne, in 1996, suggest "decoding predicts the volume of reading." In other words - the ease of decoding that a child demonstrates is closely linked to the ease with which that child can read fluently and easily. Therefore, it is usually best to follow up suspicions of suspected dyslexia at an earlier age. (Merck Manual, Sect. 19 Ch. 262, "Developmental Problems.")
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