WHAT IS DYSLEXIA? Robert D. Smith, PhD The International Dyslexia Association defines Dyslexia as “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”( International Dyslexia Association ) Your level of reading is not a reflection of your intelligence. Many smart people have dyslexia. Contrary to a long-held belief, dyslexia is not a visual disorder, but is actually an auditory processing problem involving phonemic information. Developmental Dyslexia is officially classified as a neurologically based learning disorder, meaning that it is considered a physical brain disorder. However, that conclusion is not so clear cut. Our brains evolved so that most people learn how to talk automatically with no particular instruction. However, reading is a skill activity invented by human beings. People are not hard wired to equally perform the skilled activity of reading. Not everybody can learn to throw a football equally well, or draw equally well or sing equally well (think about American Idol). When reading, you have to, simultaneously, do many things. Our language is made of distinctly different little sounds that we assemble to make the words we speak. These little sounds are called phonemes . We humans developed a system in which every letter of the alphabet has one or more of these sounds attached to it. The spoken word is made up of distinct building blocks of different sounds called phonemes. Every letter of the alphabet has a phoneme sound associated with it. Some letters have more than one sound such as the letter “R”, which is the label not to sound. The two sounds associated with the letter R are "ruh" and "ur". The alternate sound is used depending on where the letter is placed within the word. Every letter of the alphabet therefore stands for one of the distinctly different phonemic sounds that make up the spoken word. Consequently, the phonemic system is used like a secret agent’s code to translate the printed word back into the spoken word. Initially, all words are unfamiliar and require laborious application of the phonemic system, but after enough practice the process of reading becomes automatic for most words. However, people with dyslexia have a hard wiring difficulty learning, retaining and applying this phonemic system. People without dyslexia can process phonemic information automatically with little effort and cannot relate to the dyslexic reader’s difficulty. The dyslexic reader’s struggle processing phonemic information is perplexing to those without dyslexia because processing phonemic information seems like such a simple automatic task, like breathing. However, reading is a man- made skill, like throwing a baseball and not everyone can do it equally well. Think of how some contestants on American Idol cannot process the relationship between pitches and cannot carry a tune in a bucket, while others sing with ease. We can get by in life without singing very well, but the same is not true of reading. The non-dyslexic reader readily learns the phonemic system and intuitively applies it to word decoding. However, the dyslexic reader has difficulty hearing the difference between many of the phonemic sounds in a similar way to the poor singer who battles their tone deafness. Consequently, standard instruction progresses too rapidly and with chunks of information to big for the dyslexic reader to process. The dyslexic reader needs to have the phonemic system broken down into its most fundamental steps, carefully presented, corrected and rehearsed over an extended period of time by individual instructors. Every mistake made by dyslexic reader must be immediately corrected to minimize the confusion that is inevitable for the dyslexic reader. However, most dyslexic readers can learn to read independently and adequately, although the degree of fluency attained varies between individuals. Reading comprehension, spelling and writing problems are usually the result of the dyslexic reader’s difficulties processing phonemic information. Dyslexia is one of the most common problems affecting children and adults in the United States. The prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to range from 5 to 17% of school-age children. It is the most common form of learning disability. Over 40 million Americans suffer from dyslexia, making it an extraordinarily widespread disorder. It can affect both boys and girls. It is more common in children and adults whose parents also had difficulty with reading and writing. It is one of the most common learning disabilities among people and can disrupt both education and social development if left untreated. Dyslexia is a problem that many people face and usually causes great difficulty coping with the school or working environment. Although dyslexia is life-long, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to appropriate intervention. It's never too late for the dyslexic reader to learn to read. Appropriate instruction is effective for children and adults of all ages.
© Robert D. Smith, PhD
Robert D. Smith, PhD Diagnosis of Dyslexia, ADD & Learning Disorders Children & Adults