According to the Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity, about 20% of school-going children have dyslexia. Many cases remain undiagnosed which leads to stress, anxiety and in some cases, low self esteem as well.
Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is neither a disease nor a measure of an individual’s intelligence. It is a learning disability where the brain’s ability to process written and spoken language is affected.
“Oh, he just hasn’t caught up yet” is a very common statement you get to hear from educators who have no idea that the child they are putting off as a ‘slow learner’, is actually dyslexic. It is never the fault of the child. It is the educator’s responsibility to look for methods that work for the child.
Raising a child with dyslexia can stir up strong emotions. Parents start worrying about the future of their kids who have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Understanding the symptoms and affects of dyslexia can help educators and parents manage this learning disability.
Dyslexia and Reading
The human brain is not designed to read. There is no separate compartment in the brain that is specific to reading. Instead, in order to read, the brain must make connections between its various parts, that are actually designed for other purposes. These connections are what the reading circuit runs on. And in order to become a fluent reader, this circuit needs to be running lightning fast. For children with dyslexia, this connection is not very strong and needs reinforcements.
Let’s take a look at the way reading problems develop in a dyslexic’s brain.
Phoneme awareness – This is basically to know the sounds that correspond with letters and words. It is the number one deficiency in a dyslexic’s brain. The English language is made up of 44 sounds called phonemes. The tricky part is that there are phonemes that can be expressed in different letters, and letters that can lead to different phonemes, making it a difficult language. Many children with dyslexia find it hard to understand which sound is assigned to which letter.
Fluency – This is the second problem often faced by dyslexics. Children who might have perfected the phonemes may still find it difficult linking them with letters. This is due to the speed at which the brain processes information. As a result, dyslexics feel difficulty in reading fluently.
Comprehension – After letters and sounds have been connected and words take shape, the next step is to connect these words to meanings and functions of grammar. It takes a lot of work to get visual representation, meaning, sound and grammar all in line and working together. This aspect of dyslexia typically manifests when the child is slightly older – when they basically shift from learning to read to reading to learn (typically around grade three).
To illustrate how dyslexics actually feel when reading, think of the ‘moving staircases’ at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Just as the staircases have a mind of their own, for dyslexics, the brain does not follow a logical sequence and keeps on jumbling up the letters that make it difficult for the reader to understand words. This results in anxiety, frustration, anger and low self esteem for dyslexics.