Dispelling the Myths – What Dyslexia Is Not…
In order to fully comprehend what dyslexia is and how it affects individuals, it is important to first dispel some of the many myths that persist regarding dyslexia, and for people to recognize what dyslexia is not.
Myth #1: Dyslexia does not exist
Unfortunately, many well-meaning teachers and professionals still claim that dyslexia does not exist.
Scientific advances in recent years have greatly improved our understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms involved in reading. Scientists now have biological proof that dyslexia is a chronic condition that manifests itself in the area of the brain that processes language (Shaywitz, 2003). With this knowledge, we have come to understand why some people acquire the ability to read quite easily, while others may not.
Myth # 2: A child will outgrow his or her reading difficulties
Dyslexia is a chronic condition, and research consistently reveals that reading problems are persistent. At least three out of four children who read poorly in third grade will continue to have reading problems in high school and beyond (Shaywitz, 2003).
Many parents and teachers delay evaluating a child with these difficulties because they believe they are temporary and will be outgrown. However, science has shown that children who struggle to read in first grade will continue to lag behind their peers as they progress through school and into adulthood. Research shows that over time, the reading skills of both poor readers and strong readers will improve, but the gap between these two groups remains constant, regardless of age (Shaywitz, 2003).
This research emphasizes the need for struggling children to be provided with appropriate and early intervention to address their difficulties.
Myth # 3: People with dyslexia can’t read
Many people with dyslexia can read, but the strategies they use are quite different than those used by skilled readers, and they often do not read well enough to keep up with their classmates.
After studying patterns in the way the brains of both strong readers and struggling readers acquire language, scientists found distinct differences in the areas of the brain accessed by struggling readers versus skilled readers when reading. Results were consistent across all age groups (Shaywitz, 2003).
Upon learning to read, children with dyslexia experience significant difficulty understanding how to segment and manipulate sounds, and associate letters with sounds, which are the underlying essential skills required to becoming skilled readers. They experience significant difficulty sounding out new and unfamiliar words phonetically, and have dealt with this by memorizing hundreds of high frequency words (Shaywitz, 2003). As a result, they will often rely on picture cues or context cues to decipher new and unfamiliar words.
These problems often do not become apparent until a child is required to read many new and unfamiliar words. This usually happens around third grade, when they are no longer able to rely on context and picture cues to infer meaning.
Myth # 4: People with dyslexia “see” words backwards
There is no evidence that people with dyslexia see letters or words backwards (Shaywitz, 2003). The issue of confusing directionality in letters such as b-d, m-w, or p-q is in fact a visual memory issue.
Those with dyslexia have difficulty remembering the shapes of letters when prompted. To a child with dyslexia, being able to memorize the formation of letters and distinguish these seemingly arbitrary symbols correctly can be difficult, which results in guessing at the formation of certain letters, such as “d” and “b”.
It is important to note that all children will reverse letters when first learning to read and write. Children will typically stop reversing letters after about two years of instruction. If letter reversals continue to persist past second grade, it may be an indication of dyslexia. However, many dyslexic children do not reverse letters (“Bright Solutions for Dyslexia”, 2011).
Myth # 5: Dyslexia affects more boys than girls
Research has found no significant difference in the prevalence of reading disabilities between boys and girls. However, although dyslexia is no more prevalent in boys than girls, studies suggest that boys are typically more likely to be identified than girls (Shaywitz, 2003).
One suggested reason for lopsided identification is that some boys, as a means of covering up their reading issues, might act out in ways that draw negative attention and be referred for evaluation due to behavior issues. Girls, on the other hand, use more subtle defense mechanisms, shying away from attention to cover up their issues, and may be overlooked. This is one theory, but in fact there is no evidence that explains the reason behind under identification in girls (Shaywitz, 2003).
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