According to the University of Michigan’s Dyslexia Help organization, upwards of 80% of the population has some form of dyslexia, the most common learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.
In honor of October being National Dyslexia Awareness Month, area experts are providing details on signs parents should look for that may indicate a child suffering from the learning disorder and information on how screenings for the disorder work and how families can overcome the diagnosis.
Symptoms & Signs
Early signs exhibited in children with dyslexia include difficulties learning the alphabet, said Lorrie Wolf, director of the educational Therapy Center in Parkville.
“They can’t put the letter names to the sound and vice versa,” she said, “Another early sign is that they are lousy at rhyming. It might be something that sounds cute, but it won’t necessarily make sense. The other thing is the handwriting part of it. That is something that is a bigger part that people don’t give it credit for. Another thing to listen for is if they can’t hear the difference between a short E and short I sound.”
A misconception about when symptoms begin to show or when a diagnosis can be made is that it happens later in elementary school, Wolf said.
“Some people think you can’t diagnosis this until second grade. We can diagnosis it long before that, which is good because that way they won’t get as far behind (other students),” she said.
If a child exhibits symptoms of possible dyslexia, Wolf said the child should be screened by a professional.
“The school can do a screening. By law, they are supposed to screen all the kids up to third grade, and in kindergarten by the end of January. But, you can go earlier,” she said. “I’m a big believer in parent instinct and you should go, especially if a parent struggled through school because, just like with other things, dyslexia runs in families. They can come to places like us, they can go to a pediatrician or someone who recommends a hearing test.”
Screenings are noninvasive, relatively short and include testing if a child can hear the difference between similar sounds, Wolf said.
“It’s things like testing do they know their alphabet and sound and symbol connection, but can they also put down what they know on paper. We’ve seen some kids who memorize a lot of sight words but they can’t spell them or they can’t spell nonsense words. We screen using those,” she said. Nonsense words are made-up words with similar sounds and spellings to real words.
“For example, if a kid can read ‘cat,’ he or she should be able to read ‘lat’ even though it’s a nonsense word,” Wolf, who is also the parent of a dyslexic child, said.
People with dyslexia have normal intelligence and usually have normal vision, states an article on the Mayo Clinic’s website, mayoclinic.org. “Most children with dyslexia can succeed in school with tutoring or a specialized education program. Emotional support also plays an important role,” the site states.
Dyslexia is treated using specific educational approaches and techniques, and the sooner the intervention begins, the better, states the Mayo Clinic article.
Teachers may use techniques involving hearing, vision and touch to improve reading skills. Helping a child use several senses to learn — such as listening to a taped lesson and tracing with a finger the shape of the letters used and the words spoken — can help in processing the information.
In the United States, schools have a legal obligation to take steps to help children diagnosed with dyslexia with their learning problems. Parents can contact their child’s teacher about setting up a meeting to create a structured, written plan that outlines the child’s needs and how the school will help him or her succeed. This is called an Individualized Education Plan.
“There are programs for phonological awareness where it shows if they can tell you how many words are in a sentence — can they play with sounds just by listening to them. It needs to be a very structured program,” Wolf said. “It has to be very systematic and sequential. There’s a cumulative and retention factor that needs to be part of it.”
While there is no cure for dyslexia, treatments are available and can have a positive outcome.
“With support, proper instruction and hard work, many people with dyslexia are able to succeed academically and in their later lives. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, but intervention can have a positive effect on a person’s symptoms and outcomes,” states the University of Michigan’s Dyslexia Help site, dyslexiahelp.umich.edu.