When I was in school, I hated handwriting practice. Being left handed, the way the teacher explained things never made sense. However, I persevered and over the years and, like so many of you reading this, developed my own, recognizable script. These days, I enjoy adding an artistic flair to my signature and notes I write to family and friends.
The only compromises and changes I’ve made to my penmanship as an adult, in fact, came as a result of my excellent training at the Neuhaus Center in Houston. During training in multi-sensory language instruction, we were encouraged to teach children specific pathways for letter formation. Learning and teaching these pathways altered the way I wrote as well as gave me a valuable tool for improving my students’ performance. While handwriting is often a struggle for students with dyslexia, by teaching them consistent pathways to letter formation, I saw great improvement in their abilities and confidence in both writing and reading.
Recent research supports my observation. A recently published New York Times piece summarizes this research nicely. Diverse research from different parts of the world comes to one conclusion: learning to write letters activates pathways in the brain, improving learning. Writing by hand is associated with learning to read faster and retaining information. In short, it simply helps us think better.
However, despite what research says about the importance of teaching handwriting, there are many who advocate for its elimination from the curriculum. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity recently published an article which seems to advocate for the elimination of such instruction for students with dyslexia. I was eager to see what research supported this recommendation, but the article provides no such evidence. While I certainly agree with their statement that “There is no reason that handwriting should keep any student from reaching her full potential,” it seems to me that it is not an “either/or” situation but rather a “both/and.” I personally began keyboard lessons as a fourth grade student on an Apple IIE computer, with additional practice conducted on mimeographed sheets at our desks. I also received excellent handwriting instruction in the previous grades that benefited me greatly. While all students (not just students with dyslexia!) need keyboard skills to maximize their access to 21st century technology, the benefits of handwriting instruction for spelling and reading skills and the necessity of a personal script for many tasks and activities reaffirm a place for research-backed handwriting instruction now and in the future.
Hollywood star, Jennifer Aniston, admits that being diagnosed with dyslexia in her 20s was life-changing.
In an interview with January’s Hollywood Reporter the 45 year old actress said the discovery was made while getting prescription glasses.
“I had to read a paragraph, and they gave me a quiz, gave me 10 questions based on what I’d just read,” Ms Aniston told the magazine.
“I think I got three right.”
Ms Aniston is one of 62 million people in the U.S. with dyslexia.
“I had this great discovery. I felt like all of my childhood trauma-dies, tragedies, drama were explained.”
The actress who featured in the popular sitcom Friends and movies Just Go With It and Horrible Bosses, said that having difficulties reading and writing impacted her education and self-image.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, almost 80 percent of children who are categorized with learning disabilities in the United States fall somewhere on the dyslexia spectrum.
If you are concerned your child is dyslexic too take our free dyslexia test now.
The first few years of schooling can be a time of uncertainty for parents of struggling readers. Parents wonder: is my child truly on-track? Will he catch up? What is causing the trouble? Is the teacher right that my child just needs the “gift of time” and will outgrow dyslexia? Might repeating this grade be all my child needs to catch up?
I began my career as a teacher in 2003 and attended more than one meeting discussing promotion or retention of first graders where I heard, “Retention is our first intervention” and “We can’t tell yet whether it’s developmental or a learning disability.” Many children whose test scores indicated that they were not meeting grade level standards were retained because the school team was convinced they could catch up if we just gave them a little more time.
Research contradicts this still widely held belief. Whether they are retained or not, students who are not meeting grade level standards in first grade are highly unlikely to meet those standards in 4th grade or beyond.
Cause and effect of poor reading skills
Most students don’t fall behind in reading because of their age or general developmental trajectory. Rather, they fall behind because they are lacking the pre-reading skills that they need to learn to read by conventional methods. Over the preschool years, most children demonstrate a remarkable ability to remember the structure and meaning of spoken words. Parents and teachers notice this when children correctly use a word that they have heard only once or twice. Children may also produce or point out words that rhyme or that start with the same sound. By kindergarten, most children can break spoken words into syllables (for instance, by “clapping the word out”) and break apart a three sound word into its first, last and middle sounds (such as representing “nap” as “n…a…p”) . This awareness of sounds within words (often called phonemic awareness) is a strong predictor of later reading and writing skills. Poor phonemic awareness is a symptom of dyslexia.
As they enter the first year of formal schooling children with poor phonemic awareness typically struggle to relate speech sounds to letters. They may resist reading and writing practice. By the time summer rolls around, they are not only behind in phonemic awareness but also in reading, spelling and writing skills.
At this point, there are really two options offered by the school system for grade placement.
- Grade Retention - Repeating a grade is the very definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
- Grade Promotion - Promoting students to a grade for which they are unprepared will likely lead to them falling even further behind.
Over time, these kids read fewer words and fewer books than their peers. Since by 4th grade most new words are learned through reading, their vocabulary suffers. Since word-learning is limited to what they can pick up by listening their performance in content courses suffers. They enter middle and high school behind their peers not just in reading and writing but academic achievement in core subjects. The research shows that very few of these kids ever catch up.
There is a better way. Students at risk for reading disability can be identified at a very young age. These students can then receive the early, research-backed, structured literacy intervention they need to become successful readers and writers.
Research has told us a lot about what works for students who are struggling readers. There are a few things you should look for in a reading intervention for your child. The intervention should:
- Focus on learning to sound out words. The student should learn to identify letters and the sounds they represent, as well as other predictable word parts, such as prefixes, suffixes, and base elements.
- Discourage guessing at words and encourage understanding and explaining them. Even words that are not phonetically regular have sub-word structures that are rational and can be understood by young children.
- Integrate reading, spelling and writing instruction. At the same time the student learns to analyze words (sound out and/or explain) for reading, they should learn to do the same for spelling.
- Move at the student’s pace, not the pace of the curriculum or school year. Ideas should be taught until the child grasps the concept, not only until the class has to move on.
- Give the student immediate feedback and an opportunity to fix mistakes. This requires a very small group or one to one instruction so that the teacher can catch the student’s errors and support a positive, can-do mindset for error correction.
Unfortunately, schools struggle to meet the needs of these students for various reasons. In addition to the reasons detailed in this article, too many schools still believe that, despite what research indicates, students will catch up if we just give them the “gift of time.” If like most parents we know, you prefer your child get the gift of reading, contact us to begin a customized reading therapy plan for your child.
Image courtesy of stockimages and Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Mitzi Reavis, RN, BSN and mother of two dyslexic boys, shares her thoughts on her experience working with Lexercise.
“Our family is currently doing Lexercise with our 7 year old dyslexic son. He is doing well and loves it. We tutor at home once per week online with my laptop and a webcam. Our son then has prescriptive Lexercise games to do daily. I also have lesson material sent to me via email to work with him as well. Our 18 year old eldest son is dyslexic as well. Years ago we tutored with Sandie Barrie-Blackley the Founder of Lexercise in her private practice. She is a great tutor and my son did excellent. We loaded our children in the car and drove to the appointment and waited while our son tutored.
Fast forward to today – would I choose to drive to a tutor lesson or Lexercise in the comfort of my home? I love having tutoring in my home and not having to travel. Sandie was a great tutor, but I enjoy Lexercise at home and am thankful she had the vision to create it.”
-Mitzi Reavis RN BSN
Did you know? Dyslexia is neurobiological and genetic in origin. If you or one of your family members has dyslexia or a history of reading difficulty, your children are at a 40% higher risk of dyslexia and it’s important to closely monitor your child’s reading and writing development while they are young.
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing reading and writing difficulties cause by dyslexia, I recommend you use this free dyslexia screener we’ve developed, then call us at 1-888-461-3343 to talk about additional assessment and treatment options.
Orton-Gillingham therapy is the leading approach to helping children overcome dyslexia and other reading, spelling, and writing difficulties. Developed in the early 1900’s, Orton-Gillingham is considered the “gold standard” for therapy due to almost 35 years of research supporting its effectiveness.
More recently called structured literacy, Orton-Gillingham centers on several bedrock principles I’ve articulated and explained below, while also describing how Lexercise incorporates these principles into our online therapy.
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: Orton-Gillingham is a personalized and comprehensive approach to reading, writing, and spelling therapy widely accepted as the world’s most effective way to help struggling readers and writers.
In an Orton-Gillingham approach sounds and letters are taught to your child using three main sensory pathways: sight, sound, and movement. Using learning pathways alongside explicit instruction makes it easier for students to remember and apply concepts when needed. This multi-sensory approach makes learning an active rather than passive process, scaffolding memory and making reading and spelling more automatic.
We teach the structure of the English language to your child in an organized and systematic way. This therapy covers reading, spelling, and writing simultaneously, so your child experiences how they relate to each other. Our clinicians guide your child through therapy at a crisp pace, while still making sure that we do not move on until he/she masters the concepts and skills taught.
Your child is unique, so it is critical that our expert therapists individualize therapy to his/her needs. In the hands of our skilled Orton-Gillingham clinicians, students who have struggled for years in school show tremendous progress in only a few months. In between our weekly lessons, your clinical educator will customize online games and provide you with tabletop activities to reinforce what you child is learning in his/her sessions.
Sequenced and Cumulative
Weekly lessons start from simple to the more complex tasks, while also providing review of prior concepts. Our scope and sequence uses an Orton-Gillingham progression, including (a) the six syllable types of English for reading and spelling vowels and (b) Scientific Word Inquiry for understanding the meaning of parts of the words (basis and affixes). Using this framework helps to give context to new concepts, while activating and building upon prior knowledge.
We teach your child to think through reading and spelling instead of just guessing. Even phonetically “irregular” words make perfect sense when they are properly understood. For example, the spelling of the word <two> makes sense in connection with the number “2” and its word relatives <twelve>, <twenty>, <twin>, <twine> and <twist>. Since we teach your child how to think about and understand words, it takes the guesswork out of reading, spelling and writing. Words are understood at a deep level, improving both comprehension and expression.
We realize that many struggling readers and writers have been misidentified, perhaps called lazy or have been made to feel stupid when they are not. The treatment that we provide will not only help your child’s reading and writing difficulties, but will help him/her feel empowered. We help your child develop a growth mindset and self-advocacy skills, that will follow him/her not only through their treatment, but throughout his/her academic career.
This is a methodology that is based on the science of language learning. In a matter of months, significant progress can be achieved. For example, on average our students at Lexercise improve by several grade levels in reading in a semester. Lexercise’s approach to Orton-Gillingham treatment is effective and unique–leveraging a blended learning model to combine live video therapy, online games for daily practice, and parent / teacher support materials for offline activities. Using our technology, our Orton-Gillingham trained clinicians are able to tailor therapy to fit your child’s specific learning needs. Learn more about our online literacy therapy or call us today at 1-888-603-1788.
Photo credit: Stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net
Guest Post by Laura Sargent, M.Ed., Lexercise Teletherapy Partner
I joined Lexercise as a clinician one year ago when searching for an alternative program for students I was leaving behind at Mustique Primary School in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. However, instead of having to leave my students behind after moving from the area, I was able to continue my work with them through Lexercise’s online teletherapy platform and the results have been outstanding.
I can now reach twice as many students in Mustique and have added other students internationally and across the U.S. In one year, the Mustique students have become more engaged in taking responsibility for their learning. My latest assessment of their performance shows an average of 89% improvement in reading and writing. The students enjoy the online classes and practice games, and the parents have become much more involved, as well. Without the complete support of the teachers, parents and Lexercise, none of this would have been possible.
In Mustique, land-based support is essential. Computers and internet are not readily available in every home so most of our students meet with me online at the Community Centre Computer Lab where I have a wonderful teaching partner, Natasha Joseph. Natasha provides supervision, scheduling and assists with students’ login. She also teaches one-on-one extra practice with the material covered in each level. She is an essential part of the Mustique Lexercise Reading Programme.
When working with students in cultures where different forms of English are used, much has to be considered. Standard English is the same the world around; however, concessions must be made for British English spelling and local language variations. In spelling, I must be aware of International English spelling variations such as centre, colour and programme and adjust the lessons as necessary.
Earlier in the year I had the challenging pleasure of teaching a young, energetic boy from the Middle East. My initial goal was to gain his trust as a new teacher leveraging an online learning platform. He quickly became engaged in the lessons, excited about his successes, and proud of his progress. He has since graduated from the program and seems to be doing very well in his new school. In the words of his mother:
“There are HUGE differences in my son. I came home last night and he started reading to me, and he is starting to write more and it’s just wonderful. I have never seen this in him and he is thrilled.”
Lexercise’s technology and content gave me the tools needed to continue to help these students despite being geographically separated, and the Mustique Education Trust (MET) offered generous financial support to make the entire initiative possible.
MET reviews our quarterly reports describing attendance and performance and has continued to support the program after observing the tremendously positive results.
It’s very exciting to work with students across the U.S. and around the world without ever leaving my desk. Students in my classes are working hard, enjoying the process and gaining confidence in their reading skills. As a result, they have added confidence in the classroom, as well. Parents are thrilled and teachers give Lexercise a nod of approval. As one kindergarten teacher described, “Lexercise is great, I am really seeing improvements in the children’s reading.”
A Thank You Letter From One of My Mustique Parents
I just wanted to say a huge heart felt THANK YOU…. for believing in the remedial reading program. ox
I initially had Michael tested with Lexercise to see if he was dyslexic after discussing his reading/spelling with his teacher Ms. Thompson. She said he is a well-behaved bright little boy but…..the reading. We were perplexed.
I found the Lexercise program and the clinicians to be very professional and helpful. After an extensive 90 minute online test, We were later told he is dyslexic and they suggested working with him for at least 6 months. He already was in the remedial program with Laura. I was prepared to enroll Michael in Lexercise as well to give him all the help I could.
…..Thank you for helping Mr. Very Good to hopefully be Mr. Very Good in Reading.
Truly, Thank you. We are grateful to you and MET..
All evidence suggests that early identification is key to overcoming dyslexia. Still, we consistently encounter students who aren’t identified or diagnosed with dyslexia for years.
Why is that?
The challenge begins with elementary teachers who, charged with recognizing and acting on early symptoms, become gatekeepers of the initial diagnosis. This is a problem because they are often (a) overwhelmed by their other responsibilities and (b) underprepared to recognize the symptoms of dyslexia. Additionally, schools actually face disincentives to identifying dyslexia–a problem explored in a previous article.
Specifically, several misguided beliefs and attitudes can prevent otherwise wonderful teachers from taking steps towards a dyslexia diagnosis.
7 Thoughts That Prevent Teachers from Identifying a Child’s Dyslexia:
1. “He is trying so hard and I don’t want to discourage him!”
When teachers see a likable child who works hard and stays out of trouble, they too often hesitate to admit the depth and scope of his academic challenges. Nobody wants to tell a nice kid that he is failing, so these students are sometimes passed because of their good effort.
2. “She just isn’t applying herself!”
When a student is really gifted in some areas, rather than identify her with a learning disability, teachers may believe she is just not putting forth appropriate effort in reading. They think if the child would simply work harder, she would “get it,” when the real culprit is dyslexia.
3. “If only he’d pay attention!”
Students with dyslexia may have behavioral challenges due to auditory processing or executive function deficits. They also may misbehave to avoid the embarrassment of failing when reading aloud. If teachers assume reading difficulties are due to attention issues, dyslexia may go undiagnosed.
4. “She doesn’t reverse letters!”
While many students with dyslexia do have difficulty with reversals (writing or reading “b” for “d,” etc.), not all students do. If teachers believe this is the primary symptom to look for, they will not identify many dyslexic students.
5. “He does fine on his spelling tests!”
Too many schools use spelling programs that consist of memorizing lists of words for a final test at the end of the week. With a great deal of effort, many students with dyslexia can memorize how to spell those words. This does not translate into becoming a good speller, however, and masks the root causes of difficulty with spelling and writing.
6. “According to our assessment, she is on grade level!”
In a previous post, I detailed how this measure fails early readers. To summarize, too many schools equate students’ ability to read early reader books–which rely on predictable text, pictures, and high frequency words (which students can memorize)–with learning to read. A student may appear to be reading on grade level but is not actually learning to read.
7. “We tested for special education and he didn’t qualify!”
Schools generally cannot justify using federally allocated money to help struggling students until they have fallen far behind their peers in quantifiable ways. However, some students with dyslexia will not fall this far behind for years! While schools are waiting to essentially “build a case” that a student needs additional resources, that child is failing to receive the specialized instruction needed to master reading during the critical early education period.
Teacher education programs (especially in elementary education) do not prepare teachers to recognize dyslexia, let alone to teach students with dyslexia. Parents and educators who are aware of this problem are actively advocating to improve this situation, like our friends at Decoding Dyslexia. In the meantime, parents must be extra vigilant, assuring that their children are making adequate progress.
If you suspect that your child may be slipping through these cracks, I recommend you use this free screener we’ve developed, then call us at 1-888-461-3343 to talk about additional assessment and treatment options.
Edited 10/31/14: introduction changed to clarify that elementary teachers are not responsible for diagnosis or identification.
This is Part Two of a two-part series about what report cards might mean (or might not mean) for the struggling reader and writer. (Here is Part One on Good Grades and Dyslexia.)
A Bad Report Card
The first grading period has ended or will soon end at schools across the United States. For many parents, this is the first opportunity they’ve had to learn about how their child is doing in school, and, for some, it will be the first time they learn that their child’s literacy is not developing as it should.
Even if you were already aware that your child’s reading and spelling is not where it should be, a bad report card is discouraging. If you have suspected your child has dyslexia, you may approach a parent teacher conference thinking that this report card will be the catalyst to finally get your child the help he or she needs.
Often, if a child has not succeeded during a marking period, schools will begin interventions. Schools in the United States are encouraged to use a Response to Intervention model (often called RTI) to determine what level of interventions are necessary to assure student success. You may be told that your school will be providing “Tier 2” or “Tier 3” interventions. But a closer look at what this really means reveals that, too often, this simply delays getting your child the instruction that will close the reading gap and help him or her overcome dyslexia.
Three facts you should know about the RTI approach
These interventions are designed to be provided in addition to regular instruction. So, during reading time, the student should still be participating in the regular instruction and the intervention should be provided at a different time of the day. This is a problem for two reasons. First, it means that a large chunk of your child’s day (the reading block) is likely still spent receiving frustrating instruction that has not yet succeeded in teaching him or her to read. Second, it means that your child will miss some other part of the school day, often in content areas that they are good at and enjoy, in order to participate in this intervention. This might be science lab or history time. In some schools, it’s even art or music that the kids miss out on!
The intervention is to be research-based and delivered in smaller groups. That may sound good on the surface, but may still fail to meet your child’s needs. In the brief video below, dyslexia expert Sally Shaywitz explains the difference between research-based and evidence-based approaches. The bottom line is this: your school can meet the requirement for “research-based” intervention and still be using an approach that will not effectively teach your child to read. Second, a school’s definition of “small group” is very rarely small enough to provide the frequent feedback and individualized instruction required for students with dyslexia.
Securing appropriate intervention will take many months and may culminate in a recommendation for retention. The protocols at many schools mean that your child will first receive Tier 2 instruction for a period of time (often about six weeks, though sometimes more) and data will be used to determine the success of the program. Then, if that is not successful, he or she will receive Tier 3 instruction for the same period of time. If that is not successful, the school may consider testing your child for disabilities. This will then start a testing timeline that may or may not lead to an IEP or 504 plan. So, assuming you begin the RTI process now, your child may have completed this entire process by spring break. It may take even longer, leaving your child struggling with sub-par instruction, at the very least, until the end of the school year. If your child does not qualify for special education services according to testing (as often happens with children with dyslexia), your school may suggest retention, a truly terrible intervention for a person with dyslexia.
This graphic illustrates the slow, bureaucratic (and often unsuccessful) process required to classify a child to receive a public school’s tax-supported special education services and/or accommodations.
Conclusion: RTI is not the way to go for a dyslexic student
Research tells us that children have a limited period of optimal literacy development. A warning sign now should not be followed by a year-long delay in providing appropriate instruction. If your child’s report card and/or anything you are seeing in his or her reading and spelling leave you wondering if he or she has dyslexia, we recommend you take our free screener and call us to talk about what does work for dyslexics: individualized, structured literacy treatment.
This is Part One of a two-part series about what report cards might mean (or might not mean) for the struggling reader and writer.
The school year’s first grade reporting and parent teacher conferences are coming up across the country. Often we find that parents of struggling readers and writers have outstanding questions and concerns as to how their child’s academic performance is being reported. Hearing your child’s teacher is satisfied with your son or daughter’s performance should feel great, but it can be extremely confusing if your gut is telling you the child is not reaching his or her full potential at school.
5 Reasons Why Good Grades Don’t Rule Out Dyslexia:
1. Reading is reported to be “on grade level,” which is confusing since you see your child struggle with reading and writing at home.
- Reading assessments used from school to school vary greatly around the country, and many do not give the full learning profile of your child.
- Children with dyslexia have great coping skills/strategies to help them read passages with accuracy (clues from the context, being able to successfully guess words, relying on a thorough vocabulary).
- Using these skills typically works for a while, but by 3rd and 4th grade dyslexic children’s underlying difficulties with decoding tend to surface and cause problems.
2. Your child’s strengths, such as having a strong vocabulary and high emotional intelligence, might make him or her “slip through the cracks.”
- Children with dyslexia learn early on to compensate for their areas of weakness, since they often have average/above-average intelligence and strong listening and speaking skills.
- Being bright and often borderline gifted with a learning disability (twice exceptional), present inconsistencies in academic performance and can make it very difficult for parents and teachers to pinpoint the underlying cause to their literacy difficulties.
- Teachers often have children with many different learning needs in their class and often are not well-trained in identifying learning differences.
3. You are wondering why you received a good report from school, when you see your child struggling at home.
- As a parent you might see more going on behind the scenes. Your child might be adapting and compensating at school, but comes home exhausted and emotionally deflated.
- Perhaps your child has started to open up about his or her feelings, like feeling as if he or she is not as smart as peers.
- Homework is becoming a daily battle. Your child is struggling to complete assignments that you know he/she can cognitively understand. It seems that he or she is held back due to reading, writing and spelling difficulties.
- You see your child becoming anxious and avoiding reading, writing and homework. Your child who was once excited and willing to try, no longer wants to make any effort.
4. The school dismisses the signs you are seeing of dyslexia and is not addressing them.
- Federal funds do not require public schools to test children for dyslexia. Schools test for eligibility for special education services which is not diagnostic testing.
- Since there is very little training and support in the area of dyslexia in schools, well-intentioned staff may not pick up on the signs of dyslexia.
- Even if the school does pick up on the signs of dyslexia, it is almost certain they do not have the training or staffing to provide your child with daily, individualized dyslexia intervention.
5. Another label such as “behavioral difficulties,” has been given to your child.
- Behaviors that commonly show themselves at school in children coping with dyslexia are likely to cause them to be called: immature, the “class clown” and/or a trouble maker.
- Students with dyslexia may also have challenges with executive functioning that make them appear disorganized, inattentive or careless. The teacher may assume that since your child is doing so well in other subject areas, the lack of growth in literacy or bad handwriting and spelling is due to lack of effort and may judge your child to be “lazy.”
Teachers may not recognize that dyslexia is at the root of these problems. And, if your child is doing well on graded assignments, teachers may not realize there is a problem at all!
Don’t let a good report card override your instinct if you are seeing other symptoms such as:
- Substituting words for other words that make sense in the sentence when reading aloud.
- Omitting or changing sounds in words for reading or spelling.
- Doing well on the spelling test but not being able to spell those words in other contexts, such as writing assignments.
It is important to have your child assessed and treated early. This gives you and your child a clear path forward to help him/her overcome any literacy difficulties and sets him/her up for academic success.
If you haven’t administered our online dyslexia screener yet, I strongly recommend it to all parents of struggling readers, writers and spellers. If you have completed the test, online diagnostic therapy from Lexercise is a great way to get children the help they need–even if school is unable to provide it.
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: Davis Dominici, Carlos Porto
Learning Ally recently published a terrific list of ten things parents of children with dyslexia wish others knew, which inspired me to come up with a list of my own: “10 Dyslexia Facts Literacy Therapists Wish Everyone Knew.”
1. People with dyslexia are born with dyslexia.
- Evidence suggests that people with dyslexia are born with neurological differences that show up when they begin to learn to read.
- Because it begins so early, its symptoms can be recognized and treatment can begin at the same time as literacy instruction.
2. The symptoms aren’t always what you think they are.
“I never saw her reverse b and d!”
“He loves listening to books and would sit and read along when he was young!”
Sometimes parents and teachers don’t recognize dyslexia because it doesn’t look like they expect it to. While some people with dyslexia really struggle with reversals of letters and numbers, not all do. Other signs your child might have dyslexia include:
- Substitutes words in sentences for other words that make sense
- Memorizes words but cannot sound them out
- Does well on spelling tests but struggles with the same words a week later
3. Even if a teacher says your child is reading on grade level, she still may have dyslexia.
Teachers use all kinds of assessments to determine a child’s grade level. Some of these tests have a stronger research base than others, and some miss identifying symptoms of dyslexia altogether because of the way they define “on grade level.”
Teaching kids with dyslexia to read sounds like it should be your school’s job. But time and time again we hear about the struggles parents have getting appropriate literacy services from school. While parents should advocate for improvements in the system, the wait time for that type of improvement can be precious years of your child’s life.
5. The school’s testing for learning disability is not the same as a dyslexia evaluation.
Even if you beat the odds and are able to get an evaluation from the school, it still may not help!
Schools typically administer two types of testing: (1) a broad achievement battery and (2) an intellectual battery. The problem is children with dyslexia who are also very bright may score in the “average” range on both of these assessments, so their dyslexia goes undetected.
What we are looking for with dyslexia, especially in lower elementary grades, is not just whether a child is able to read words on the page, but what strategies he or she is using. Kids who memorize words may appear to be average readers, but when the demands of reading increase (typically in upper elementary or middle school) the holes in their foundations cause them serious problems. Those kids need help too, even though they may not qualify for school services according to their assessment.
6. Accommodations are not the same thing as instruction.
Once you have a dyslexia diagnosis, your child may be eligible for a 504 plan. This plan is designed to improve your child’s access to the general education curriculum and may include accommodations such as extended time on tests or having test items read aloud. While such accommodations might improve your child’s grades, they are not a replacement for intervention! Accommodations will not teach your child to read or spell.
Have you ever read about how much easier it is to learn a second language when you are young? The same is true for reading!
If your school is resistant to providing the services your child needs, don’t wait for them to get on board. You may have to pay for the services now, but the cost of waiting may be far higher.
- First, the financial cost increases when children get older because it may take them longer to master the skills.
- More importantly, there is a deep emotional cost on your child of not learning to read at a young age. Ongoing struggles in school may lead your child to conclude that he or she is dumb, that school and reading are for other people and that there is no point in trying. This accounts for the increased rate of depression and anxiety in people with dyslexia.
8. The program is less important than the person delivering it.
Parents often ask, “What is a good curriculum for children with dyslexia?”—either so they can (a) purchase it and teach it themselves or (b) demand that their school purchase it.
Using research-based instruction materials is vital, but it is not enough. Each dyslexic has a different combination of literacy and emotional issues that need individual, expert attention. That means that even if a curriculum is delivered exactly as prescribed, this one-size-fits-all approach cannot meet the needs of all children.
9. The way a program is delivered is as important as the program itself.
Even if your school has purchased a high quality, Orton-Gillingham based, structured literacy program and trained teachers to deliver it, your child may not get his or her needs met. The following aspects of a treatment program are particularly critical and underserved:
- One-on-one attention: Schools rarely deliver instruction in very small groups or one-to-one, which research shows is how it’s most effective.
- Repetition: Students need repeated “at bats” to practice these skills, as well as immediate, specific error correction.
- Individualized pacing: Effective dyslexia intervention moves at a pace that is individualized for each student, and that is hard to do in a group setting. Schools often feel pressure to close the gap as swiftly as possible and thus move at a pace that is too fast for some children.
- Motivation: Intervention delivered during the school day often comes at the expense of another subject. When a child has to miss a subject she enjoys and is motivated by to attend reading intervention, the intervention is naturally resented and thus less effective.
Every time I deliver a diagnosis, I want to accompany it with a pep talk and a hug! By the time most kids are identified, both they and their parents have been through the ringer. I wish I could say it’s all smooth sailing from there, but for too many it’s just the start of the battle. Still, people with dyslexia are succeeding all the time in just about any and every profession you can think of. They are doctors, lawyers, politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, innovators. All of the brilliance and potential you see in your child is exactly what our world needs, and there is no good reason to allow dyslexia to take that away. Your child has talents and strengths that run deeper than dyslexia, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can make it!
If you’d like more information about child’s reading difficulties, I’d recommend taking this free online dyslexia test our team built to help parents quickly identify if their child may be at risk for dyslexia.
Images courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net: Clare Bloomfield, Criminalatt, Stoonn, Stockimages