Dyslexia: Setting the record straight for academic success


As I write this week’s column my son is on a plane back to New England College. His fall semester break went by so quickly I felt sad to see him leave. However, as I watched this young scholar stride confidently towards the airport terminal I knew he was ready to return to school and continue his studies.

This was a remarkable moment for me, one of many that illustrates an academic journey that was once headed down a path of failure and unfulfilled promise. Why? Because for years he hated going to school. It was an unpleasant experience, fraught with frustration from his inability to read.

From his earlier days, he was articulate and gifted with a high IQ. Yet, upon entering school he struggled to read, reversed his numbers and did poorly on spelling tests. His teachers told me he was smart, that he just needed to stay focused and pay attention to his work.

None of those recommendations worked. Each morning I had to practically drag him to school. He would come home angry when he was required to read aloud. Girls would tease him, calling him stupid and retarded as he struggled to sound out the simplest words.

His second grade teacher said she doubted he’d get pass the eighth grade with such poor reading skills. Students like him “usually get tired of school and drop out when they get to high school. The work just keeps getting harder” she told me.

By the start of the third grade he was acting up in class when taunted by classmates. Just as I prepared myself or another bad school year, his new teacher advised me to have him tested for dyslexia, a language processing learning disability. She said he had all the signs and symptoms, including trouble, learning letters, recognizing their sounds and difficulty memorizing number facts.

Once diagnosed, he began receiving tutoring specifically designed for dyslexic children. Eventually he developed compensating skills and learned to read at grade level. He graduated high school and is now a college sophomore. Meeting the challenges of dyslexia has graced him with tenacity and strength of character.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Most parents and teachers don’t realize that one in 10 people have symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing or mixing up similar words?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, and contrary to some beliefs, it is not due to either lack of intelligence or a desire to learn. In fact, with appropriate teaching methods, dyslexics can and do learn successfully. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), would like to set the record straight about dyslexia.

Dyslexia occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels. People who are very bright can be dyslexic. They are often capable or even gifted in areas that do not require strong language skills, such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, mechanics, music, physics, sales and sports.

Some of the warning signs associated with dyslexia include: difficulty learning to speak; difficulty reading quickly enough to comprehend; trouble persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments; difficulty spelling; trouble learning a foreign language; difficulty correctly doing math operations; and difficulty organizing written and spoken language.

Parents who suspect that their child might be exhibiting signs of dyslexia or another language-based learning difference are encouraged to take action as soon as they suspect a problem. The earlier a child receives intervention, the sooner he or she can get on the path to successful learning.

What to do if your child is exhibiting signs of dyslexia:

•Contact your child’s teacher, head of school, guidance counselor or pediatrician and express your concerns.

•Request a formal evaluation of your child by a professional or request a referral for testing to confirm a diagnosis of dyslexia or another language-based learning difference.

•Visit the International Dyslexia Association’s website: www.interdys.org for fact sheets and helpful resources for parents.

•Be an advocate for your child. If your child is diagnosed as being dyslexic, fight for proper accommodations in his or her current school or look into specialized schools or tutors.

•Keep a positive attitude. A diagnosis of dyslexia or another learning difference is not the end of the world. Children with dyslexia are bright, capable and able to go on to college and successful careers. If your child has dyslexia it simply means that he or she learns differently. Many top CEOs, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because,“only the educated are free.”