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Understanding dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is defined as is a difficulty in the acquisition of fluent and accurate reading and writing skills. That part is widely agreed.
However, many people confuse the defining characteristics with the other problems dyslexic individuals frequently have. A good example would be that many dyslexic individuals have trouble with remembering instructions. That is a common problem, but it is an associated difficulty that is frequently present and one would expect it to be evaluated in a formal assessment, with suggestions of compensation strategies. It may even be argued that it is one of the underlying causes of the reading and writing difficulties. But it should not be seen as a defining characteristic.

There are many misconceptions and myths around dyslexia. Below we address a number of questions around this, and hope clarify some of the issues.

10. Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis – FALSE
The only person qualified to assess a dyslexic individual is somebody who is qualified to assess a dyslexic individual. Medical doctors are involved in some countries due to the insurance situation, and some countries only fund it through Health Departments and not Education.

9. Dyslexia is more common in boys – FALSE and TRUE
Originally there were reports that there were four times as many dyslexic boys as girls. This reduced to around 1.4 as greater account was made of the selection procedure. Genetic research suggests that boys and girls have the same average scores, but the spread is greater for boys. This would lead to boys being identified more often.

8. Dyslexics just need to try harder – TRUE
Early suggestions were that dyslexic individuals are lazy, and most would read this statement as this. However, there is a second interpretation, which is that dyslexic individual can learn just like others, but to achieve the same goals, they do often have to try harder. Homework and report writing takes twice as long. Instead of just doing it, all the tricks, the shortcuts, the assistive technology, needs to be learned and implemented. It all takes effort, and you need to try harder to achieve.

7. Cannot diagnose dyslexia until 3rd Grade – TRUE
If dyslexia is “a difficulty in the acquisition of reading and writing”, then you cannot confirm it until there has been an opportunity to acquire it. But you can measure correlated and predictors of it. These are possible in much younger children, and allow one to suggest that there will probably be reading difficulties due to X, Y and Z without intervention. You can say they are “at risk of reading difficulties”. You cannot say they are “at risk of dyslexia.” However, if the “dyslexia” is proven at any age, you can say they had it from birth.

6. Dyslexia is more common in English – FALSE
Assume a widely used definition of dyslexia: “a difficulty in the acquisition of reading and writing” It does not say the cause, e.g. phonological decoding, known to be more problematic in non-transparent languages such as English. If you go into a class in ANY country, irrespective of the script, you will find children who are having difficulties with acquiring reading and writing skills (e.g. 1.5 SD below the norm) Therefore, whatever criterion is used in one country should also be used in all others. So percentages are the same.

5. Dyslexics need 20 min reading aloud – TRUE
Just reading aloud will not change anything. BUT reading silently does not identify problems. The best support for dyslexic Chinese children in the UK is reading aloud. That way teacher can identify problems more easily. We assume reading aloud is patronising. But how do you help a 10 year old improve reading without reading aloud. Does a footballer improve most by practicing alone, or by playing matches? And in case you are wondering about being patronising, it is patronising if you do not tell them why you do a certain exercise.

4. Dyslexic individuals can be fixed – TRUE
Define “fixed”! And do they want to be “fixed”? It is the system, not the individual, that needs fixing. Fix the system, and then (arguably) the individual is “fixed”.

3. Dyslexia is a visual problem – TRUE (in some, to some extent)
There are a lot of anecdotes and urban myths about dyslexic individuals having superior visual skills. However, the research does not show that. What we can say is that it you take away the ability to shine at literacy skills, then clearly in many cases another skill will shine through. And often that will be visual. But it is fed by nurturing and motivation.

2. Intelligence predicts reading ability – FALSE
This refers to the “deficit hypothesis”, which may be summarised as follows:

  • a) The IQ-reading discrepancy hypothesis assumes a difference between IQ and reading achievement that is unexpected.
    b) The fact that it is unexpected is based purely on the IQ level, and suggests that the IQ should predict reading ability.
    c) However, the fact that the IQ score does not always predict reading disability, since there is sometimes a discrepancy, demonstrates that IQ cannot predict reading ability, and thereby invalidates the assumption made in (2).
    d) Therefore the discrepancy hypothesis is invalid.

1. Fix the definition, you fix dyslexia – TBA

  • Start to talk about predictors of reading and writing difficulties
    Use formative (ongoing) assessment of sub-skills, not just academic achievement
    Target intervention based on results and predictors
    Then the definition becomes (almost) irrelevant

If you want to know more about your dyslexia or that of somebody close to you, look through our various product to find the right one. If you cannot find one, please contact us using the methods on the front page.

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