Dyslexia: Why Some Smart People Can't Read
What is Dyslexia?
"Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (International Dyslexia Association).
Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. Many state education codes, including New Jersey, Ohio and Utah, have adopted this definition. Learn more about how consensus was reached on this definition: Definition Consensus Project.
That's an "official definition" - what does it mean? Let's take a look at what dyslexia looks like, what it means, and who it affects. Then we will look at what can be done to address dyslexia.
What does dyslexia look like?
A student with dyslexia may
have started to talk late
have trouble with making rhymes
read letter by letter or word by word
have difficulty with segmenting and blending sounds
forget sight words
struggle with grammar, spelling, and writing
copy letters out of order
forget or lose information - dates, names, addresses
The word "dyslexia" comes from the Greek roots dys, meaning difficulty and lexia, meaning language.
People with Dyslexia have a linguistic problem, not a vision one. They may have trouble naming the letters b and d or reading was as saw, but, contrary to popular belief, they are not seeing the letters or words backwards. People who have trouble reading or finding the right word when they speak are not lazy nor are they intellectually impaired. Many people with dyslexia good spoken and listening language skills as well as "other higher-level reasoning skills" (Shaywitz, 2020, p. 39).
Phonology, which deals with the sounds of language, is at the root of reading difficulties for those with dyslexia. "The phonological module is the language factory, the functional part of the brain where the sounds of language are put together to form words and where words are broken down back into these elemental sounds" (Shaywitz, 2020, p. 40).
Who does dyslexia affect?
Do you or your child:
struggle to read?
forget what was read?
make a lot of spelling errors?
have trouble writing down ideas?
can't recall math facts?
have difficulty with handwriting?
These are some of the signs of dyslexia, a neurologically-based learning difficulty. If you or your child have any of these issues, you are not alone. One in five (that's 20%!) of the population is affected by some degree of dyslexia. And if you, or someone else in the family struggled to read, there is a good chance that your child will or does as well. And, dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence! Some very smart people have dyslexia - they are often very creative, outside-the-box thinkers. But before people with dyslexia become successful, they often struggle in school and are made to feel that they are not smart enough. This can lead to frustration and disinterest in school. Moreover, dyslexia affects not only the person with dyslexia but also others in the family who try to help or must become advocates to get their child help. Dyslexia can lead to embarrassment and anxiety about reading; it can turn kids off from learning as they start to shut down. But it doesn't have to be this way!
So, what can be done? NRICH Tutoring uses a structured, systematic learning approach, based on the science of reading, which can help learners with dyslexia to retrain their brains and learn to read. Structured literacy focused on explicit instruction in phonological awareness, word recognition, phonics and decoding, spelling and syntax. Students learn how syllables can help with reading and spelling. A focus on morphology (the study of the forms of words) helps students understand the ways that English is logical.
The Fourth Grade Slump
Students with dyslexia often start to struggle more as they get into third or fourth grade - up to that point, they have relied on memorizing words (and even whole books!) which makes teachers and parents scratch their heads when they suddenly "can't read." They can be very good at hiding a problem but what they need is to be taught how to sound out new words so they can add them to their sight vocabulary (they probably have them in their verbal vocabulary - some kids with dyslexia are good talkers and recall things that the teacher says in class so they can get by without reading a text, at least in the early grades).
Tutors who are trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach provide the gold standard in dyslexia intervention. Orton-Gillingham has been around for decades and there are different programs built on the approach which, at its core, is a multisensory, structured literacy approach that teaches the connections between sounds and letters.
Having a tutor trained in O-G is important but parents or other caregivers can do a lot to help their child as well. We are here to provide resources and extra support for those with dyslexia as it is a lifelong struggle but it can get better with hard work and the right approach.
Check out this article from the International Dyslexia Association on the Reading Rockets website:
The Science of Reading
A model of dyslexia as a phonological processing issue has come from dyslexia researchers like Dr. Sally Shaywitz at the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity and neuroscientists such as Dr. Mark Seidenberg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The science of reading is based on evolving, cumulative evidence from numerous studies in various fields of study, which use scientific methods of investigation. Research questions stem from theory and results are subject to peer review.
Basing methods of teaching reading on the science of reading, provides the best means of addressing dyslexia. The science of reading has found that students benefit from explicit instruction that is organized and deliberate. However, the typical reading instruction in the classroom promotes student guessing words as they are left on their own to discover how to read.
Utilizing the Orton-Gillingham approach, informed by the work of David Kilpatrick (Equipped for Reading Success), Denise Eide (The Logic of English), Louisa Moats (Speech to Print), and others, at NRICH Tutoring we structure a literacy approach that helps struggling readers become successful readers. People are not "cured" of dyslexia - but they can learn to read and acquire the know-how they need to succeed. It does take time and there is no immediate fix - vision therapy, brain training, and other trends that are sold to parents are not the answer. Intensive, explicit literacy instruction, as we do at NRICH Tutoring, can provide a way to improve the phonology connections necessary for reading and writing.
NRICH Tutoring aims to help struggling readers become strong readers through seven constructs:
phonological awareness of words, syllables, and phonemes
word recognition and decoding, including structural analysis (breaking words apart by prefix, root or base, and suffix)
fluency at the word, sentence, phrase, and passage level
vocabulary including idioms and academic words
comprehension, including building background knowledge
morphological families, prefixes, suffixes
activities and games that reinforce learning but make learning fun and engaging
Does your child have difficulty with reading? Has your child been diagnosed with dyslexia? Contact Dr. Judie for a free consultation* to see if we can help!
*A free consultation is a conversation (15-30 minutes) by phone, email, Zoom, or in-person. This no-cost, no-obligation consultation is often followed by an evaluation of the student. An evaluation is typically 1-2 sessions, with fees ranging from $60 to $120 for those who sign up for tutoring. Evaluations are for internal use and are not for diagnosis of any learning disability.
Please note: NRICH Tutoring cannot diagnose dyslexia, dyscalculia, or any other disability. Diagnosis is done through medical professionals such as neuropsychologist or educational psychologists. Please contact a medical professional for help with diagnosis.
NRICH Tutoring can help individuals with reading or math, with or without a diagnosis.
Check out some of these books that will provide much more information and details than we can cover on this page.
Sally Shaywitz, M.D. and
Jonathan Shaywitz, M.D., 2020
Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It
Mark Seidenberg, Ph.D., 2017
David A. Kilpatrick, Ph.D., 2016
Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis
Denise Eide, 2011