October is dyslexia awareness month. Dyslexia is a learning disability that one in five students have, and affects about 80% of those with a learning disability.
Discovered in 1881, dyslexia is often characterized by difficulty rhyming, associating sounds with symbols, and sequencing and ordering sounds. Other signs include difficulty sounding out unfamiliar words, or reading out loud, for that matter, while still being able to read and memorize, and confusion with patterns.
Researchers have also noticed that people with dyslexia have problems processing phonemes – the smallest parts of language that have meaning. There are 44 phonemes in the English language. For example, the long “a” sound, for instance, can be heard in a variety of words: cake, rain, hey, gray, sleigh.
Children with dyslexia, especially those who haven’t been diagnosed yet, may face self-esteem issues. Their assumption is that something is wrong with them, and are often accused of not working hard enough.
Despite over 100 years of research, dyslexia has many myths and misconceptions that surround it. The most prominent is that people with dyslexia read or see words or letters backwards – in reality, many don’t. Letter reversal is actually very common among all children when they first start out learning how to write. It is when it continues into later grades that a child should be screened. There are believed to be several causes for letter reversals later on. One is that some kids might have poor memory with forming letters while others might have trouble with telling the difference between different images and the direction they face.
Another misconception is that dyslexia affects boys more than girls. In fact, boys and girls are affected equally. Some believe the reason for this myth is that boys are more likely to act out when experiencing difficulty while girls will simply try to hide it by being quiet or moving to a spot in the room where they won’t be noticed. As a result, boys are more often referred to a specialist for screening.
The final myth is that people with dyslexia do not lead successful lives due to their difficulty with reading. This is absolutely false. There are many successful people, some even famous, who have dyslexia. Henry Winkler, Steven Spielberg, CEO Richard Branson, and CEO Charles Schwab, just to name a few. What’s more? They weren’t diagnosed until later in life. They were able to succeed through absolute grit and determination, focusing on their strengths and with the support of their communities. Though all of these people say that they still experience difficulty because of their dyslexia, each one agrees that the barrier does not define them or stop them from succeeding.
Dyslexia is a challenge, no one can deny that. However we have a much better understanding of the disability today than we used to. There are supports in the community that offer advice, therapies and resources, as well as new methods of literacy instruction that help students so they are not left behind.
All it takes is a caring adult to help them and a community full of support.