Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To Read or Not to Read? Demystifying Dyslexia

Did you know that we are biologically wired to speak, but we must be explicitly taught to read? Imagine how hard your life would be if you just couldn't learn to read, no matter how hard you tried and despite being very intelligent. How frustrated would you become? Very much so, I imagine. Now, can you imagine yourself, a bright, capable person, struggling to read the words of this article and not being able to easily comprehend what was written? Think about the first grader who is already cheating in school, not because she is lazy or stupid, but because no matter how hard she tries, she can’t learn to read like the other kids. Picture the older student who understands concepts and is articulate, yet drops out of school as a result of continued embarrassment and frustration due to his poor reading skills and, later, tragically commits suicide or joins a gang and eventually becomes part of the prison population.

Recently, our center was contacted by a young man, 28 years old, who moved to Austin from the state of New York. He graduated from a New York high school, reading below a first-grade level. He is one of seven siblings; five have dyslexia. Struggling in the legal system since 2002, this young man was awarded three years of compensatory reading instruction by the Second Circuit District Court of New York, upholding all previous decisions by the lower courts. He found us through our website and noted that our mission at Scottish Rite Dyslexia Center of Austin (SRDC) is to offer an intensive two-year dyslexia therapy program for children in second to fifth grades, to train teachers to become dyslexia therapists, and to provide low-cost dyslexia evaluations. This gave him hope. Our therapy program is easily adaptable for adults. We were able to give him referrals for his dyslexia therapy and instruction. His goal is to achieve college reading and writing levels. We will keep you posted on his progress.

One in five people in the United States have dyslexia or a related reading disorder (dyslexia being the most common). The challenge is to train college pre-service teachers to recognize dyslexia and to provide teachers the training and tools to remediate dyslexia at an early age.

Dyslexia is a neurological "glitch" and has nothing to do with a person's I.Q. The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions. A language-based learning disability, dyslexia can be remediated with specific training and education. Moreover, most people with the disability have been found to have problems identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. Dyslexia is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn; with appropriate teaching methods, students with dyslexia can learn to read fluidly.

Contrary to what many think, dyslexia is not about reversing letters. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms that result in difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Despite often having good verbal skills, people with dyslexia usually have difficulty with spelling, learning new vocabulary, and putting their thoughts onto paper in a logical, concise manner. Relating a sound to a specific letter and remembering it is often very difficult for them. The most effective way these individuals can learn to read is through a systematic, explicit, intense, multisensory teaching method. At SRDC, we use such a program: Take Flight: A Comprehensive Intervention for Students with Dyslexia. This program has been developed over the last 20 years by the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, Texas.

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Early identification and treatment are key to helping individuals achieve success in school and in life. Individuals with dyslexia need help from a therapist specially trained in a multisensory, structured language approach. It is important for these individuals to be taught by a systematic and explicit method that involves several senses (hearing, seeing, touching) at the same time. The earlier in life the treatment is started, the easier it is for the individual to learn. But it is never too late! At SRDC, we provide a solution and hope! We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2014. We will always have work to do!

If you need more information about dyslexia or would like a speaker for a program about dyslexia, please contact Jessica Smith, CALT, LDT, Outreach and Development Director, by telephone at 512-472-1231 or by email at jsmith@scottishritedyslexiacenter.org; or visit the Scottish Rite Dyslexia Center website at www.scottishritedyslexiacenter.org.

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