Shedding Light On Dyslexia: An Overview by The Reading Tutor/OG

http://thereadingtutorog.blogspot.com

Greetings from Literacy Land everyone! Emily, from The Reading Tutor/OG here. Today I'm going to shed light on a misunderstood topic in education: dyslexia. Before I begin, I would like to say I have not and will not diagnose dyslexia. Rather, I will dispel some myths, share my knowledge, the red flags to watch for in a reader, and provide helpful resources for you to educate yourself.


I became very interested in learning more about how to help the students in my classroom who were clearly dyslexic back in 2003. That year, a groundbreaking book came out called Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a developmental pediatrician at Yale University. I joined a book group at the school I was teaching at with about 15 other teachers. We were committed to figuring out the best way to help these students. I also took training in Project Read Phonology that same year to learn how to use a multisensory phonics approach in my own classroom.

Several years later, I knew I needed more training in how to accommodate these children. Even with my Master's degree in Literacy, we never received any formal training on how to provide best teaching practices for the dyslexic reader. Unfortunately, I realize this has been fairly common, but colleges and universities are beginning to take steps to educate their teachers about dyslexia in new and promising ways. I made the personal decision to become Orton-Gillingham certified. This training made me better equipped to work with my students in ways I hadn't realized before. My journey as an educator learning about dyslexia is ever-changing, exciting, and even a little sad sometimes, but a necessary one if I am to work with all kinds of readers to help them succeed.

First, let me share some myths about dyslexia.
Myth #1. Dyslexia is uncommon 
Truth: Of all the language-based disabilities, dyslexia is the most common, affecting about 15% of the U.S. population.

Myth #2. Dyslexia is when you see words backwards or reverse letters, so it's a visual problem.
Truth: Lots of early readers reverse letters, but this is not a sign that they are dyslexic. Dyslexic readers have difficulty at the phonological level. They may not have a hard time seeing the words, but they have trouble manipulating the sounds in the words. Although many dyslexic readers state letters may appear to look strangely on a page when presented in certain fonts and font sizes.

Myth #3. Dyslexic readers can't be taught how to read.
Truth: Provided that proper identification and intervention is provided (as early as possible in a child's school career) dyslexic readers absolutely can be taught how to read.

Myth #4. If you are smart and perform well in school, you can't be dyslexic.
Truth: Dyslexia affects students from all levels of intelligence, backgrounds and genders equally.
Source and for more myths

Here are more important facts to keep in mind:
1. Dyslexia is hereditary. If you, your spouse or close relative have dyslexia, your child has a higher chance of having it too.
2. About 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, but only about 1 in 10 people will qualify to receive proper intervention for it.
3. Early detection and intervention is key.
4. Thanks to MRIs, we now know that the dyslexic brain processes information in a different part of the brain than a non-dyslexic.

So what is dyslexia? Here is the formal definition:

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 in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension, and reduced reading experience can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. (Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. 53, 2003)

 *I actually had to memorize this definition in my Orton-Gillingham training, and was glad they made us. I can still rattle it off. :)
Watch this short, but powerful video from my Dyslexia Support Board on Pinterest.

What are some red flags for dyslexia?
(Note: This is a small list, but it has some common symptoms you may be seeing in a student you suspect that has dyslexia. See the link below for more characteristics.)
1. Extremely slow reading, poor reading fluency, which affects overall comprehension
2. Weak spelling and decoding
3. Poor phonemic awareness and phonological awareness 
4. Difficulty with word retrieval, letter name and sound recognition
5. Difficulty with recognizing rhymes
What are some strengths people with dyslexia may have?
  • Most dyslexic readers have average to above average intelligence.
  • They are creative, think outside the box thinkers.
  • Strong visual-spatial abilities
  • They have the ability to link abstract ideas together.
Where can I go to learn more?
I highly recommend the following books and websites to educate yourself about dyslexia.
We know more about dyslexia than ever thanks to research, and the books and websites above. Reading is not an innate ability for humans like walking. There are aspects that have to be explicitly taught. How do we go about helping these unique readers? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
  • Use a structured, systematic, multi-sensory approach to teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, reading, spelling, writing, and handwriting. This is good teaching for all readers, not just for dyslexic learners. There is a large volume of research to support this as best practice. Orton Gillingham is one well respected approach that has been used effectively for years. Here is a link to one O-G informational site.
  • Provide consistent fluency intervention. I wrote a post on my blog about specific fluency programs if you're interested.  
  • Keep audio text readily available in a variety of formats. (listening centers, a computer station, on a mobile tablet)  Many dyslexic readers are ear readers. When they hear the text and follow along in order they'll gain the most benefits.
  • Expose children to all kinds of text such as magazines, graphic novels, and comics. They may enjoy a different format other than the traditional chapter book, which can seem daunting.
  • As parents, continue reading aloud to your child at night so they hear a proficient reader. These children may have strong listening comprehension, so choose books that are above their reading level to read to them, and foster a love of lifelong reading and learning.
  • Use assistive technologies. Check this Pinterest link to apps that may help a dyslexic reader.
Please remember:
  • Every dyslexia reader is different.
  • Some reading disabilities are more severe than others.
  • Certain instructional approaches will work better than others. Find out what is research based and works well, and use it consistently.
  • Your dyslexic students have real strengths! Take time to find out what they are help your students or child to embrace them. 
I'm happy to answer your questions and welcome your feedback. I hope this brief overview provided some insight into helping your most challenged readers. I post information about dyslexia regularly on my Facebook page it you're interested. I hope you'll check it out soon. You can also visit and follow my blog. Thank you for reading my post today!






photo source: www.morguefile.com










23 comments

  1. Emily, This post was so informative, I have one little guy in my first grade class that has many of the characteristics of dyslexia. We are working hard with him to help him with his reading and spelling. He is now in Reading Recovery, which allows him daily, one on one instruction for 40 minutes a day. He has made gains this year even before starting this program. He has gone from reading and comprehending at the level of 2nd month of kindergarten to about the 2nd month of first grade. Now with this one on one instruction I am hoping that we will close the gap even further. He is very bright. Years ago I taught a systematic multi-sensory type program like the one you have described. It involved an exact sequence of introducing sounds and corresponding letters, manipulating sounds using foam squares, rules about spelling, coding words, sky writing or writing on the board, the use of cursive, etc. I am not sure if it was an OG program but we called it Alphabetic Phonics. It was wonderful. I need to break out some of those techniques from years back that I have forgotten about! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about dyslexia. Very informative and well written! Nancy (Fun Times in First)

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    1. I'm so glad to hear he's receiving intense intervention. Thank you for commenting!
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  2. Fabulous informative article - thank you for sharing! You have provided an excellent selection of resources and given me a lot of think about!

    OkinawanGIrl Lisa

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    1. Thank you commenting Lisa! I'm glad you found it helpful.
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  3. What a wonderful post, Emily! Thank you so much for the information and ideas shared. You are right...we had an overview and were required to read Overcoming Dyslexia, but we did not receive indepth training. I would love to learn more, and I'm glad to have the links and resources above. Great job!

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    1. Thank you Carla! Those sites are worth bookmarking! :)
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  4. This post was wonderful! I have a student right now that is struggling immensely with phonemic awareness in the third grade. I have backed up to explicit phonics instruction from Words Their Way. I have recommended him for further testing, but have met a lot of resistance. (They claim he just needs more time) As you mentioned, he is able to identify abstract ideas like theme and author's viewpoint. I think I will look into some of your resources to help support my claim at the meeting. Just what i needed! Thank you! Any other advice for the meeting?

    Amy
    Eclectic Educating

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    1. Hi Amy! Sadly, we let too much time pass by for these kids. I would gather as much data as you can on this child before the meeting. Good luck!
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  5. Great blog post! I see these signs in one or two students every year. As a teacher, it is so frustrating that many times we are met with resistance when trying to get these kids the help they need. Thanks for this great ammunition the next time I am told to "just give him another year."

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    1. I'm so glad you found this post helpful. The sooner we can get these kids the interventions they need the better. The wait and see stance is not the way to go. Keep pushing for what is right!
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  6. Amazing post!! I am so excited to learn more and more and more from you! I even started a pinterest board for myself on this topic so that I can start pinning your suggestions! Thank you for this. I know I have had students with dyslexia and I want to serve them better.
    em

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    1. Thanks Em! I noticed your new board too! I'll invite you to pin to my collaborative board if you'd like. I'm so glad to share my knowledge with you. I think one of the best things we as educators can start doing is to call it what it is: dyslexia. We shy away from the term too much.
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  7. Thanks for this very informative post Emily! It gives me a lot to think about with some of my students that struggle so much with reading.

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    1. Thank you for commenting. I'm glad I could provide plenty of food for thought for so many! :))
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  8. Emily, this post was so informative. I just had to share it on pinterest and with the teachers at my school. There is always such confusion over the term dyslexia and letter reversals. Our lower grade teachers, even though their students don't face state testing, are so important to preparing our future readers. I would enjoy a post that is specific to the OG method, as I really don't know much about it despite being a special education teacher.

    Sebrina
    Burke's Special Kids

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    1. Thank you so much Sebrina! This topic is near and dear to my heart. I will post about OG training on my osn blog soon. I receive lots of emails from people asking how they can get training.
      Emiky, TRT/OG

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  9. Our K-4th grade teachers were trained in Slingerland after our resource teacher came back from Orton-Gillingham training and insisted this is what we needed in our private school for our students. Slingerland is the classroom version of the Orton-Gillingham approach, which was originally created for individual or small group tutoring. It made a dramatic difference in the way we taught out students to read and understand language. It also made a difference in the way I understood my students and their abilities. I feel very strongly that too many teachers/schools are missing students by not identifying their language learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and not teaching systematic, multi-sensory, phonetic-based literacy programs. It needs to become the norm in our classrooms, as it can benefit and challenge even those in the general education setting as well as meeting the needs of those with language learning disabilities. Thank you for sharing this with others. I hope more schools begin to understand the importance of recognizing dyslexia in students and teaching students with language difficulties in order to help them become the successful readers they were meant to be!

    Stephanie
    Hands-On Happiness

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    1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you for your detailed comments. It sounds like your school made a wise decision. We took on a similar proactive measure by using Project Read Phonology for years, but it was dropped when a new reading series was adopted. Big mistake. We miss too many of these kids or wait too long to get them what they really need.
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  10. Wow, this is an excellent resource for questions concerning Dyslexia! I'll be visiting the sites you've linked to learn even more. This is such a hot topic! Thanks for shedding some light on the confusions/myths that surround it.
    Wendy
    Read With Me ABC

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    1. Thank you Wendy! The dyslexia simulation link is quite powerful. Many schools are having it for PD.
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  11. Thank-you for all the information! I'm looking forward to investigating some of the resources you mentioned. I have a student right now that is a real puzzle to me, and he seems to have lots of the indicators of dyslexia. Is dyslexia often misdiagnosed as ADD? My student seems to have developed some (poor) coping strategies, and I'm worried that if the root of the problem is dyslexia, it's going to be over-looked and we'll just 'treat' the surface behaviors.
    Deb
    Not very fancy

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    1. Hi Deb! Thanks for commenting! It's very common for a child to be seen as having ADD, but have dyslexia. It's so critical to see the whole child. I always make sure vision and hearing are checked very well when trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together for a struggling reader. Feel free to contact me if you want to share more about this student privately.
      Emily, TRT/OG

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  12. Hi! I am curious to know how you were OG certified. I am wanting to be certified, however, I am trying to find the best way. I really need to do as much work online as possible.

    Thanks!

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