Dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disorder that is characterized by difficulties with reading and spelling.
Experts estimate that it affects 5% to 20% percent of children and adults in the U.S.
While dyslexia is relatively common, it is frequently misunderstood, and a number of myths about it have developed over time.
Myth #1: Dyslexia is seeing letters and words backwards.
In the 1980s, dyslexia was commonly presented in this fashion.
A 1984 ABC-TV Afterschool Special, for example, was titled “Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia.”
Research over the last two to three decades, however, has shown that the core deficit for individuals with dyslexia is weakness in how they process the sounds of language (also known as the phonological component of language).
Children with such weaknesses have difficulty appreciating individual sounds in words, ordering sounds in words, rhyming (and learning nursery rhymes), and/or naming colors or objects rapidly.
In preschool and Kindergarten, these children often have trouble learning the names of letters and associating correct sounds with letters.
When required to read individual words, they sound out and recognize words more slowly and/or less accurately than their peers.
When faced with sentences and paragraphs, children with dyslexia frequently read slowly and laboriously, often making many mistakes.
Reading comprehension may also suffer because so much mental energy goes into reading the words of a passage that little remains for understanding what is being read.
Thus, the dyslexic child’s difficulty processing the sounds of language results in a wide range of reading difficulties.
Myth #2: People with dyslexia are not smart.
Individuals with dyslexia show a range of intellectual abilities that mirror that of the non-dyslexic population, and most have at least average intelligence.
Many are quite bright.
The architecture of the dyslexic brain seems to be geared toward solving problems creatively.
Research shows that a high number of entrepreneurs and business owners are dyslexic.
Individuals with dyslexia are also over-represented in creative fields such as art and acting.
People as diverse as Charles Schwab, Whoopi Goldberg and Karen Santucci (the chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Yale University) are all dyslexic.
Parents of a child with dyslexia should help their child find her strengths (like dance, sports or working with animals) and build on those strengths.
This helps her identity become “girl who is good at dancing” instead of “kid with a reading problem.”
Reading weaknesses should be addressed, but not at the cost of ignoring and failing to develop a child’s strengths.
For more information about dyslexia, visit the Commonwealth Pediatrics blog throughout the month of August.
Readers will find information about other myths, treatment options and resources that can help children with dyslexia. Find the blog at www.cwpeds.wordpress.com.
Dr. Blake is board-certified in both developmental-behavioral pediatrics and general pediatrics. A native of Lexington, he recently returned to his hometown to join Commonwealth Pediatrics.