When a child is struggling in school, a diagnosis of dyslexia can be a sign of hope.
“Believe it or not, the first piece of advice is to be grateful. Having a name for the reason a child is struggling is an important first step to getting services and support,” said Sheldon H. Horowitz, senior advisor of strategic innovation, research and insights at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“The next important step is to start talking about dyslexia. Children should be helped to understand that their frustration with learning does not reflect a lack of interest or effort, that they are not less smart or less capable than their peers, and that there is no shame in needing a different type of instruction when it comes to reading,” Horowitz said.
Learning and attention issues are more common than many people think, affecting 1 in 5 children.
“The vast majority will have difficulties in one or more aspects of reading,” Horowitz said.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that impacts reading, Horowitz said. It is not a disease; it’s not contagious. It’s not something a child will outgrow. It is not the result of watching too much TV, laziness, vision or hearing problems, or low intelligence.
“The medical community refers to it as a disorder, and the educational community refers to it as a specific learning disability. Others are dyscalculia, if the area of weakness is math; dysgraphia if the problem is writing and written expression,” Horowitz said.
In recent years, new developments have led to greater understanding of the benefits of early recognition of risk and the benefits of early detection, Horowitz said.
“We’ve long known that ‘waiting and watching’ to see if and how literacy challenges evolve into a reading disorder is irresponsible. The good news is that a greater number of educators, especially those who teach children pre-kindergarten to grade three, are learning about structured literacy and the importance of ensuring that children have the essential building blocks needed to develop competencies in reading, spelling and writing,” he said.
Real breakthroughs in identification and intervention are on the horizon, Horowitz said.
Researchers at a trio of universities have designed a mobile app that teachers can use to screen children for whom learning to read appears to be a stumbling block to their success, as early as age 4.
“Working with a Boston-based nonprofit (Curious Learning) the app is played like a game, with colorful little animals that need to be fed by the correct answers and tasks that test skills such as decoding and working memory,” he said.
Parents can help their child by establishing close working relationships with school personnel.
“Make sure that instructional goals are targeted to the specific needs identified in the child’s evaluation, and that progress is being monitored so that adjustments can be made without delay,” Horowitz said.
Encourage reading at home. Think about reading like a braided rope with each strand representing an important component of reading development.
“Parents can help by practicing the many skills that children need to master, such as phonological awareness and vocabulary learning, all of which take time and require lots and lots of practice,” Horowitz said.