Dyslexia: A Guide For Parents

By Carol H. Clark

"My child talked early. Everyone was amazed at her vocabulary, but she is strugglingreading to learn to read."

"Johnny can build anything. He spends hours creating elaborate Lego structures. But, give him a book, and he completely shuts down."

"A gifted athlete---that’s my child. She excels on the soccer field but hates school."

"He loves science and social studies----always wanting to learn more about bugs, the planets, etc. However, when you ask him to write, he just sits there."

"Math is his subject. Reading, writing and spelling are beyond him."

These are just a sample of the comments I have heard when meeting with prospective parents for the Prentice School. As seen from reading the above examples, these students struggle with language related tasks---reading, spelling, and written language. These students very likely have dyslexia. The word dyslexia comes from Greek, “dys” meaning “difficulty” while “lexia” means “language or words.” It encompasses possible difficulty following directions or expressing oneself clearly. Sometimes a student has difficulty organizing spoken or written information. A struggle with learning math facts and/or answering word problems may occur. Students with dyslexia find learning language related skills difficult in a traditional classroom. Often they are mistakenly called lazy, unmotivated, or not very bright when, in fact, they are of average, above average or highly gifted.

When given the appropriate instruction, these students can learn and do learn. They just learn differently. Research indicates that multi-sensory instruction, the use of the three learning pathways---visual (eyes), auditory (ears) and Kinesthetic/tactile (feel) simultaneously, enables students to become successful learners. Also, a step-by-step phonics based program with direct instruction that focuses on the structure of language provides success for these students. We also know that oral language is the foundation for learning to read and write. If you don’t have a good vocabulary and understand the structure of our language, how are you going to be able to comprehend what you read and express yourself when writing?

Although students with dyslexia struggle in a traditional classroom, many have strengths in other areas such as art, music, science, engineering, mathematics and/or athletics. They think “outside the box” with stronger higher level thinking skills. Well-known dyslexics include Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Henry Winkler, Stephen J. Cannell, and Leonardo da Vinci. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, says “Dyslexia is a weakness in a sea of strengths.”

Some important facts about dyslexia are that it is not primarily a visual problem and does not mean seeing things backwards (i.e., was for saw, b for d).  It can occur in any family, and boys are only affected slightly more than girls.

Recent research indicates that early intervention is critical in helping young children before the self-image is impacted and the foundation of academic success is not secure. Several risk factors for preschoolers include:

  • A family history of dyslexia (reading, writing, spelling difficulties)
  • Late talker
  • Difficulty learning and recognizing rhyme (nursery rhymes, etc.)
  • Word pronunciation problems
  • Difficulty in finding the right word in speech (what-cha-ma-call-it, etc.) and learning new vocabulary
  • Difficulty recognizing and remembering letters

Later clues include:

  • Slow progress in learning to read---labored reading with difficulty remembering small words like the, an, or knows a word but doesn’t remember it 3 lines later when reading a story
  • Difficulty putting thoughts on paper
  • Poor printing
  • Difficulty completing classwork and/or homework
  • Poor spelling
  • Avoids reading

A student who is struggling may begin to exhibit one or more of the following---stomach aches, not wanting to go to school, calling herself/himself “dumb” or “stupid,” and having difficulty completing homework. If attending public school, parents need to be in communication with the teacher with the possibility of a referral for a School Study Team meeting to determine further action. A parent with a student in private school can request an SST meeting by the local public school. Every student deserves the opportunity to reach her/his potential, and parents must be their student’s advocate throughout her/his formative years.

About The Author:

Carol H. Clark is the Executive Director of The Prentice School.