Research is ongoing regarding the neuro-pathways of our brains and how they can change with time and intervention, so you will get different answers to this question depending on whom you ask. Can a dyslexic student learn to read… YES! As someone who has remediated learning differences for over 20 years, I can confidently tell you that dyslexic children can be taught to read and spell. To provide the right assistance to your child you need to discover your child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Then you can more easily find the correct intervention that taps into the part of the brain that needs to be developed.
Brain imaging is being used to highlight the parts of the brain that are active when we do certain types of activities. Research has shown that different areas are active in the “dyslexic” brain than in the typical brain when reading. What does this mean for “fixing” the dyslexic brain? The theory is that we should help the dyslexic readers build the same brain pathways as the typical reader, so that when reading, the two types of brains use the same pathways.
The most widely accepted definition of dyslexia as accepted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, as well as the International Dyslexia Association, states that:
- Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological 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 from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.
- Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
What this means is that a dyslexic child’s intelligence is above his reading level and that the reason for the difference is due to difficulty sounding out and manipulating sounds. What I know from my years of teaching reading is that there can be more than a phonological deficit making reading challenging for children. Therefore to teach a child to read you need to step back to get a bigger picture of the child’s learning profile.
If we are going to use the term dyslexia to define all students who have a reading disorder it is helpful to consider the “types” of dyslexia. The goal of understanding “types” of dyslexia is identifying the underlying issues that are making reading difficult for your child.
- Phonological/ Auditory Dyslexia: These students can’t sound out nonsense words, they have weak sound/symbol associations. It is difficult for this student to “hear”, or discriminate, the difference in sounds. “Hat” and “bat” may sound the same. If not identified early, this type of student will learn to read by building a large sight word vocabulary.
- Visual Dyslexia: Visual processing issues make it hard for this type of student to discriminate between visual symbols (letters and numbers) quickly and accurately. Letter reversals are common as are substituting one word for another. “Home” can be read as “House”.
- Double-Deficit Dyslexia: The connection between the verbal (auditory) portion of the brain and the visual portion of the brain is weak. Tests of rapid naming pick up this visual/language loop.
Once you know the areas of weakness your child has you can select an intervention program that is designed to build the neuro-pathways your child needs to develop in order to activate the parts of the brain that make reading easy. I believe that the unusual brain pattern of dyslexics may offer more benefits and advantages than we previously believed and more conversation is taking place about the benefits of dyslexia.
So perhaps the real issue isn’t whether your child will always be dyslexic, but rather how you can help your dyslexic child to flourish in his or her educational environment and learn to appreciate his/her own learning style. Learning to view dyslexia not as a negative challenge, but rather as a predisposed mental wiring can help teachers, parents and children relax into the realization that different doesn’t mean wrong. As research continues to investigate the brain and how we learn, I am sure we will continue to develop new attitudes and teaching methods to help all types of learners access information easily.