Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dyslexia 101

It's been 6 months since Ruben was termed dyslexic and I've done a lot of research in that time.  I am continually learning new things and wanted to share a few thoughts.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific developmental disability that alters the way the brain processes written material.  According to The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  Studies show that individuals with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than do non-dyslexics.

There is no single pattern of difficulty that affects every dyslexic person.  Dyslexia can cause a variety of issues.  I found a wonderful checklist here called 37 Common Characteristics of Dyslexia.  I smiled when I read, " The most consistent thing about dyslexics is their inconsistency."  

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia is thought to be an inherited condition.  It may be genetic, but how and if it comes to be varies considerably from individual to individual.  Sometimes dyslexia can be attributed to a wide range of environmental factors, like birth trauma, problems during pregnancy, brain injuries, infections and toxins. However, although considerable progress has been made, the exact mechanism that causes genes to contribute to the multi-faceted dyslexic condition is still unknown.  Research shows dyslexia affects up to 20% of the population. 

Is there a cure for dyslexia?

According to the Mayo Clinic website, there is no cure for dyslexia.  It's a lifelong condition caused by inherited traits that affect how your brain works. However, most children with dyslexia can succeed in school with tutoring or a specialized education program. Emotional support also plays an important role.

What do I do if I suspect my child has dyslexia?

Initially, I brought my concerns regarding Ruben to our pediatrician and she was very helpful in getting the ball rolling. I always knew there was something special about Ruben.  I was thinking of sensory processing or mild autism.  Dyslexia was not on my radar at that time.  He was struggling academically, but I was looking more behaviorally.  I was thinking his behavior was hindering his ability to learn until I discovered his inability to learn was causing his behavior.  In hind site, it all makes perfect sense.  With the pediatrician's help and referral, Ruben was tested at a pediatric neuropsychology clinic.   Once we had the official diagnosis, I started reading, researching, and networking to learn as much as I could about how to help.

If you have a child with suspected dyslexia and you decide to pursue a formal diagnosis, I recommend checking with your pediatrician or researching the Scottish Rites program.  The Scottish Rites have a national organization and I understand they have a hospital and large testing facility in TX.  Their services are free.

I was very excited to find a Scottish Rites Dyslexia Clinic about 30 minutes away from our home.  We applied and Ruben was accepted into the program for tutoring.  He was put on a waiting list and will start next fall with tutoring 2 days per week.

Other Thoughts

Orton-Gillingham is a common recommended method of teaching for dyslexia.  I was reassured to hear this since we started using All About Reading last spring, which incorporates the OG approach.  Ruben is making progress.  Some days it seems slow going, but when I think back to a year ago, I can see he's made great strides. 

Barton Reading and Spelling is another OG program that is highly acclaimed, but it is more expensive.  Susan Barton has a wealth of information at her website.  I have not contacted her directly, but I've watched the webinars and have heard praises from people who have used this program.

In addition to All About Reading, we started Dianne Craft's Brain Integration Therapy.  We are about 8 weeks into it.  It's going OK.  Ruben hates it, but I can notice improvements in his visual tracking.  When we started, he wouldn't look to the lower left quadrant and his eyes were jerky when tracking.  Both of these areas are getting better. Again, Dianne Craft has a ton of information on her website.

I have learned that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.  Therefore, public schools don't test for it and often don't have programs to address it.  Shortly after Ruben was diagnosed,  I contacted our local public school, which is also connected with a cooperative of 29 other local school districts, and found none of them had any materials utilizing the OG method.  Nor, did any of them have OG trained teachers.  Our local public schools put dyslexic kids in special education classes with other learning disabled kids, many of which have lower cognitive abilities.  I have a hard time with this since many people who are dyslexic are typically of average to above average intelligence.  Ruben has no cognitive delays and as with most dyslexics, his IQ is right on track.

Other Resources

Sally Shaywitz's Overcoming Dyslexia is a great book!  Originally, I was able to borrow it from our local public library and since ended up buying a copy.  Another book I purchased and love is How to Reach & Teach Children & Teens with Dyslexia by Cynthia M. Stowe.  The International Dyslexia Association has a wealth of information on their website and holds a conference in our state that I'm hoping to attend next fall.

One thing I've learned is that there is hope.  Technology plays a huge role in aiding people with dyslexia.  Voice activated software and audio books can help students gain independence.   I am very optimistic about Ruben's future and believe he will learn to read.  If you suspect your child could be dyslexic, I encourage you to reach out and seek help as soon as possible.  Studies have shown, early intervention is key to success for people with dyslexia. 

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