Although there is no recognized single definition of dyslexia, it generally refers to a condition in which there is a marked and often chronic inability to read fluently. It is also known as a "specific reading disability" or a "specific language disorder." Most researchers have suggested that dyslexia can affect people with varying levels of intensity, i.e., some are more severely affected than others; hence it is difficult to estimate the exact percentage of population that is afflicted by the disorder. However, according to most estimates, 10 to 20% of the world's population is thought to show some signs of dyslexia. Dyslexia is usually identified during childhood, but it continues to affect individuals throughout their lives.
In this paper I shall look at various aspects of dyslexia, including its:
Is it a Gift or an Affliction?
Characteristics of Dyslexia
Recent research on Dyslexia has forced a revision in some of the long-held beliefs about it. For example, until the 1970s, most experts were of the opinion that dyslexia was the result of visual difficulties in certain children and that dyslexic children saw letters in backward or reverse order. Fresh studies have shown that a person's ability to decode and understand a new word is dependent on his (or her) ability to break it down into phonemes and people who lack this ability due to deficient phonemic processing are Dyslexic. (Wegmann 2001) In other words, Dyslexic people have difficulty in breaking words into their various constituent sounds. Another feature of Dyslexia is that Dyslexic persons are not stupid; they have an average or above-average IQ, and yet experience significant learning disability throughout their lives. It was previously thought that Dyslexia is much more common among boys but recent research proves that it is equally prevalent among girls. (Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Escobar, quoted by Berninger, 2000) Since reading is a basic learning ability in most cultures, deficiency in reading ability leads to deficiency in other learning skills such as writing, expression and spelling. It is, therefore imperative to recognize the importance of Dyslexia, and to understand it more thoroughly so that it can be tackled effectively.
Typically, a child with dyslexia would be slow to reach language milestones in the first several years of life. Young children with dyslexia also learn new words at a much later stage than children without such disability; they may also have difficulty in finding the word they want to say and may not pronounce words properly. They sometimes have trouble in learning the names of colors and letters. Although some of these symptoms appear before school age, they become more noticeable when children enter school age. Since Dyslexic children have difficulty in learning to read, they often fall behind their peers in reading.
Other symptoms of Dyslexia are:
Letter or word reversals when reading or writing. (Such as "b" for "d," was for saw, "rat" for "tar," or "won" for "now.")
Difficulty repeating what is said to them.
Poor handwriting and drawing ability.
Difficulty in comprehending written or spoken directions.
Difficulty with right - left directionality.
Difficulty understanding or remembering what they have just read.
About Dyslexia..." 2004)
It is important to diagnose Dyslexia early in the life of children, since undiagnosed condition results in great suffering and distress for the individuals. The above mentioned symptoms help in diagnosing the condition. However, Dyslexia is notoriously difficult to diagnose since reading difficulties in young children may be the result of a host other factors such as lack of proper teaching techniques by the teachers / educational institution or inattentiveness of the children due reasons other than a disability in reading skills. Another reason for the reluctance of schools districts and teachers in acknowledging reading disability in students is their apprehension that it would reflect on their inadequate instructional methods. (Berninger 2000) It is, perhaps, for this reason too that Dyslexia is under-diagnosed.
There is no single, standard method of diagnosing Dyslexia, but generally experts like to rule out other sources of learning difficulty, i.e., low IQ levels, hearing or vision problems, and behavior disorders, before making a diagnosis of dyslexia. As a first step the expert assesses the child's ability to distinguish phonemes; if found inadequate, he/she assesses whether the child with reading difficulties has received the required amount of quality instruction. If a child has not received sufficient instruction, a diagnosis of Dyslexia would be premature. Only, when a child does not respond to an intensive dose of tutorial instruction, is a diagnosis of Dyslexa made.
The exact causes of Dyslexia have not been sufficiently established so far. Nevertheless, a variety of observations over the years have led to the consensus that reading and spelling disabilities have genetic bases. (Raskind 2001) Several research studies have indicated that "the risk of reading impairment in first-degree relatives of a person with reading disability exceeds that in the general population." (Ibid.) Other researchers have established that "the risk and severity of the disorder increases as the number of parents affected increases." (Ibid.) Over the past decade, possible sites have been identified in the genome for genes involved in the phenotypes that cause dyslexia. A lot more needs to be done before the genes responsible for causing reading disabilities are actually identified, but the recent rapid progress of the human genome project, development of computer technology and statistical methods to handle vast quantities of data required for such a breakthrough, hold promise.
Evidence suggests that dyslexia is more common in some families than others. Because of this, some researchers claim that there may be a genetic basis for dyslexia, but this has not been conclusively proved as a large number of studies have also tried to establish the neurological basis for Dyslexia but so far conclusive proof has not been established. (Strydom & Plessis n.d.)
Due to the chronic nature of Dyslexia, there is no cure for it and requires life-long treatment. The earliest start of such treatment is most effective. With access to appropriate teaching, however, most Dyslexic children can become good readers. Effective instruction for dyslexics includes emphasis on "phonics," provides significant opportunity to read books of appropriate difficulty, meaningful writing activity, and guidance in developing useful strategies for decoding words and in establishing self-monitoring skills. ("About Dyslexia..." 2004) Intensive instruction for prolonged periods, particularly at an early age, and the right kind of tuition (e.g., with emphasis on phonics) is required to help Dyslexic individuals. When provided with the right kind of treatment, many dyslexics not only graduate from high school and college with flying colors, but go on to excel in a wide variety of occupations.
Is it a Gift or an Affliction?
An enduring myth persists among the general public that famous individuals such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Auguste Rodin, George Patton, and Woodrow Wilson were dyslexic. It has even been suggested by some that dyslexia is a gift, and that the genius of famous people like Einstein did not occur in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it. ("Dyslexia: Gift or Affliction, n.d.) The myth, of course, is not true and was perpetuated by advocacy groups who wanted to create awareness about learning difficulties and was supported by a media that likes to "sell" an interesting story. The plain truth is that Dyslexia is a serious learning disability that puts an individual at a life-long disadvantage. The myth about Dyslexia being an "affliction of the genius," though useful in creating awareness about the condition, has the downside of glorifying the handicap instead of motivating parents, teachers, and policy makers to fight it.
Dyslexia is a serious reading disability that afflicts a substantial number of people throughout the world. It is notoriously hard to diagnose and treat. However, if it is…