Misconceptions About Dyslexia
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Misconceptions About Dyslexia
Misconceptions about dyslexia are prevalent not only amongst those outside the world of education but those within the world of education. Due to the prevalence of these myths, when explaining dyslexia I have to spend just as much time explaining what dyslexia is not to fully establish what it is. The concern is that these myths are being perpetuated amongst those that are on the frontlines of educating these students. Parents assume, rightly so, that teachers and school administrators are the experts on what is best for the education of their child. However, due to a lack of formal training in dyslexia in the majority of our nation’s teacher preparation programs, teachers are not aware of what to look for to identify dyslexia or how to appropriately remediate it.
One of the myths that most concerns me is often stated by experienced, well-meaning teachers who rightly note that “she’s smart. Just give her time and she’ll catch up.” The reason why this statement is so destructive is that early intervention is key for students with dyslexia. A dyslexic student’s difficulty with reading and spelling is not related to their intelligence. The reality is “these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader” (Shaywitz, 2007). Teachers recognize that a student is smart so they assume that whatever difficulty that student has with reading, he or she will be able to “catch up” once everything clicks. The problem is that without the right type of instruction, difficulties with reading and spelling will persist for these students. “The essential components of instruction should be delivered by a well-trained teacher who knows how to use a well-designed, validated approach or program” (Moats & Dakin, 2008, p. 55).
One student that I am thinking of in particular loved school and met all kindergarten benchmarks. In first grade, Anna began to fall behind in reading, but it wasn’t so far behind that the teacher was very concerned. In second grade, Anna continued to fall further behind. The teacher encouraged the parents to make sure that she read at least 20 minutes every night at home. Many times the parents were told that she was succeeding in every aspect of school and yet her reading level was more than a year below grade level by the end of second grade. Both the parents and Anna were becoming frustrated. Anna was frustrated at school and angry that she couldn’t read as well as her classmates and friends. She began to believe that she must be stupid. She resisted reading at home, and the parents were not receiving any answers from school as to why she was continuing to struggle.
At the start of third grade, parents reached out to me to see if private tutoring would help Anna be more successful in reading. After completing my initial screenings and interviewing the parents, student and teachers, I identified a weakness in phonological awareness (approximately 1.5 years below grade level) and obvious signs and symptoms of dyslexia. For example, she often left out small words when reading (i.e. a, the, and, an, etc.), added in extra sounds or left them out (l’s, r’s, n’s), had difficulty remembering names, and had difficulty breaking apart multisyllabic words. Throughout the school year, I worked with this student twice a week and remained in contact with her teacher regarding the skills we were working on. The student made significant growth to the point that she was only one level below the benchmark for her grade in reading by the end of the year. Her confidence soared and school was a much more enjoyable place, although reading at home continued to be a battle.
To ensure that the right supports and accommodations were in place to continue the progress from third grade, a meeting was set with the teacher about a month into school. I shared my initial findings and how we were addressing those skills in tutoring. The teacher turned to me and said, “Anna acts like every other student in my classroom. What makes you think she has dyslexia?” In her mind, Anna was smart. She didn’t reverse letters or words, so the teacher couldn’t imagine that this girl was dyslexic. These misunderstandings are what prevent students from getting the instruction and supports they need to experience success in reading, writing, and all aspects of school. Yes, dyslexic students are smart and that is what often makes this difficulty with reading so frustrating for them. As their teachers, we need to be able to identify students who are showing signs and symptoms of dyslexia and provide the appropriate, research-based instruction as soon as possible. Waiting for kids to “catch-up” is not acceptable when there is a significant body of research that states that approach will result in continued failure. In contrast, research does support that “with early screening, early diagnosis, early evidence-based reading intervention and appropriate accommodations, dyslexic individuals can become highly successful students and adults” (Yale Dyslexia, 2017).
Moats, L. and Dakin, K. (2008). Basic Facts About Dyslexia & Other Reading Problems. Baltimore, Md.: International Dyslexia Association.
Shaywitz, S. (2017). What is Dyslexia? – Yale Dyslexia. [online] Yale Dyslexia. Available at: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/ [Accessed 22 Jul. 2018].
Yale Dyslexia. (2017). Dyslexia FAQ – Yale Dyslexia. [online] Available at: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/dyslexia-faq/ [Accessed 22 Jul. 2018].