Dyslexia: Myths and Misconceptions

Hello! I'm finally writing about my most passionate topic in education: Dyslexia. There is a long story as to why and how I became so interested, but basically we ALL need to know more about it. This will be part of a series of posts about dyslexia because there is SO much to share. I thought I'd start with the myths and misconceptions because there are so many out there. In order to understand what dyslexia really is, we need to know what it is NOT. 

I hope to shed some light on this topic for you because these students ARE in your class. They were there last year and the year before that. You might not have identified them, but they are there. I think back to all of the students that I never identified because i didn't have this information. I hope to spread knowledge so we can together make  a difference in the lives of these students and maybe, someday, in the education system. (I won't go into it too much today, but our schools and teacher prep schools are seriously lacking in this area.) 

This is the most common thing that I hear, tied with the next one. Here's the truth: Dyslexics do not see things backward. Dyslexia is not a vision problem that can be solved with vision therapy. There is actually no evidence that suggests that dyslexics see things backward. There IS evidence that dyslexics have trouble processing and manipulating the sounds in words. So why do so many dyslexics reverse b's and d's? First of all, reversals are normal through first grade. Beyond that, it may be a red flag. Secondly, not all dyslexics have issues with reversals. Yes, I would say it is a common correlation, though. Just be careful not to define dyslexia as a "reversal thing." Reversals are actually the result of the brain trying to process directionality. Before kids enter school and start learning to read, they are surrounded by objects that are still those objects no matter which way you turn it. For example, their favorite stuffed bear is still a stuffed bear no matter which way you turn or flip it. My hero, Barbara Steinberg, gave the example of a chair. When you flip it upside down, is it still a chair? Yes! If you turn it to face you and then turn it so it's not facing you, is it still a chair? Yes! How about a "b"? If you flip it, is it still a "b"? No! Letters are the first time we ask kids to notice that directionality. They need to train their brains that a circle and a stick can be a b or a d or a p or q based on which was its oriented. Some kids can do this quickly and it takes other kids longer. So yes, there are many dyslexics who have a hard time with reversals, but there are many who do not. 

Reversing letters is actually a normal part of development through 2nd grade. Many kids without dyslexia reverse letters and many people with dyslexia don't reverse their letters.
The letters b, d, p, and q are really all the same letter just flipped and turned. We see the letters as being in different positions and directions. Kids learning to read don't always see this. Direction doesn't matter with other objects in a child's life. The best example I've seen is that a chair is still a chair no matter which direction you put it. Letters change based on their direction. This can be confusing for kids who don't have that letter firmly imprinted in their brains. It is true though that children with dyslexia continue to reverse letters longer than other children.

If there is one myth I'd like to debunk, it's this one. Fact: Kids with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence. Fact. That's why as teachers we are often left scratching our heads trying to figure out why our bright students are having so much trouble learning to read. When I think of my dyslexic students, I think of bright, hardworking, and creative kids who have a specific hardship: reading and spelling.
Lack of effort?! HA! My dyslexic students work the hardest, hands down! Why? Because they have to. They are compensating both on a conscious and subconscious level (their brains are literally compensating by using another part of the brain, which is less efficient.) It is a neurobiological disorder- the problem is physically in the brain. It is NOT a result of lack of effort OR less exposure at home. Lack of exposure at home is a whole different issue that also affects reading ability but it is not a cause of dyslexia.  Parents can experience a lot of guilt when they shouldn't. Kids experience shame, when they shouldn't. A lot of that has to do with misconceptions and misunderstanding surrounding dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability that cannot be "cured." A dyslexic can learn to read with the right systematic and explicit instruction though.

New research shows that boys and girls are equally affected with dyslexia. A theory is that more boys were identified because they tend to act out when they are experiencing difficultly, whereas girls try to compensate for and hide their difficulty. 

Kids are really good at compensating. Some dyslexics may get decent grades but they are working SO hard. They are smart after all. I will be posting again soon about the signs of dyslexia.

First, I want to clarify terminology that I've been guilty of using. There is "diagnosis" because it is not a medical problem or disease. Instead, I believe it's more accurate to say "identified." Please let me know if you have other terminology that I should be using. :)

Typically, kids are identified later because they hit that "3rd grade wall" when the words get much bigger and texts longer. Their coping mechanisms don't work as well. However, we don't need to wait that long- and shouldn't! Let me be the first to throw myself under the bus. I have waited. I have said to parents and myself, "I think it will click. Let's just wait and see." Signs can be seen as early as kindergarten. You may not be able to identify if a child has dyslexia, we can identify if they are "at-risk." Dyslexics can be identified using assessments administered by trained  and experienced specialists. Trust me, the sooner a child is identified, the quicker the child can get help, and the more likely they are to experience reading success.

NOPE! It is not rare at all. In fact, 1 in 5 have dyslexia. ONE in FIVE! So, if you have a class of 20, that's 4 kids. What's tricky is that there is a huge spectrum with dyslexia. Some kids are profoundly dyslexic, while others are mildly dyslexic. Obviously the profoundly dyslexic students are easier to spot. It's the mildly dyslexic kids that tend to get overlooked. They are the ones we tend to make excuses for- lack of effort, laziness, not enough exposure, "not ready yet," etc.

Often parents and teachers might think, "My child can't be dyslexic. They can read." Dyslexics do learn to read. The key is listening to how they are reading. How accurate are they? How fluent are they? How is their spelling? How often do they self-correct? (Self-corrections are often signs of over-using context to compensate for poor phonics skills or weak orthographic processing.) 

Another mistake I've made is to just assign reading, reading, reading to my dyslexic students with the hope that the more they practice, the better they will get. Research shows us that dyslexic students need proper instruction to improve their reading skills. We can't just ask them to read more for homework and hope that will solve it. Silent reading for dyslexics can lead to more guessing, and errors left uncorrected. This will not help his reading development. Just to be clear, these kids DO need to be reading, but it should be the right texts with the right instruction. More reading does make us better readers, just not on it's own. :) Another  important note that I will be bringing up in another post more in depth.  Dyslexic kids DO need intervention at their reading level BUT they also need exposure to texts at their intelligence and maturity level. This means they need to be read aloud to and have access to audio books- the same books that their peers are reading. We still want to challenge these students. They are bright, curious, and ready to learn! Giving them access to texts at their intelligence level allows them to grow their vocabulary and comprehension skills, not to mention their general knowledge. A mistake I've made is only giving kids books at their level. We need to make sure we are doing both.  

Actually there is a ton of research out there! Thanks to fMRI's, there are actual pictures of the brain, showing which areas of the brain are activated while reading. There is a distinct difference between activity in a dyslexic's brain and a non-dyslexic reader. My next blog post will talk about the brain and reading. 

The little comic below should answer this one: 

Accommodations are so important for our dyslexic learners. As I mentioned, they are bright and deserve to have access to the same information and learning opportunities. As teachers, we still want to remediate to teach these kids to read, but we also need to accommodate in the meantime to make sure they are able to grow as a learner in other areas.

I hope this post was informative and helpful. I'll be posted again soon!

To read the next posts click on the pictures below:

 About dyslexia:


1st Grade Literacy Center BUNDLE

I've finally bundled ALL of my 1st grade literacy centers into one big pack. Yay!

This picture shows September-June but ACTUALLY it has August-June. 

To read more about how my literacy centers work, you can read about it here. 

You can find it HERE

Sight Word Sentence Ladders

Hello! I hope you are all enjoying your summers. My summer still feels like it's just begun, which is a nice feeling. :) As always, I have a long list of things I want to accomplish this summer. I usually only get 1/4 of my "wish list" done, but I'm still hopeful that I will get at least half done this summer. Ha! One of the things that is on my list is to finish all of my sight word-related packs that I've been chipping away at for the past couple of years. I have so many phonics resources out there and never quite seem to complete my sight word packs (clearly my love of phonics is shining through-ha!) I've been extra motivated recently because my younger son, Owen, has shown a sudden interest in learning to read. He is all about it now! He loves the excitement of learning each new word, so we've been focusing on mastering sight words. (As a side note, I never recommend just focusing on sight words. You always want to make sure your students have strong phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition.) Owen is at the perfect spot right now to learning to read so it is no surprise that he has the desire. He has strong phonemic awareness (he can rhyme well, blend phonemes when we play silly word games, and can identify the initial and final sounds in words.) He also knows his letters and can identify them with automaticity. The next step is sight words, sounding out CVC words, and learning the rules our language. I'm telling you all this not to be a proud mother or an obnoxious bragger mom, but to set the stage for how you would teach a child like this in your classroom or household. 

NOTE: This is a post centered around sight words and fluency, but fluency can not be obtained simply from memorizing sight words. A child MUST be automatic with letters and sounds and have phonemic awareness to be a reader. (For information about phonemic awareness, click here and here.) Proper phonics instruction is KEY to any good literacy program (and phonics instruction starts with the alphabetic principal and phonemic awareness). This is a resource to use along with your phonics instruction. To read about WHY sight words are important, click here to read this post. 

So here's how these work. Owen has been working on his Pre-Primer Dolch words. I used my Animal Sight Word pack, but you could just use regular notecards to introduce these words. He mastered the first 15 or so and had even read some sight word phrases. But he wanted to do some "real" reading. I mean, don't we all though? Is it fun to just read words on their own with no context? Not so much. So  I made these to transition from reading sight words in isolation to the eventual reading passage or book.  Let me tell you what he first said when I showed him the reading passage with all the words. "I can't read that. I can't read." So then I busted out the pretty colored cards. The first line just has one word and it happens to be a word he's been practicing. Sweet! I can read that, he thinks. So he gets through his first card, which is repetitive (see that bright yellow card below) and is getting excited because his little confidence is building. 

Then it's time to hand over the next card. Of course I'm also teaching him to use the picture clues for certain words, like park or swing at this stage (but don't be fooled because that is only temporary- I don't want him relying forever on those!) Finally, he's read through all the cards. There are a couple that I had him read a few times until he was confident. Then I hand over the paper. "Guess what, buddy? All the words you just read on those cards are the exact words on this page. So you can read it." He gives me a skeptical look but then of course glances at it and see that, actually, he can read that page. Sight words mastered? Check. Fluency for this little story? Check. Confidence growing? Check.

Here's a fun little video of my son getting started with these. Just humor me and watch because he is pretty adorable. ;) He LOVES these stories now! He always says, "I can't do that!" when he sees the full reading passage. Then after doing the (less overwhelming) sentence ladder cards, he's fluently reading those passages. He gets so excited! It's so empowering for our students to get the chance to sound fluent when they are beginning to read or struggling with reading.