It is widely understood that kids learn at different paces, but it’s easy for parents to become concerned when they notice their child has been struggling with reading or writing, which could be signs of a learning disability known as dyslexia. Dyslexia is a brain-based condition that causes difficulty with reading, spelling, writing and sometimes speaking.
Characteristics of dyslexia often include:
- Difficulty associating sounds with letters and letters with sounds
- Confusion when pronouncing words and phrases, such as saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”
- Difficulty reading aloud with proper tone and word groupings
- Trouble writing or copying letters, numbers, and symbols in the right order
- Trouble blending sounds to make a word
- Word retrieval problems
- Confusion with small words
- Inability to approach and “sound out” unfamiliar words
- Substituting words, such as using “house” when the word should be “home”
According to Mark Griffin, Ph.D., and independent educational consultant specializing in learning disabilities, dyslexia is by far the most common learning disability. And the sooner parents can diagnose their child, the better.
“Parents often wait longer than they should to see a pediatrician about potential struggles even when their child is as young as three or four years of age,” said Griffin. “The earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner they can get the help they need to thrive, and they don’t face the steep learning curves that children not diagnosed until third grade may face.”
Once parents have a professional diagnosis early on, they need to work with the school to ensure there’s a formal program in place that can be modified over time according to the child’s specific needs and pace of development.
At home, children benefit from a structured and predictable environment with strong communication between them and their parents.
“Parents who read to their kids, even in small doses, and make it fun, will see their children improve their processing skills faster than those who don’t,” added Griffin.
Griffin also believes that many kids go undiagnosed until third grade or later, after which time, teachers assume they can read and begin to have tremendous expectations with the volume of school work the kids need to master. That puts pressure on kids with dyslexia, who may start to feel they aren’t smart, even though many children with dyslexia have strong higher order thinking skills.
“Unfortunately, there are devastating repercussions for kids who go undiagnosed and don’t get the help they need,” said Griffin. “They begin to develop a low tolerance for frustration, can act impulsively, develop a low sense of self-esteem, avoid reading and writing, and become anxious or depressed by internalizing their doubts about themselves.”
The long-term outcomes of these behaviors and thoughts often leads to incarceration down the road.
“There’s ample evidence showing that many people who have gone through the justice system and are incarcerated have learning disabilities,” added Griffin. “They don’t plan well; they’re impulsive and they’re bad criminals. Ultimately, parents need to watch their children intentionally, take notes, and get a clear sense of what’s going on with their pre-reading skills. Being proactive is the best way to help children become successful adults.”
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 9.9% of public school students received special education in 2015-2016. In Colorado, 38,074 children were identified in 2015-2016 with specific learning disabilities, 14.1% of whom had speech or language impairment. These children accounted for the largest 13 learning disability categories covered under special education law. Colorado has a law that requires the state to offer training for educators to better identify and instruct students with literacy challenges.
Nationwide, students with learning disabilities are more than twice as likely to be suspended as those without; the loss of instructional time increases the risk of academic failure and school aversion.
For kids struggling with dyslexia, there are classroom accommodations to help. Visit: Dyslexia Accommodations for more information. For more general information about dyslexia and resources for helping children, visit: www.understood.org.