OFFICIAL IDA DEFINITION OF DYSLEXIA
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
Dyslexia is a medical term taken from the Greek "dys" meaning "difficulty with" and "lex" meaning "words". Dyslexia is a language learning disability that affects as many as 15% of all school age children. These percentages may be conservative estimates given the number of students who either "drop out" or are "pushed out" of public schools and the increasing number of students being home-schooled for reasons other than religious.
First identified by medical researchers in the late 1800's and early 1900's, dyslexia is the most prevalent learning disability. Methods designed to assist students with dyslexia were developed by a small group of educators who were employed in clinics, teaching hospitals and private schools. Even today, it is difficult to find a college or university that offers teachers instruction in the specialized techniques that enable dyslexic students to learn to read, write and spell. Although it is possible to identify some public schools that provide this instruction to students, these methods are most often available only to those students whose parents have the money and influence to get them into top-notch private schools.
Contrary to popular belief, only a very small percentage of dyslexics see or write letters in reverse. Those students for whom reversals persist generally have difficulty only with "b" and "d" and perhaps a few others. These are the students who fail to master the patterns of the language and need specialized instruction.
Some professional educators caution teachers and administrators about the "labeling" of students and offer instead reviews of research about learning disabilities rather than teach methods to which these students respond. Most adults who discover that there is a name for the difficulties that have prevented them from being able to read are delighted to replace the label they have given themselves, "dumb", with "dyslexia".
As the definition of literacy has changed in this century from one who can sign his/her name to one who can read and write at the eighth or eleventh grade level to one who not only is able to read but chooses to do so, the number of citizens considered to be illiterate has increased substantially. Those who are involved in PLUS and literacy councils across the nation report that large numbers of those who seek them out are dyslexic and high school graduates.
Dyslexic students are unable to learn to read using traditional approaches requiring whole word learning without the structure of language and simultaneous multi-sensory instruction developed by the medical researchers in cooperation with those talented educators who realized the potential of students previously believed to be "unteachable". Even today these students are often placed in special classrooms where they are expected to learn to read by using (at a slower pace) the same methods and materials that have already failed to produce results.
Just as one size does not fit all whether it be panty hose or shoes, methods of teaching reading must be selected in response to the characteristics of the child to be taught. Those who attempt to learn a foreign language in their adulthood know that there is a big difference between being immersed in the language and learning it through a classical textbook approach.
Just as those who treat individuals with heart disease are skilled in selecting appropriate treatment based on the severity and type of the problem, classroom teachers need to be skilled in selecting appropriate instructional methods based on the severity and type of the learning difficulty. Physicians have far more extensive training not only in the identification of heart disease but in the selection, monitoring, and application of treatment than teachers receive in the selection, application and monitoring of reading instruction. Teachers need internships to provide them with the in-depth experience necessary to teach all children to read. Failure to learn to read impacts a student's ability to learn subject matter when the shift from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" does not occur as expected about third grade.
Dyslexics who are identified early and receive appropriate specialized instruction that complements their learning needs and styles can master reading, writing, and spelling.