T he ability to read is one of the key skills that humans can acquire during their lives. Most children learn this skill without any difficulty, but in a certain number of children we notice some disturbance. Dyslexia exists around the world, it is not related to the language and it affects school performance and daily activities related to reading. Because people with dyslexia usually have normal vision and normal intelligence, with the help of tutoring and specialised education programs, their school performance and the quality of life can change significantly for the better. However, without access to specialised help, the failure of reading can cause school frustration and affect self-esteem. Because children can feel ashamed to admit that they may have difficulty reading, dyslexia can go years without being diagnosed, but accessing appropriate help is always a good idea and a helpful resource.
Definition and diagnosis
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects reading, writing, and spelling despite normal intelligence, good eyesight and hearing, adequate motivation, and other psycho-social support mechanisms. Dyslexia encompasses difficulties in understanding language as well as all modalities of perception that relate to fast access to information. It is present in all languages, but diagnostic criteria are different in relation to culture and specific characteristics of every language. That means that there are no unified dyslexia testing which can we used worldwide, but DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistic Manual of mental disorders) defines this disorder as lower reading performance than expected in relation with the child’s age and intelligence. To diagnose dyslexia several factors are considered including the child’s development, educational issues and medical history, family members with similar problems. The doctor might ask about the home life and if there are any issues at home. Vision, hearing, and neurological tests would be also part of the assessment in order to exclude other disorders that may cause poor reading skills. The child would undergo academic skills testing including reading skills, and finally psychological testing would take place to help determine whether social factors, anxiety or depression might be part of the child’s issues.
Dyslexia is known to be inheritable, which means that if parents have it there is about 50% chance that children may have it too. Some other risk factors include premature birth or low weight at birth and individual differences in the part of brain responsible for reading.
What does it look like when you are dyslexic?
A child suffering from dyslexia has normal eyesight, hearing and average or above average intelligence, good overall health condition and no emotional disorders or social deprivation are present. Before school age some signs can be identified such as late talking, problems naming letters, colours, difficulty learning new words or learning nursery rhymes. At school age, problems become more apparent if the child reads well bellow the expected level for age, starts having difficulties processing and understanding what they hear, finding the right word or remembering sequence of events. The child may also have problems seeing similarities and differences in letters and words and spending unusually long-time completing tasks that involve reading or writing. If untreated dyslexia can continue to affect children in adulthood with similar symptoms. As short-term memory has a significant role in reading and understanding it is also affected by dyslexia. Children affected by dyslexia often have problems to differentiate left from right, remember school timetable, memorize rhymes, have visual perception disturbances and can be clumsy in motoric skills.
All these symptoms can cause emotional and social problems, as dyslexia can be related to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. It is also often related to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aggression, withdrawal from friends, parents, teachers. Children suffering from dyslexia can feel disadvantaged and unable to reach their full potential.
How can we help?
While there is no treatment that will make this condition disappear, it is important to detect it and act as early as possible to help children learn how to cope being dyslexic. Educational techniques and individual plan that involves both parents and teachers can help the child to learn to recognise and use phonemes (smaller parts of words), make connections between sounds and letters, read aloud to build fluency, build vocabulary, and comprehend written text.
Parents can encourage reading, read aloud to children starting from early age, model reading and address and acknowledge problem early. Limiting screen time is always a good idea, as well as being in touch with your child’s learning and development. Healthy diet and an appropriate designated space and time for studying makes a big difference for all children and not only the ones with reading and learning difficulties.
However, emotional support is incredibly important for dyslexic children. Showing empathy, unconditional positive regard, providing non-judgemental space for your child to develop and grow, as well as expressing love and support can make a big difference for children regardless of their condition, but for dyslexic children it can be paramount. If parents of a child with dyslexia encourage their children, praise the successes, and openly talk about the condition, it will help the child to understand and cope with their condition better which will improve their self-esteem and quality of life.