Podcast Episode 17: 
Dyslexia: What too many people misunderstand

There are some common myths around what dyslexia is and how it can best be treated/ remediated/ or worked with.  Some believe that dyslexia is about letter reversals (it's not).  Some believe that if those with dyslexia just read enough, they'll overcome their reading challenges (not quite...).

Audio version: www.DecodingLearningDifferences.com


Welcome to Decoding Learning Differences with Kimberlynn Lavelle. This episode is dyslexia: What too many people misunderstand. So the myth is that dyslexia is characterized by letter reversals and letters is kind of getting mixed up as you read. So a lot of people have this idea that those who have dyslexia see things backwards, seats, things like upside down, see things all out of order.

And in general, not exactly true. The truth is complicated. The truth is dyslexia can actually mean different things, depending on which definition you're looking at. So that's one of the problems here. The Oxford definition is that it's just a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but the do not affect general intelligence.

So this is sort of one definition that I was actually told earlier in my career was if the kid is struggling to read that's dyslexia, everyone who struggles to read that's dyslexia, it doesn't mean anything was the argument. And the argument was there's these various processing disabilities that tell us more. I don't completely disagree with that. If you're defining dyslexia as a reading disability,

then that doesn't tell you very much. It certainly doesn't tell you what their strengths are or what would benefit them or what types of instruction they need. However, that's not the definition that is used by the international dyslexia association. Their definition is a little bit more nuanced. They say dyslexia is a specific learning disability. That is neuro-biological in origin, has to do with the brain.

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.

So there's a lot there that will take just a couple of minutes to unpack. So it's definitely saying it has to do, basically it's talking about it has to do with your brain the way your brain is wired. It's wired differently. It's not that you didn't get a good instruction. So they even say it is unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

So you have a great teacher. You're super great at math. You're really great at drawing. You're great at solving problems and figuring things out. You're great at understanding everything that's read out loud to you, but you can't figure out how to read, right? It's saying that the, the way your brain is wired is different and it's causing you to not gain the skill that you should gain based on the instruction you've been given compared to everybody else.

So, or characterizing it by difficulties with accurate and or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. And it's typically result from a deficit in the font, a logical component of language. So that is that. It's not about what they're seeing. It's more about what they're processing, what they're hearing. So it's not like what they're hearing, but it's kind of the process of how they're hearing it and how it's getting a little bit jumbled,

which can be really confusing. It's not just the hearing, cause that would be like audiological process. But it's the sounds of the words. So being able to hear the individual sounds in a word, understand them as separate sounds some many with dyslexia. If you say the word cat, they cannot tell you that there were three sounds in that word. They cannot pull apart.

It's like gibberish to them that you're trying to tell them that it's made up of three songs. They can see it's made up of three letters and you can teach them that C says /k/ and A says /a/ and T says /t/, and then they, they see it. And they say, "k - a - t. Tag!" You're like, wait, no, You just said all the sounds. And now you say it in order.

And, and they, they don't, they have a hard time really hearing them separately and putting them together. And the example I gave with changing cat to tag is pretty common. Actually. I see very similar things all the time where kids are, they've got some of the sounds and they capture them in their brain. They know that those sounds are supposed to be in the word and they're trying,

and they think they've got it because they've got sounds that are super similar and they're not in the right order, but they don't know that they're not in the right order. If I get a kid to understand that there's separate sounds in a word and they can tell me the different sounds in the word and what sound is in the middle. I don't know.

They just said, but I say which ones in the middle, they don't know. They have to say it again and again, and again sometimes to figure out which ones in the middle. No, if you say something like cat and cam, which sound is different, What do you mean? They're just two different words, right? They, again,

they're hearing, I had to say hearing, cause it's not about their hearing. It's the process, right? So they're kind of, they're, they're interpreting it as just two words. They have a hard time noticing the similarities and the difference. So it can be really challenging. Okay. So back to this definition, it does also list secondary consequences May Include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience.

And that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. So the child with dyslexia, struggling to read spends less time reading and therefore struggles with reading comprehension and struggles with vocabulary that might develop. If they were reading more, the background knowledge they might develop if they were reading more. So the lack of reading causes other problems, the dyslexia does not cause those problems kind of a little bit of a nuanced difference there.

One thing I've noticed is one of the tests that I give for academics to kind of see how do kids perform compared to other kids or norm reference assessments and they'll measure reading comprehension. But I always have to take that with a grain of salt, because if their score is low in reading comprehension and just as low or lower in reading accuracy or Decoding or word attack skills,

anything where it's more about just the, the reading of the words. If those scores are lower than the reading comprehension, or just as low, then it might not be the comprehension. It might just be that they can't read the thing you're asking them to comprehend, right? Because reading comprehension requires reading and comprehending. And if you can't read it, then how are you going to comprehend it?

And surprisingly, some kids have gotten really good at figuring out what on earth the person is trying to say or what the meaning is supposed to be. Even though they read very inaccurately, I've been amazed at kids who read something to me and their accuracy is pretty low. And then I ask them questions about what they read and they'll be very accurate in what they,

they know the answers they can tell me about what they read, even though they didn't read it accurately. So that's pretty amazing. But in general, you have to be able to read, to comprehend what you're reading. So again, if I see like listening, comprehension skill is really high and the reading comprehension is low and their reading is really low.

Then it's really those like actual reading of the words skill. Okay. We've talked a lot about that in general. You're going to see that with dyslexia, all professionals typically agree that reading and spelling are impacted And most professionals agree that it is typically associated with a final logical processing disorder, which we talked a lot about there. We talked a lot about those sounds and that they're not hearing the sounds another good clue that your child might have dyslexia or someone you're working with might have dyslexia or might struggle with dyslexia rhyming.

If you try to play rhyming games with them and they don't get it, they might have dyslexia because rhyming or priors, hearing a word taking off the first sound and replacing it with a new sound. You have to break it apart. You have to replace something. You have to blend it back together, all kind of immediately in your head. Like most of us don't even think about it,

right? We don't think that's what we're doing. We're just rhyming. It's just rhyming because it feels so easy. But for children, with dyslexia, adults with dyslexia writing can be really challenging because it requires the phonological processes that they don't have. They can develop, but it takes some effort. So let's talk about that. Another myth. So it's a problem with reading more reading,

they just need to read more and they'll get better at reading and that will solve the problem. And this is something I was taught. Like If you're, if a kid is struggling with reading, they just need to read more and they'll get better. That's not completely inaccurate. If a child reads more, they'll probably get better at reading. I would hope so anyway,

but they won't necessarily overcome the dyslexia specific problems if they aren't being exposed to a dyslexia specific intervention. So the interventions that they're provided with, they need to be strategic. They need to be consistent. They need to be specially designed for the way that their brain is processing and those deficits that they have and overcoming those deficits. So while more reading might get a child to advance in their reading,

it won't necessarily overcome those difficulties. Those specially designed interventions are going to be more beneficial than just playing read more. I've had students who were struggling, they read more, they read more and more and more. And they were reading so much that they did. They got to grade level and they were great. But if you listen to them read when they made an error,

it was, it was still the dyslexia that was kicking it. If they got to a word, they didn't know, they didn't break it apart and figure out the different pieces and tell you what the word is. They either completely mumbled over it because they don't know what it is yet. They asked for what it is or they replaced it with something that kind of looks similar or might make sense,

but isn't the actual word. So, and they don't know what to do. They don't, if you say, well, break it apart and they don't know how to do that. It doesn't not like it doesn't come naturally unless they've been explicitly taught. So they need a really strong phonemic awareness phonics program. Orton-Gillingham based programs tend to be very highly recommended and I would recommend them.

They there's a variety out there and they tend to provide that explicit specially designed instruction that a child needs. Now there's also another kind of intervention that is more based on addressing the phonological processes. So there are computer programs, the kid needs to wear like over the ear headphones to make sure they're really hearing exactly what's being said. And they're working on that sound discrimination,

sound awareness. And you might not see progress in reading for even years. Like you're, it's this thing you've been working. It's it's, it's one of those things where it's kind of trying to rewire the brain and build those phonological processes that aren't there. So it can take a lot longer. The evidence is that they do work. I haven't seen evidence that they work better or worse than the other.

And it really seems to be dependent on the individual and they both might work. They also can also work together. So you can have a little bit of both, which always to me seems like the safest option. So I hope this has been helpful. Do you know someone with dyslexia was this helpful? Let me know, email me at Kimberlynn@DecodingLearningDifferences.com.

I can't wait to hear from you and I'll talk to you again soon.



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