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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

Exploring Dyslexia

Leah Rayner

All my life I have heard of people having learning disabilities. The one common in my own family is Dyslexia. Although I have become familiar with the term, I have really never felt like I had a clear understanding of what Dyslexia is...What are the causes and what are the symptoms? The National Institutes of Health defines dyslexia as "a disorder manifested in learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural opportunity (1)." I am frustrated by this definition because I cannot fathom what it means to have a "disorder manifested in learning to read." Still, this a definition that is commonly used, which is why I was curious to look further into the material that has been published regarding dyslexia.

Although much research has been done, the causes of dyslexia remain unknown. However, dyslexia is known to be a lifelong condition based in the brain. Research suggests that dyslexia is caused by an underutilized left-hemisphere of the brain and a dysfunctional corpus callosum, the central bridge of nerve cells in the brain that allows information to move from one side of the brain to the other (4). This is important to note because the left-hemisphere of the brain is the side that is used for reading. In addition, everything that is seen or heard goes to both sides of the brain but each side has a particular specialty. In addition to transferring information from one side of the brain to the other, the corpus callosum decides which side of the brain is appropriate for processing particular information(4).

Symptoms of dyslexia are found in people of average intelligence to those with above average intelligence. The following provides a list of recognizable symptoms divided by age group:

Ages 6-11:
Reverses letters, words and numbers
Confuses the order of letters in words
Does not recognize words previously learned
Spells a word several different ways without recognizing correct version
Does not hear fine differences in words; i.e. writes "pin" for "pen"
Confuses left and right; may write letters backwards
Has poor reading comprehension
Has difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions
Experiences difficulty stating thoughts in an organized, cogent way
Has difficulty pronouncing words, may reverse or substitute parts of words

Ages 12-adult:
Has difficulty remembering what has recently been read
Has difficulty concentrating when reading or writing
Demonstrates inability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information
Spells poorly; misspelling is illogical
Has problems taking notes accurately
Has difficulty organizing and completing written projects (1)

Although many children may exhibit many of these characteristics while first learning to read, a dyslexic will demonstrate them with great frequency over a period of time.

Dyslexia is not only a learning disability that effects an individual's ability to acquire reading skills. "Individuals with dyslexia may have problems with the language of mathematics and the concepts associated with it. These include spatial and quantitative references such as before, after, between, one more than, and one less than(3)." Mathematics is its own language of terms and symbols used to represent instruction. Dyslexics struggle with math at the very core and have difficulty translating mathematical expressions in terms they can understand.

Although I was unable to find statistics stating how widespread the problem of Dyslexia is, I did find that 2.8 million students are currently receiving special education services for learning disabilities in the United States and approximately 85% of all learning disabilities are problems with reading (5). Dyslexia is found to be common in some families.

Current research is mainly focusing on developing techniques to diagnose and treat dyslexia increasing the understanding of the biological basis of learning disabilities(6). Research on the possibility that those who have dyslexia may have compensatory strengths remains inconclusive (3). Dyslexics are definitely found disproportionately in fields that require spatial ability but it is possible that they are merely choosing fields based on what they are less bad at rather than what they may have a special ability for.

Although my research has clarified what it means, intellectually, to be dyslexic, I am still interested in looking further into what the results are on a personal level for a dyslexic. Does receiving special education give one a higher self-esteem because they are able to receive the individual attention or does it lower their self-esteem to know that they are struggling with the ability to read when others do not struggle? Does their frustration with learning make them not consider the possibility of higher education? Does their determination and hard work extend that was put into learning how to read make dyslexics better equipped to handle problems in their individual lives?

WWW Sources

1)Learning Strategies Website

2)LD Online Website

3) LD Online Website

4)Reading From Scratch Website

5)National Center for Learning Disabilities Website

6)National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Website

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