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The word dyslexia comes from the Greek root dys, which means difficulty, and lexis, which means word. Oswald Berkhan first identified dyslexia in 1881. Six years later, Rudolf Berlin coined the term “dyslexia” in Stuttgart, Germany.

Dyslexia is a learning disability that results from differences in how the brain processes written and spoken language. Dyslexic individuals experience difficulty reading, spelling, among other things. Although there is no cure for dyslexia, it can be overcome with proper educational support. How can we identify children with dyslexia and support them in the classroom?

Dyslexia is usually genetic, although it can also occur from severe trauma, such as brain infection, and stroke. A misconception exists that dyslexia is correlated to intelligence; however, this is not the case. Dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence.

The early signs of dyslexia are presented at the age of kindergarten, when the child begins to learn shapes, numbers, letters, and colors. Frequently, a dyslexic child will see letters and numbers upside down, and mix up the colors and the shapes. Furthermore, dyslexic children have trouble with comprehension, and often confuse their right and left. Interestingly, neuro-imaging suggests that it may one day be possible to identify children with dyslexia before they learn to read.

Usually dyslexic kids are very creative, as this part of the brain is strongest. Due to this fact, it would be much easier for a dyslexic child to read a language based on symbols, such as Chinese.

Scientists discovered that the best way to teach reading to dyslexic children is by phonics. Usually, dyslexic children read very slowly, and will mix up letters. The child will get extremely frustrated, as he/she is putting forth a lot of effort and is struggling. By using phonics, the child can connect better to the material, because this creative part of the brain is stronger. Other ways to support dyslexic children in reading is to read for them, and have them listen to books on tape. With regards to examinations and assignments, a teacher should read the question to the child, quiz orally as opposed to writtenly, give extra time, and ignore spelling mistakes. Furthermore, a teacher should make directions short and simple. For example, instead of saying: “Please get your books, read the fist 5 pages of chapter 12, and write a 3 sentence summary,” (this would be too overwhelming for a dyslexic child) instead say: “Get your book.” Have the child get the book. Then say: “Open to page X”. Wait for the child to open the book to the correct page. Check that the child is indeed on the correct page. Then say: “Read page X”. Ask the child to write a sentence about a fact that was presented on the page read. In short, directions need to be very clear and broken down step by step.

Children with dyslexia often experience the following difficulties: auditory information, sensitivity to certain lights that interfere with visual processing, routine tasks involving coordination and balance, short-term memory, ADHD, writing, typing, copying manually, learning the alphabet, basic numerical skills (sometimes, dyslexic people can understand complex mathematics, but have difficulty with the easy addition and subtraction), speech, and language.

How do children with dyslexia feel? Some symptoms of dyslexia include confusion with before/after, right/left, difficulty learning the alphabet, rhyming words, associating individual words with their correct meanings, time keeping, confusion with combinations of words, and organizational skills. Due to fear of speaking incorrectly, some children become withdrawn and shy or become bullies out of their inability to understand the social cues in their environment. They also can feel frustrated, angry, or sad because reading and spelling is hard for them.

The most important thing I learned from this class was to be more cognizant of dyslexic children and their special needs. Now that I have learned the brain structure and how dyslexia affects the brain functions of a dyslexic child, I learned how to support such a child in the classroom. Vision is fundamental in learning, and for a student to be able to do so, they must be able to focus and see things in different ways. Children with dyslexia have problems with focusing and sometimes also have problems moving their eyes. It is especially hard for them to process letters and vowels. This does not mean that they do not see well, but it does mean that their brains cannot process the inputs from their eyes in the same way as children without dyslexia.

In my classroom, when students are identified as having dyslexia, I want to make them feel good about themselves so that they have a positive outlook on learning and they are motivated to do well. I want to make them love reading. To do this, I will use flashcards at home and in the classroom to do matching activities. I also will teach the students their letters by introducing them in groups (for instance, some letters are formed using the lips, while others primarily are formed using the throat). Also, some letters sound the same but are spelled differently. I additionally want to help the students connect the letters by using stories. It is also important to use different senses, such as hearing, by listening to a tape. Students can listen, record, and assess themselves by replaying what they have said. Additionally, it is helpful for students to listen to a tape as they follow along in a book. This way, they are seeing the letters but also hearing them at the same time. Dyslexic students will benefit more from working one-on-one with a teacher. For homework, there will not be a lot of taking notes, but instead the students will use flashcards to play games, draw pictures, or partake in other creative activities.

This image shows the areas of the brain that differ between dyslexics and nonimpaired individuals. Broca's area and the inferior frontal gyrus are over-stimulated in dyslexic individuals.  These areas are important in analyzing words and articulating thoughts.  Additionally, the parieto-temporal lobe (which is repsonsible for word analysis) and the occipito-temporal lobe (which is responsible for word formation) are understimulated in the brains of individuals with dyslexia.

(image taken from reading horizons)