Learning to read: one of the most important skills learned in school. Good reading skills are vital to future success. When children seem to have difficulty learning to read, many parents and educators wonder if there is a disability creating this problem. A common question parents ask is, "Could my child have dyslexia?" That is a difficult question to answer for many reasons.
Dyslexia is a term that is frequently heard. If one asks several speakers using the term "dyslexia" what they mean by this term, it becomes apparent that there is no accepted definition of "dyslexia." Many people are referring to mirror writing or reversing letters or numbers when they talk about dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as "a specific language-based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonological processing abilities." It seems that some people place the emphasis on visual processing or problem solving while others are particularly concerned with auditory difficulties. Overall, the following are generally accepted as true:
· it is one type of learning disability or learning difference
· it causes difficulty with reading and writing
· the brain processes certain types of information differently
· it is NOT caused by poor eyes, ears or low mental ability
· it may exist along with other learning problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or math disabilities
In Kentucky, dyslexia would addressed under the educational disabilities category of Specific Learning Disability. A Specific Learning Disability can be diagnosed in any of the following areas:
· reading comprehension
· reading decoding
· written expression
· math calculation
· math reasoning
· listening comprehension
· oral expression
A Specific Learning Disability is diagnosed by assessment by the school psychologist. The child's cognitive ability is assessed to determine that it is average or above average. Then the child's skills in the areas of concern from the above list are assessed. If the academic skills are much, much less well developed than expected given the child's average to above average intelligence, then there may be a specific learning disability. It is important to note, that, before any assessment is started, the school needs to be certain that there is not another cause for the academic difficulties (such as excessive absences).
If a student is determined to have a Specific Learning Disability, an individual education plan is developed. This plan can target difficulties in visual processing difficulties, auditory processing or both. Sometimes other problems such as attention difficulty or sensory integration difficulties may also be a part of the problem. The individual assessment is designed to identify root causes so that an appropriate plan can be made to help the student.
There is a concern that has been expressed by both parents and educators. With the current definition of Specific Learning Disability, it is extremely difficult to diagnosis this problem before the age of nine. This is due to the test instruments available and the difficulty assessing young children. This concern has been expressed to federal legislators and we expect changes in the federal definition of Specific Learning Disability in the future.
In the meantime, don't worry if a young child reverses numbers and/or letters. Show them the correct way to write the letter or number. You can make a heavy, dark line down the left side of the page to show the child where to start. Read to your child every day. While reading, move your finger under the words so the child sees that you are reading left to right. Also, feel free to talk to your child's teacher or guidance counselor about your concerns. You can also call the Exceptional Children's Services Director, Jennifer Whitt, to discuss your concerns.