It brought tears to my eyes when the parent of an 8-year-old girl shared what her daughter said to her as they left for school:

“Can you find me a doctor who can tell me why I can’t read?”

Like so many other dyslexic students, this young girl is bright, creative, and suffering.  She is smart enough to recognize that she is not on par with her classmates.  She is confronted with assignments all day long that she doesn’t have the tools to tackle.

Because they generally are bright and creative, children and adults with dyslexia can find ingenious ways to compensate:

  • They may become the class clown or the social butterfly because it plays to their strengths, and if you’re funny and popular, maybe no one will notice that you can’t read.
  • They may rely heavily on their memory, making it look like they are much more proficient readers than they are.
  • They may pretend that they are working in class, but not actually do anything until they can get home and where they can sit with a parent one-to-one to do the work.
  • They may be deducing what they’re reading based on looking at pictures and combining the scattered words they can recognize with their good general knowledge and comprehension to fill in the gaps.
  • One dyslexic high school student negotiated doing math homework for girls who would then do his English homework for him.

Coping with and hiding dyslexia or any learning challenge takes a tremendous amount of mental energy.  It is uncomfortable and exhausting.  But to most people  – teachers and parents included – it may look like the student is lazy or unmotivated.  After all, the student is bright and capable in other areas, so doesn’t it follow that he could do better if he chose to?

There are a number of underlying processing/learning skills that are critical to the process of reading and spelling.  Challenges with any of these underlying skills may make reading and spelling more difficult – inefficient for some, impossible for others.

Here are the critical skills:

Auditory Decoding:  The ability to perceive and discriminate a full range of sound frequencies; to get a clear, complete, and accurate message when listening.

Phonological Awareness:  The brain’s ability to think about the individual sounds in words as well as the sound combinations.

Segmenting and Blending Sounds:  The ability to break words apart into sounds and put sounds together to make words.

Visual Discrimination:  The ability to notice and tell the difference between visually similar letters, words, and word parts.

Visual Orientation:  The ability to automatically notice every letter in the word and every word in the sentence, in the correct order.

Visual Memory:  The ability to hold a mental image of words in memory in order to spell and recognize them.

These skills need to be automatic in order for students to quickly and easily recognize and sound out words, read fluently, and focus their mental attention on the meaning of what they are reading or writing.  If effort and energy is going into trying to make sense of what they see on the page, trial and error decoding, sorting out confusion with sounds or letter formation, reading and spelling becomes laborious and sometimes impossible.

I don’t know of a Reading Doctor or a Magic Reading Pill, but here’s what I do know:  ALL of these underlying skills can be developed.  Dyslexic learners CAN become good readers and spellers.  More reading will not do the trick, but identifying and correcting the weak underlying skills and then intentionally and sequentially remediating the reading and spelling skills will.

Over the past 30 years, we have had the opportunity to see severely dyslexic students – true non-readers at 9 or 10 years old – become proficient readers, honor students, college grads, and successful adults. 

Do you have a child, teen, or adult in your life who is struggling with dyslexia, reading, learning, or attention?  Are you ready for a change?  Here’s your next step:

JOIN US for a FREE Information Night.

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“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author:  At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Teas, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers

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