Read the following paragraph:
The bottob line it thit it doet exitt, no bitter whit nibe teotle give it (i.e., ttecific learning ditibility, etc.). In fict, iccording to Tilly Thiywitz (2003), itt trevilence it ictuilly one in five children, which it twenty tercent.
Was that slow and confusing to read? Do you understand what it means? This is a simulation of the experience of dyslexia produced by educator Kelly Sandman-Hurley for her Ted Talk. According to her Ted Talk, the simulation is designed to make the reader decode every single word and break down each sound like a person with dyslexia does. The paragraph actually says:
The bottom line is that it [dyslexia] does exist, no matter what name people give it (i.e., special learning disability, etc.). In fact, according to Sally Shaywitz (2003), its prevalence is actually one in five children, which is 20 percent.
Dyslexia has historically been misunderstood and myths still persist. Dyslexia does not mean lower intelligence; in fact, some of the brightest people have trouble reading, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
Many have thought it to be a visual disorder where people with dyslexia write letters and words backwards and often reverse b and d or vice versa, according to the Yale Center. This is not true. People with dyslexia see the same way as everyone else. Dyslexia is caused by a processing problem in the left part of the brain that controls word analysis, language, science, logic and math. This means it is not a visual disorder but a neurological disorder.
“When I open a book that has a lot of text, it is so overwhelming because I’m seeing so many words and my dyslexic brain is trying to break down every sound,” says Donovan Haight, Park Hill resident and eighth-grader at Stanley British Primary. Words pronounced differently than how they’re spelled are also difficult for Donovan. He thinks everyone should just speak Finnish where every word is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. “Don’t go to Finland, it’s chilly there,” his mom, Korin, says.
“Whenever someone says it’s chilly, I say ‘do you mean it’s hot in here?’ Because chili is hot …” says Donovan’s younger brother, Conrad. There is a lot of laughter in this house. Conrad is a fourth-grader at Stanley who also has dyslexia and is the comedian of the household. Like big brothers are supposed to, Donovan laughs and then gently corrects Conrad’s comedic remarks.
It is common to have multiple people with dyslexia in families, although it does not only affect boys, another common misconception, according to the Yale Center. Boys just happen to more commonly have behavioral disorders in addition to dyslexia that cause them to receive attention and treatment sooner than girls.
Brain imaging has shown people with dyslexia more heavily depend on the right part of their brain, which is in charge of holistic thought, creativity, intuition, music and art, according to Kelly Sandman-Hurley. Because a person with dyslexia relies more on the right brain, when he or she reads a word, the signal in the brain literally has to travel farther to get to the language processing area. “I can picture a landscape scenery with an epic thing going on and keep track of every detail in that picture, but I cannot keep the number 8 in my mind when I am trying to do a math problem. I’m not as fast at math,” Donovan says.
Symptoms vary from person to person. According to Robin Peterson, Stapleton resident and neuropsychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, dyslexia is not like a disease where you have it or you don’t. Symptoms fall on a wide continuum from mild to severe, which is based on genetic and environmental factors. On a scale of 1 to 10, one being less severe dyslexia and 10 being more severe, Donovan is probably a 7 and Conrad a 5.
“The decoding is always an extra step for me,” says Donovan. “This happens a lot with me still—I could read the whole word and figure out what it means, but that’s another second so I sometimes read the first part and guess the rest. I’m working on that. Conrad is a little better at decoding than me.”
“For me, when I see a card that says ‘private’ and a card that says ‘pirate,’ I think those are the same,” Conrad says.
But, people with dyslexia can actually rewire their brains to have faster neural connections in the left hemisphere, according to Peterson. She evaluates children for dyslexia and a variety of other learning difficulties.
Dyslexia is usually detected when kids start learning to read, but she says there is current research detecting signs even as early as in utero.
Early intervention is important. There are a variety of long-term reading programs that break down the English language and improve reading skills, sometimes even so much that a person can outgrow dyslexia, according to Peterson. Donovan completed the Wilson Language Training Program last year and Conrad will most likely complete it by sixth grade.
Conrad now loves writing. He started a classroom newspaper called Con News, where he covers topics like “Mysteries in the Classroom Couch.” He interviewed students about their predictions of what’s in the couch cushions and then investigated and recorded what he found.
While Donovan once struggled reading street signs, he now enjoys reading novels. “Reading was really difficult, but once you’re given the steps and some logic to English, it can be a lot easier,” he says. He’s realized reading is only one part of life, and once he mastered reading he could start enjoying the good parts of dyslexia, like thinking outside the box.
With appropriate accommodations like extra tutoring in school, the two are high-achieving students. Donovan uses an iPad reading program that enlarges text and highlights and reads each word aloud. He also gets more time for tests and can take them in a quiet room. He has already spoken with teachers at East High School, where he will be attending next year, about keeping those accommodations.
Dyslexia does not have to be a limitation in life. There are plenty of accomplished people with dyslexia: Picasso, Mohammed Ali, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Charles Schwab, to name a few.
Korin told each of her sons when they discovered the dyslexia, “You need to own it. No one gets off without having something in life. Your thing is dyslexia so you’re going to learn to read in a different way; doesn’t mean you can’t read but it just means that you have to work a little harder.”
If you think your child might have dyslexia, visit your primary care doctor or talk to your child’s school about evaluating for reading difficulties. To schedule an evaluation through Children’s Hospital Colorado call 720.777.5470. More information available at http://dyslexia.yale.edu.