Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Click here for an audio version of this blog post.
October is dyslexia awareness month. It's not "Specific Learning disability in reading and spelling month," just for the record. But, it is essential to raise awareness and understanding that we all #SayDyslexia.
How often have you run into someone, maybe another parent or teacher, who does not get what dyslexia is? Have you heard, "Oh, that is when you see things backward, right?" or "I used to have that, but then I grew out of it." It is estimated that one out of five students may have dyslexia. That means if you are a teacher with a class of 25 students, five may have difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling caused by a learning disability. Over a twenty-year career, that could mean that your understanding, or lack thereof, of dyslexia could affect 100 children out of the 500 you teach. This is why it is so vital that everyone knows the truth about dyslexia.
There doesn't seem to be much understanding, even in the schools (some might say especially in the schools), about what dyslexia really is. They lack knowledge about how, beyond reading and writing, that dyslexia affects our kids and what is needed to help these students thrive and learn. I often hear teachers and even reading specialists declare, "but they did not teach us any of this in my teaching program in college!" So let's address some of the most persistent and common myths about kids with dyslexia.
Dyslexia Myth #1: "Kids with dyslexia are lazy."
No. Just...no. People with dyslexia are not lazy. They have a learning difference that is neurologically based and interferes with processing written material. They often excel in other academic skills and are usually very bright and creative. When parents and teachers buy into the idea that their child is lazy or not trying, they can severely damage the child's self-esteem. Kids with dyslexia work tirelessly to accomplish what takes other kids a fraction of the time. They push and work until they cannot anymore. Children want to make you proud. They may act out due to frustration. They may refuse to do work because they know it will be incredibly difficult for them.
Imagine if, every day you went to work, your boss handed you a piece of paper on which every single word was scrambled. Then, every day in a meeting, he asked you to read this paper in front of your coworkers, who, for some reason, could all read the scrambled words perfectly. You start to think: maybe there is something wrong with me. Why can't I read this if everyone else can? No matter how hard you try, you cannot make sense of the words on the page. Maybe after a few tedious hours, you managed to unscramble a paragraph, but it was so hard. And it took so long to read each word that you had no idea what the sentences said. How would you feel about work? How would you feel about yourself? You know deep down that you are an intelligent, competent person with lots of excellent skills, but you just cannot read this paper!
Dyslexia Myth #2: "Accommodations are cheating."
Accommodations and modifications are an excellent way for students with disabilities to access the curriculum in a meaningful way. Schools must accommodate all students of all abilities. This includes disabilities that may be hidden from the outside observer. For example, a teacher who cannot understand a disability or thinks the child is lazy (see myth #1) needs to be taught differently. All schools are required by IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to identify and offer FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to all students. Accommodations and modifications should be part of an individualized educational plan (IEP) to help all children with special needs, regardless of disability, to reach their potential. Some standard accommodations for dyslexia include allowing students extra time to complete tests, spell check technology for writing, and an additional set of textbooks at home if they need to review material to complete homework. Many students with dyslexia have an IEP to support them throughout their school career, and many colleges and universities also have services for students with IEPs.
Dyslexia Myth #3: "There is a supplement or type of eyeglasses that can cure dyslexia."
There is no cure for dyslexia. It can be remediated. People with dyslexia can be taught to read and write more effectively and efficiently but are not cured. With proper intervention, students may be able to rewire the parts of their brains used for reading and writing tasks to more closely match those of neurotypical readers. Your child may need glasses, but dyslexia is not a vision problem. Your child may also benefit from a change in diet, but dyslexia is not caused by a lack of a particular nutrient. There is evidence that dyslexia is genetic. That means nothing or nobody caused your child to have dyslexia. Just because you do not know of someone in your family with dyslexia does not mean it is not in your family. Many cases, especially years ago, went undiagnosed. You may actually have a family full of undiagnosed dyslexics. Many parents only realize they have dyslexia after seeing similar struggles in their diagnosed children.
Dyslexia Myth #4: "If you don't remediate by 4th grade, your child will never read."
It is preferable to remediate as early as possible. In fact, dyslexia can be detected and diagnosed as early as kindergarten. Warning signs can appear even earlier. If identified early, the child can be taught correctly from the beginning of their reading instruction and never fall behind their classmates. These children may never experience damage to their self-esteem caused by not understanding why their friends can all read but they cannot. This is the ideal situation.
If you do not identify your child's dyslexia early, know that it is never too late to improve. Please seek out help, even if your child is older. It can be life-changing for some people to get a diagnosis, so they can finally understand their challenges. Additionally, they can set up the proper school and work support to help them succeed and lessen their daily struggles. This is really very important. The consequences of dyslexia-related hopelessness in children are dire. One study reported that 89% of adolescent suicide notes are found to have spelling mistakes consistent with dyslexia. (Learning Disabilities and Adolescent Suicide. Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 30, 6: pp 652-659. Published first Nov. 1, 1997.) This link contains some statistics that tell us more about the devastating effects of dyslexia on our students who are not given the help they need.
Many successful people with dyslexia can look back in their history and find that one adult who always supported them and kept them from giving up their dreams. A parent, a coach, an aunt or uncle. Be that person. Keep the faith. Everyone can improve and grow. Never give up. My advice:
Find your support system.
Fight for your child's educational rights.
Always remember to encourage and praise your child's strengths.
Do you have a myth you would like to add to the list? Please comment below. And be sure to subscribe and follow me on social media for more posts!