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By Rachel Zimmerman, WBUR CommonHealth Blog

Sixth-grader Josh Thibeau has been struggling to read for as long as he can remember. He has yet to complete a single Harry Potter book, his personal goal.

When he was in first grade, Josh’s parents enrolled him in a research study at Boston Children’s Hospital investigating the genetics of dyslexia. Since then, Josh has completed regular MRI scans of his brain. Initially, it seemed daunting.

“When we first started, I’m like, ‘Oh no, you’re sending me to like some strange, like, science lab where I’m going to be injected with needles and it’s going to hurt,’ I’m like, ‘I’m never going to see my family again,’ ” says Josh, who lives in West Newbury, Mass.

Josh and his three biological siblings all have dyslexia to varying degrees. Pretty much every day he confronts the reality that his brain works differently than his peers’. He’s even shared scans of his brain with classmates to try to show those differences. Some kids still don’t get it.

“There was a student that said, ‘Are you stupid?’ Because my brain was working in a different way,” Josh says. “And I’m just like, ‘No, I am not stupid…I’m just dyslexic.’ ”


On average, one or two kids in every U.S. classroom has dyslexia, a brain-based learning disability that often runs in families and makes reading difficult, sometimes painfully so.

Compared to other neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD or autism, research into dyslexia has advanced further, experts say. That’s partly because dyslexia presents itself around a specific behavior: reading — which, as they say, is fundamental.

Now, new research shows it’s possible to pick up some of the signs of dyslexia in the brain even before kids learn to read. And this earlier identification may start to substantially influence how parents, educators and clinicians tackle the disorder.

“Maybe the most surprising aspect of the research so far is how clear a signal we see in the brains of children who are likely to go on to be poor readers.”

Until recently (and sometimes even today) kids who struggled to read were thought to lack motivation or smarts. Now it’s clear that’s not true: Dyslexia stems from physiological differences in the brain circuitry. Those differences can make it harder, and less efficient, for children to process the tiny components of language, called phonemes.

And it’s much more complicated than just flipping your “b’s and “d’s.” To read, children need to learn to map the sounds of spoken language — the “KUH”, the “AH”, the “TUH” — to their corresponding letters. And then they must grasp how those letter symbols, the “C” “A” and “T”, create words with meaning. Kids with dyslexia have far more trouble mastering these steps automatically.

For these children, the path toward reading is often marked by struggle, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. In general, a diagnosis of dyslexia usually means that a child has experienced multiple failures at school.

But collaborations currently underway between neuroscientists at MIT and Children’s Hospital may mark a fundamental shift in addressing dyslexia, and might someday eliminate the anguish of repeated failure. In preliminary findings, researchers report that brain measures taken in kindergartners — even before the kids can read — can “significantly” improve predictions of how well, or poorly, the children can master reading later on.


Using cutting-edge MRI technology, the researchers are able to pinpoint a specific neural pathway, a white matter tract in the brain’s left hemisphere that appears to be related to dyslexia: It’s called the arcuate fasciculus.

“It’s an arch-shaped bundle of fibers that connects the frontal language areas of the brain to the areas in the temporal lobe that are important for language,” Elizabeth Norton, a neuroscientist at MIT’s McGovern Institute of Brain Research, explains.

Researchers found that kindergarten children with strong pre-reading scores have a bigger, more robust and well-organized arcuate fasciculus (bottom right) while children with very low scores have a small and not particularly well-organized arcuate fasciculus (top right). (Zeynep Saygin/MIT)
Researchers found that kindergarten children with strong pre-reading scores have a bigger, more robust and well-organized arcuate fasciculus (bottom right) while children with very low scores have a small and not particularly well-organized arcuate fasciculus (top right). (Zeynep Saygin/MIT)

In her lab, Norton shows me brain images from the NIH-funded kindergartner study, called READ (for Researching Early Attributes of Dyslexia).

“We see that in children who in kindergarten already have strong pre-reading scores, their arcuate fasciculus is both bigger and more well organized,” she says. On the other hand: “A child with a score of zero has a very small and not particularly organized arcuate fasciculus.”

She says we’re not quite ready to simply take a picture of your child’s brain and say “Aha, this kid is going to have dyslexia,” but we’re getting closer to that point.

Norton’s colleague, neuroscientist and assistant professor of pediatrics Nadine Gaab of Children’s Hospital, studies the brains of infants as young as 4 months old. She theorizes that even at birth, or shortly after, children’s brain structures can show signs of developing the disorder. Her hope is that, ultimately, the current research will trickle down to classrooms and help eliminate what she calls “the dyslexia paradox.”

“Several studies have suggested that intervention is most effective in kindergarten or first grade,” she says. “However, you have to have several years of reading failure before you can get a diagnosis of dyslexia — end of second grade, beginning of third grade. So we have this paradox.”


Meghan Estrada, of Watertown, Mass., enrolled her son Tomas in the MIT study at age 6, after seeing him struggle with the basics of reading.

“When he was in kindergarten, you know, he was having some serious trouble,” she says. “It took him about a year to learn the word ‘the.’ I could see that he needed more help.”

“These children who struggle to read are very aware of where they stand relative to their peers and this is their first major experience in school.”

Tomas, now 8, continues to experience difficulty with reading at the end of second grade. He requires more individualized support and intervention both at home and in the classroom. Now he’s being evaluated to determine if he does, indeed, have dyslexia.

MIT neuroscientist Professor John Gabrieli is one of the lead investigators of the study Tomas is participating in. “Maybe the most surprising aspect of the research so far is how clear a signal we see in the brains of children who are likely to go on to be poor readers,” Gabrieli says.

As part of the READ study, the kids wear colorful electrode caps to measure electrical activity in their brains; they complete a slew of cognitive, behavioral, memory and language tests; and get MRIs to evaluate both the structure and function of their brains. Researchers published findings based on the first 40 kids last summer in the Journal of Neuroscience; the plan is to follow all 186 kids in the study from kindergarten through second grade.

Gabrieli says if these early brain scans and other metrics prove to be predictive, new questions will arise.

“The bigger challenges for us now soon will be…to figure out what kind of interventions can be done in a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old that might put her or him on a different pathway altogether,” he says. “You know, can we have a child arrive at school who will be ready to read and not wait for failure at all but have intervened so early that the child never experiences that failure?”

One of the key goals of early identification, Gabrieli says, is to help kids avoid the stigma of dyslexia.

“The social downsides to late identification are quite severe,” he says. “These children who struggle to read are very aware of where they stand relative to their peers and this is their first major experience in school.”

Kelly Lowery, a Cambridge, Mass., pediatric neuropsychologist, treats kids who have anxiety related to their learning problems, mostly dyslexia. “I have students, you ask them to read and they start to cry — it’s a trauma experience,” she says.


At the Carroll School in Lincoln, Mass., which specializes in language-based learning disabilities, eighth-graders Katelyn, Lily, Sarah and Aysha (their parents asked that their last names not be used) no longer have to keep their dyslexia a secret. But they recently told me about some of the strategies they used to employ — like pretending they couldn’t see words without their glasses, or asking friends to read for them.

Here’s what they said:

“Oh, I used to just like mumble over the word or say it really quietly — and pretend like I said it.”

“I would be chased down the hallway… it was mostly just one boy, and he’d be yelling at me, chasing me, and the teachers would just watch, and he’s like ‘You can’t read, like you should know how to read by now, you’re in seventh grade,’ but so, yeah, it was not very fun to go to school.”

“I remember that I used to pretend to be sick every day…and it was like most people say, ‘Oh, eighth grade, seventh grade, sixth grade, best years of your life.’ Not really. Like for some — a lot of dyslexic kids…it was torture.”

Dr. Eric Falke, director of cognitive interventions and research at the Carroll School, says children with dyslexia typically find alternate strategies to develop language skills. “Workarounds,” he says. “What they do is they use a lot of their intelligence to compensate for little bottlenecks, little quirky things about the way their brain processes information.”

But these workarounds aren’t always efficient.

“When you talk to an eighth-grader who struggled for nine years in a general educational environment…trying to figure out how to do something that was really difficult for her, [it] isn’t actually a good use of her time…” He adds: “If you could intervene earlier…a small intervention earlier on could potentially have a huge impact on a person’s life.”

So, he says, the Carroll School is ready to act on the new brain science now: “Here’s the bottom line: It’s like we’ve wanted to do this for many years, and we are ready to start a kindergarten if there’s enough interest from the community.”


So wouldn’t it be great if all kids — not just those lucky enough to attend a special private school — could get a diagnosis, and targeted intervention like one-on-one, daily tutoring and language-based reading support in small classes, much earlier? It seems like a no-brainer.

But Nadine Gaab, the other lead investigator on the kindergartner study, told me she was surprised to discover that not all schools were on board.

“Some of these schools were really open and happy that we want to come and test every incoming kindergartener,” Gaab says. “However we also had districts who said, ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t want you…because if MIT and Harvard diagnoses or identifies children at risk in kindergarten and we don’t have the resources to do anything about this, then parents will get really upset with us, and we would feel very guilty as well.’ ”

When this research becomes more definitive, it remains an open question whether more schools will take advantage of the brain science to test and offer intervention to kids much earlier. The researchers aren’t suggesting MRIs for every single kindergartner. But they say someday, if a child has a family history of dyslexia, and is showing early signs of reading trouble, a diagnostic brain scan may prove less costly than playing catch up after years of academic failure.


Researchers already know early intervention can help many kids with dyslexia overcome some of their reading challenges. (Of course there’s a huge range of “dyslexia” and severity varies widely.)

One effective approach, called RAVE-O, was developed by Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. In her office, Wolf picks up a plastic model of a brain and explains that many children with dyslexia appear to be processing reading information in the right hemisphere, which may be less effective for language tasks, whereas typical readers rely on brain circuitry in the left hemisphere for these functions.

RAVE-O seeks to work around this, and help kids gain “automaticity” in all aspects of language. It’s a toolkit of strategies to make explicit the critical connections between sounds, symbols, syntax and meaning while also infusing some levity in the process. Kids learn about the “am” family, for instance, with pictures of jelly “jam,” a guitarist “jamming” and a traffic “jam.”

But for Wolf, this topic isn’t just academic, it’s personal: Her first son has dyslexia. She recalls a moment, when, as a junior high-schooler, he returned from a trip to Italy. “[A]nd he said, ‘Mom, I just want you to see what I just drew from memory.’ I looked. It was a perfect picture of the leaning tower of Pisa — upside down. And I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ And he said, ‘It’s just easier for me to draw that way.’ ”

Wolf’s son is now a successful artist and sometimes she wonders whether that’s despite his dyslexia — or because of it. Indeed, a national movement has emerged to spotlight the unique attributes of the dyslexic brain. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell and others have explored the “upside of dyslexia”, which can be marked by unusual problem-solving skills and outside-the-box thinking.

A few years back, for example, a widely reported study found that 35 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs identified themselves as dyslexic. Lists of celebrities with dyslexia, like Whoopi Goldberg and Henry Winkler, are becoming ubiquitous. And researchers, notably Sally and Bennett Shaywitz at the Yale Center For Dyslexia and Creativity, seek to emphasize the “sea of strengths” around dyslexia. (But even they write about the importance of accurate, precise diagnosis and early, evidence-based intervention.)


Indeed, as a research subject — and a kid who’s changed schools many times to find teachers who “get” how he learns — Josh Thibeau, now at the Landmark School in Pride’s Crossing, Mass., has a unique appreciation of his own brain.

“It’s been described to me as a library, and now I think of it as a maze that’s like constantly changing,” he says, “and hopefully, it’ll be just one straight line, that’s where I need to go, that’s the place I need, that’s the information that I need to extract.”

Still, for Josh’s mother, Janet Thibeau, there remains a sadness knowing her kids will never share her love of reading, and there’s no getting around the severe challenges that come with a learning disability.

“You see kids struggle and not get their needs met and you see them turning into teenagers who make bad or unsafe choices,” she says.

Thibeau says she certainly appreciates the resilience that can come from overcoming adversity. But, she says, the prospect of earlier intervention for far more children with dyslexia is also encouraging.

“It gives the entire community… parents, schools, an opportunity to just keep kids away from seeing themselves as not smart or worthless, and seeing them really reaching amazing potential,” she says. “These are really bright kids who are capable of a lot once those underlying weaknesses are met.”

A note on terminology:

One problem that arises in talking about dyslexia is that not everyone uses the term “dyslexia,” and there is no one, standard definition. For instance, Elizabeth Norton of MIT explains: “The terms used to define reading difficulties are inconsistent. The state of Massachusetts and even federal education laws don’t use the term ‘dyslexia;’ instead, they use terms such as ‘specific learning disability in reading’ or ‘specific learning impairment.’ Some students may receive a more specific diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ or “language-based learning disability” from an independent clinician. Further, the DSM 5 doesn’t include a definition of “dyslexia.”

The Carroll School uses “language-based reading disability” and also dyslexia. The NIH refers to “developmental reading disorder” and “dyslexia” interchangeably.

This post originally appeared on WBUR’s CommonHealth blog.

Predicting Dyslexia — Even Before Children Learn to Read 24 June,2014MindShift

  • Melanie Taylor

    Reading instruction in schools varies from classroom to classroom which creates enormous difficulties for all students, not just those with dyslexia.

    • kim


    • Monica McHale-Small

      Absolutely true! So many children are instructional casualties!

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  • This is a wonderful article. Parents and schools should be pushing for every Kindergarten or Preschool child to be screened for dyslexia. We can already detect the children who are at risk for reading problems and help them– without expensive brain scans. We need to be doing this and preventing these kids from failing in the classroom.

    • Karen

      Some kids don’t present until later though. My daughter had no issues with phonemic awareness but has issues with prosody and was an honor roll student until 5th grade. She was not able to decode longer mulit-syllabic words. Had issues with non-fiction, etc….We need a curriculum change. phonemic/phonological awareness and teaching the 6 syllable types and greek and latin roots.

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  • Very informative article I must say, I even found something more on Dyslexia that I wanna share with everyone here.

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  • Reader

    One thing to note: There’s no white matter “culprit” here. The white matter isn’t causing dyslexia, it’s in a way showing a result. There are fewer connections being made (seen in grey matter), but it’s not like white matter creates reading problems.

  • Abigail Marshall

    I am sorry to see the “never” word used in this article — from the mom bemoaning her belief that her dyslexic children would “never” share her enjoyment of reading. My son is dyslexic — he could not read until age 11 — but once we learned how to tackle his dyslexia, he became an avid and voracious reader. That was 20 years ago — my son now holds a master’s degree and is a father who shares his love of books with his own son.

    The key is simply that individuals whose brains have been developing differently since early childhood need to have a different approach to learning to read. The child who could no learn to read the word “the” simply illustrates that repetitive practice in not the solution for a child whose brain is not built for the task of phonetic decoding. We use clay modeling to teach “the” and other small words of language to at-risk 5 year olds and children of all ages, modeling the letters and the meanings of each of these words. It is a holistic and creative approach that allows children to naturally form the connections between letter sequence and word meaning, and to master the word in a single short session rather than to struggle to “sound out” a word that does not follow a clear phonetic rule (it is pronounced “thuh”, not “thee”).

    It is encouraging that researchers are able to document that the roots of dyslexia lie in a different pattern of brain development, but sad to see that so many still regard the divergent pattern as a defect rather than a difference. The key is to teach children in ways that cater to the greater right hemispheric strengths described by Dr.Wolf.

    • true..the child is differently enabled. We as parents & teachers need to identify and take corrective action plan…

    • SusieBryan

      I thought the exact same thing when I read “never.” I have a degree in literature and my 7 year old is dyslexic. I have high hopes that he will learn to love to read because he certainly loves to be read to!

    • Glame Gramme’

      I am a 60+ year old dyslexic. I had trouble learning to read. I was called lazy, stupid, and many other names. I was smart, articulate, had a above average vocabulary but my spelling stinks. I have math challenges too. I learned to read when I got ill and was bedridden in the 5th grade. I love to read. I am a hands on learner. If I can do that, I can do just about anything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths and ask help with those things you are not so good at. We are not defective, broken, lacking, lazy, stupid, in need of corrective action plan. We matter; do not throw us away because we don’t learn within a proscribed idea of what is the ‘right’ way to learn. We need to be helped to our potential by teaching that fits how we learn. One size does not fit all or even most.

    • Trout Grrl


    • melissareads

      Thank you for sharing that your dyslexic son loves to read! I needed to hear this. I believe my 7 year old may be dyslexic.

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  • Tineke White Lacy

    I knew something was off with my daughter in kindegarten. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the school to test her. They would not. They said that she was “angry” and that I needed to send her to a pyschologist. Did that..still didn’t help. Finally, I took her to the Scottish Rite Hospital where they administered a day-long test to determine if she had dyslexia and sure enough she did. She would get frustrated in the classroom in 1st grade because she was expected to read and then answer question. When she wouldn’t (really couldn’t) read, the teacher would put her in the corner. the kids made fun of her…so she would act out. Hell, I would too if I was expected to read something and couldn’t!! You would have thought the teacher would have picked up on it, but she didn’t. As a parent, I learned that I have to be my child’s advocate. I fought hard for her accomodations and had her put in a Dyslexia program. She is doing so much better and will be graduating next year. We have to pay attention to our children…you know when something is off.

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  • Margaret

    This is interesting, but its hardly new information. Sally Shaywitz, M.D. published similar studies using fMRI in “Overcoming Dyslexia” in 2003–in fact, I heard her speak at the Carroll School on the matter in 2005.

  • Stephen Zedler

    Brain imaging is incredible. As a tool, it has helped us to learn so much about how the brain functions and how to do practical tasks, like teaching reading skills, more effectively and efficiently. However, research has shown us effective classroom methods that can prevent the vast majority of students from developing severe reading skill deficiencies. If we know the skills to target and build in pre-reading children, and we know that building those skills effectively prevents future reading struggles (because published research has told us that it does), then why not simply put these methods in every preschool and kindergarten? Why not build on those methods, focusing on more advanced skills, in the first grade and second grades? We don’t need to image every child’s brain. Why not build the necessary skills in all children?

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  • Karyn Lutes

    The research is encouraging, however the diagnostic labels of “Dyslexia”, “Specific Learning Disability” etc. does not indicate which mental systems are deficient and need to be remediated specifically for that individual.

    Please keep in mind that while it is ideal to address dyslexic symptoms in the primary school years, it is NEVER too late to correct the problem.

    The brain research proves that your/your child’s brain CAN be rewired. The key? The true root of the problem must be identified (auditory processing, visual processing, language processing, memory, etc.) and a SPECIFIC intensive and individualized program must be received.

    This program should be focused on correcting the weak mental processing areas and must follow the principles of creating new neuropathway connections. Is goes far beyond what strategies can do and creates permanent results since the brain has rewired and the new neuropathways continue to be used.

    You have a real reason to feel optimistic and I hope this information can help you!

  • Todd Sentell


    For some time I’ve noticed when you give them the rest of the class off, most of them sit on the floor somewhere. I think when the pressure’s off, they like to go somewhere below the teacher’s eye level. That’s what I think. Sometimes they don’t want to go outside and play.

    I’m grading tests at my desk in the back and I’ve got some music going. Just low enough to know there’s music playing somewhere. Some others are working on their new study guides or reading a book. A couple are finishing up essays…due
    tomorrow. It’s cloudy and drizzly outside. The moment has a nice feel but fifth period always does. They’ve had a demanding week, I admit. Covering one chapter in four days is a lot to ask. I do it every other week. And they’ve given a lot back. So they get to sit on the floor. That’s what they like to do sometimes.

    But I heard a question. A very personal question. It stopped me. I looked over at a
    twosome in the back, Herman and Albert. It was a question I had never heard a kid ask another kid: Herman asked Albert what it was like to have dyslexia.

    I turned the music all the way down and sort of hid behind my computer screen. They didn’t know I was listening and watching.

    Albert said reading is almost impossible.

    Herman asked him what he meant.

    Then Albert shimmied over a little bit and pointed at a world map on the wall near them. He said do you see the word Russia here?


    Well, to me the A is way over here and the R is way over there and it’s a big jumble. That’s what it’s like. That word does not look like Russia to me.

    Reverently, respectfully, Herman said … Wow.

    Albert asked Herman, What do you have?

    Herman said all he is…is nervous all the time.


    Todd’s teaching memoir, “Can’t Wait to Get There. Can’t Wait to Leave,” at corkscrew turns hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, was just published by Stairway Press.

  • I volunteer for Dyslexic Advantage and did the closed captioning for this you-tube video. It explains Phonemic Awareness to a high degree. If you have a dyslexic child, it is well worth the time to watch.

    • kblue905

      Susan Barton’s program has been our lifeline. I have two dyslexic daughters.

    • Nikki

      I firmly believe that Susan Bartons video should be compulsory viewing for all parents and teachers
      Every time I watch it I get angry .Angry because this seems so simple to figure out which children to watch closely for difficulties in learning to read BEFORE they fail

  • Debs-c

    I found out when I was in my 4th year of university (aged 44)…the same old story hated school, got told I was lazy, ‘should try harder’ blah blah exams were a no-no…only after many years later and strength of character I fought my way back through education…and yes it was very painful…long hours and not understanding why my peers could do essay’s so much quicker then me..figured I was not academic, although I have always be classed as ‘intelligent’…anyway my son was having major problems and I’d always know he had learning difficulties – not severe but enough to notice…not wanting him to have the same awful experience at school I reviewed whether he might have dyslexia, from that and after failing my exams on my course I wondered whether this was my problem, be all end all I got tested and sure enough it was there… In many ways it was a shock in others it made everything fall into place. It means now I can understand why I struggled with reading, wasn’t until I was in my 20’s before I really started to get into reading… some books I still struggle with, as sometimes I have to read things three times over to understand / or remember what I’m reading…Anyway after consistently speaking to his teachers they did a test at school and he has dyslexia which means they will allow him extra time to read and understand things etc… It also means though that I have the ability to understand the struggles he goes through which is helping with his frustration levels..

    It may be worth noting that there is a test that takes about 10 minutes that can give a good idea of dyslexia in a child with a 98% success rate.. For those that are interested if you look under academic papers / newspaper around 2008 you should find a link. I did a degree in children’s studies (this came from my struggle with school and nursery to find out what problems my son was having) worth every heart braking moment. My sons frustration was such that at the age of 5 a teacher said that if he ‘didn’t improve they would have to restrain him! After moving school to one that could understand his difficulties he has no other issues then any 8 year old boy. Sorry for the rant but this is what happens when teachers don’t understand their children enough.

  • Trout Grrl

    As an adult dyslexic I like to hear about the advancements in diagnosis for children and parents of dyslexics. I only wish there was more support for these students which would open their eyes to their Abilities. Dyslexia is something one must cope with but not necessarily suffer from! Good luck to you all.

  • Beth

    We knew something was wrong with our son in preschool but nothing could be done until later, in first grade when he stopped progressing at all in reading for 9months straight we asked for him to be evaluated and the school said he was a little behind but find, we waited until 2nd grade mid yea and had him privately test and found he was Dyslexic and also has Dysgraphia. We have 6 children and so far 4 in advanced classes, one Dyslexic and the youngest age 2 is showing large similarities to his brother, we both have wondered at different times if he may also be dyslexic. It would be nice to know early and avoid the loss of confidence and insecurity our older son went through. This would be amazing to know for sure early on.

  • kelly

    well i completely agree with you and hats off to you the way you have explained it really explore the knowledge more of everyone.

  • GodsGadfly

    I have a daughter who has Marfan syndrome and Asperger, and most likely dyslexia. She’s 13, a brilliant student and reader but still has trouble with spelling. When I say this is what she does, she denies it, but I know it because her vision is worse than mine (she was blind in one eye for several crucial years) and it’s what I do: she essentially skims when she reads. She has a gift for speed reading (her “Autistic Super Power,” I call it), but she has trouble with the nuts-and-bolts. Anyway, when I was first teaching her with JumpStart Preschool, she would *always* spell the words in reverse order (the character would say the word, it would have the word on the screen in faded shapes, and you had to match the letters in the shape by dragging them over). So, instead of C-A-T, when it was right in front of her, she’d spell it with the T first, or whatever the word was, but she did it almost every time. At that point, we knew she was severely nearsighted, but she hadn’t lost her vision in the one eye yet.

  • lyellepalmer

    The title promises ways of predicting reading disabilities, but other than expensive brain scans, not information useful to schools, teachers or parents is given. Auditory discrimination testing and training is available that will provide analysis, curricula and instructional procedures for repeating input necessary for brain growth and phonetic listening skills. Repeated instructional review is necessary for progress gauged over 3-month periods and thousands or inputs. Simple word tracing for kinesthetic input using large models and arm movements help with word memorization in small chunks. These are a few approaches to preventing and overcoming slow readers.

  • Reading Whisperer

    One in two children in every classroom do not have dyslexia. And those who are dyslexic are not doomed to a life of illiteracy. We just need to teach students – all students- in the way they learn.

    Up to around 33% will enter school with poor phonemic awareness – known to be the best predictor of reading and spelling success – so this research is not new.
    We have been ‘rewiring dyslexic brains for coding’ for over a decade, and watching this happen because of fMRI scans.

    But as Dr Gavin Reid Lyons has said, 95% of kids who struggled are NBTS (Never Been Taught) – the other 5% or so have issues such as dyslexia. If you assess kids for phonemic awareness and address those issues before you even start trying to teach children to make sense of letters then all kids will read – and spell wonderfully 🙂

    We have a year long research project next year showing this. Teachers using the SSP approach in Kindergarten this year had over 90% of kids reading age appropriate chapter books for pleasure before the end of Kindergarten. Unheard of. And why we are filming it ext year – data alone is not enough. People want to SEE it happening.

    You don’t need lots of money to overcome illiteracy in the USA, you just need to take a preventative approach – and teach kids in the way they learn.

  • Jennifer

    While I appreciate your article that helps raise awareness about the prevalence and origins of dyslexia, I am frustrated by your statement, “On average, one or two kids in every U.S. classroom has dyslexia.” Based on what? Class sizes vary wildly across this country. You do people with dyslexia a disservice to not provide more detail around that number. My guess is that number indicates kids who are actually identified. This is a huge problem in today’s schools.

    On their website, the International Dyslexia Association states, “Perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the
    symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor
    spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Not all of these
    will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with
    many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from
    systematic, explicit, instruction in reading, writing, and language.” Combine this with the fact that teachers and administrators have received little if any training in
    dyslexia–what it is, how it manifests, and that underperforming
    students may not need to work harder, they may need to learn
    differently–and you have a recipe for disaster for more than just 1-2 kids per classroom.

  • melissareads

    “The state of Massachusetts and even federal education laws don’t use the term ‘dyslexia;’ instead, they use terms such as ‘specific learning disability in reading’ or ‘specific learning impairment.’” This is not true. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lists dyslexia as one of the conditions included in the definition of a “specific learning disability” (20 USC § 1401(30)).

  • Fascinating research. It makes sense that there would be differences in brain scans in children in dyslexia. I see clear signs in some patients who come to my office, even before they start school.

  • Jonathan Belcher

    “Further, the DSM 5 doesn’t include a definition of “dyslexia.”

    Not strictly correct. It is in DSM5, it is categorised as a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD). They changed the placement of it in DSM5 because of the significant research which makes it more accurate to define it in this way. It is better to define it as SpLD, because this acknowledges the multiple overlaps between many different SpLDs. So to state the child has SpLD, primarily displaying dyslexia with traits of something else, is far more meaningful than saying ‘This child has dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia’ etc.

  • cs

    I found this article to be very interesting as I have student that was just recently identified with dyslexia. There is hope.

  • Terri

    No, no, and no!!! If you are teaching children that “c” says “kuh” and”t” says “tuh,” then you are a large part of the problem. Try putting those sounds together–what the h*** is a “cuh-aah-tuh?”. “T” says “t,” maybe with a faint vowel sound hanging off the end, but do not teach kids to put a short u sound after consonants when sounding them out!! I’ve been teaching reading to beginners for almost 20 years and I’m tired of undoing your mistakes! Yes, many, many children can learn to read this way but for struggling readers, you’re making it that much harder for them.

    (Steps off soapbox.)

  • connie craycraft

    Terri, just as I retired as a speech therapist, I was glad to hear teachers in my schools dropping the heavy uh vowel following consonant sounds. It’s important to remember that only some American English speech sounds can be made without a following vowel, such as t, p, k, s, sh, but z, sounds like d, b, g, r, l can’t. (The r and l are even sometimes taught with a vowel before the consonant.) I heard teachers shifting to a short i or e sound or even a vowel not used in their dialect, so it probably sounded like the vowel was gone. There the best you can do is make the vowel as short as possible. When we ask people to do the impossible, they feel justified ignoring us.

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