At a recent talk for special education teachers at the Los Angeles Unified School District, child development professor Maryanne Wolf urged educators to say the word dyslexia out loud.

“Don’t ever succumb to the idea that it’s going to develop out of something, or that it’s a disease,” she recalled telling teachers. “Dyslexia is a different brain organization that needs different teaching methods. It is never the fault of the child, but rather the responsibility of us who teach to find methods that work for that child.”

Wolf, who has a dyslexic son, is on a mission to spread the idea of “cerebrodiversity,” the idea that our brains are not uniform and we each learn differently. Yet when it comes to school, students with different brains can often have lives filled with frustration and anguish as they, and everyone around them, struggle to figure out what is wrong with them.

Diagnosing Dyslexia 

“Oh, she just hasn’t caught up yet,” is what Zanthe Taylor recalled her daughter Calliope’s teachers saying throughout first and second grades. Calliope, now 12, was in the slowest reading group at her Brooklyn private school, but teachers assured Taylor that Calliope was very bright and would catch up shortly.

In truth, Calliope wasn’t catching up. As peers began whizzing past her in reading, Taylor became more anxious and worried. Their collective frustration levels — both Calliope’s and her parents—soon reached a breaking point, especially after they’d hired a private tutor to help speed up her reading in the fall of second grade.

“She’d have massive tantrums over homework,” Taylor said. Calliope would be happy and fine all afternoon, but when it came time to do homework, she would refuse to begin. “She would scream and cry, then I would scream and cry,” Taylor said. “I once crumpled up the whole assignment and yelled, ‘What are we going to do?’ ”

Then one night, after four months of intensive (and expensive) tutoring, Taylor’s husband, Matthew, was talking to Calliope’s tutor on the phone when she mentioned the word “dyslexia.” A light went on. Taylor recalled that up to that point, everyone had been very careful not to say the word, but the tutor suggested that it might be time to have Calliope officially evaluated in order to receive more targeted instruction.

An intensive two-day battery of tests provided the data that Taylor, by this time, already knew: Calliope had dyslexia. Although she was very bright and displayed above-average social skills, without intense and specific intervention, she would never “catch up” in reading.

Taylor now knows that an overly emotional response to homework is common in those with dyslexia: Calliope didn’t know why she couldn’t read either. Now with a diagnosis and intensive intervention, Calliope is entering seventh grade with her peers. She’s able to accomplish all the work, although she requires more time. “I always disliked the words ‘learning differences,’ ” Taylor said. “But the more I get to know about this, the more I think it’s true.”

This kind of anxiety and frustration can be largely avoided, said Wolf, who is also director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.” She and colleague Martha Denckla designed a simple test to quickly know whether there is a problem in the reading circuit very early on, as early as kindergarten or first grade. Called the RAN/RAS test (Rapid Automatized Naming/Rapid Alternating Stimulus), students are timed on how fast they can name letters, numbers, colors and objects.

RAN/RAS or a comparable evaluation is one of the single best predictors that there’s something different in how the brain is putting together letters with their name, which is like a mini-version of the later reading circuit. While RAN/RAS cannot diagnose a reading problem, it does provide educators with a red flag, suggesting that students may need further evaluation.

In “Proust and the Squid,” Wolf writes that if she were given five minutes with all teachers and parents everywhere, she’d want them most to know that “learning to read, like Red Sox baseball, is a wonderful thing that can go wrong for any number of reasons.” For students accused of being stubborn or not working to their potential, often neither is true: Children with dyslexia need immediate and intensive intervention to connect the pieces of the reading circuit.

The Science of Reading and Dyslexia

The act of reading itself is anything but natural. Human brains weren’t designed to read: There is no “reading center” of the brain, and there are no “reading genes.” Instead, in order to read, each brain must fashion new circuits between parts originally designed to do other things, like retrieving the names for objects. These new circuits must not only combine many processes from different areas of the brain to form a specialized circuit just for reading — in order to become a fluent reader, the circuit also needs to run lightning-fast, nearly automatic.

Wolf has spent her career studying how the brain reads and, in some cases, how it doesn’t. “Because we have no pre-programmed wiring for reading [in the brain], we have to do something very different,” Wolf said. “What the brain does have — which is fantastic — is the ability to make new circuits based on new connections among its already-there parts. So, when I said [in the book] we were never born to read, that is the absolute truth. We weren’t. Each child has to do it by themselves.”

Since each brain must learn to read from scratch, as Wolf put it, “many things can happen along the way.” Dyslexia, originally called word-blindness, is a neurobiological condition describing the failure to read words and letters affecting an estimated 10-20 percent of schoolchildren, depending on whom you ask.

While classified as a “learning disability,” dyslexia is not a brain disorder or a disease, nor is it flipping letters backward. Often the failure to read is in direct opposition to a brain’s cognitive ability, leaving parents and teachers stymied when an otherwise intelligent child can’t spell words they’ve seen a thousand times, or put a sentence together.

Dyslexia, Wolf said, is the result of a brain that’s organized in a different way. In many children, this is because the right hemisphere tries to muscle the strengths of the left, specifically at tasks that are the domain of the left, like many language functions. When the reading circuit is being dominated by the right hemisphere, it takes longer for the information that goes to both hemispheres to get together.

In the dyslexic brain, there are several major areas that could develop problematically. (While there is no singular form of dyslexia, there are several profiles that appear most prominently.)

* Phoneme awareness, or knowing the sounds that correspond with letters and words, is the No. 1 deficiency in the dyslexic brain. “Our language is made up of 44 sounds called phonemes,” Wolf said. “English is trickier because we have phonemes that can be expressed in different letters, and we have letters that can stand for different phonemes. It’s an irregular language, and that adds to the complexity, but the underlying issue for many, but not all, children is problems in the basic representation of those phonemes.” Wolf said there are multiple areas of the brain contributing to our ability to represent phonemes, and that many dyslexic children have issues with developing phonemes, as well as knowing which sounds are assigned to which letters.

* Fluency, or getting the reading circuit to work together quickly, is the second-biggest issue.  “Children can have perfectly represented phonemes, but can’t get the phonemes together with the letters, because there’s a speed-of-processing issue,” Wolf said. “And part of that may well be because that right hemisphere is taking a longer time and trying to do what the left hemisphere usually does, in getting that circuit to work very fast together. That can mean not just the phonemes aren’t represented very well. It might also mean that letters aren’t getting represented very well, and that the circuit is not becoming automatic.”

* Comprehension is the third but no less crucial issue to reading. “After making letters and sounds work together, and getting the whole circuit to work in time, then words have to be connected to meanings and functions of grammar,” Wolf said. “It takes explicit work to get the visual representation, meaning, sound and grammatical function all working together, and that’s what dyslexic children must do.” Wolf said that often this kind of dyslexia doesn’t show itself until the child is older, third grade and up, when a child switches from learning to read to reading to learn.

“Some of our children can read words, but read them laboriously,” Wolf said. “And by fourth grade they’re a major failure and have never become fluent.” Many of these children are bright and have compensated up to this point by memorizing words, but have never learned to read fast enough to comprehend what they’re reading.

Understanding that these developments are nothing more than brain differences that can be aided with systematic and explicit instruction, Wolf said, is a large but necessary step for everyone involved: students, parents and teachers. When children find they’re unable to read or read with much difficulty, they often believe that it’s the result of a bad or broken brain. Some teachers may also unwittingly hold beliefs that reading happens for all children by a kind of osmosis.

Wolf insists that three decades of research has shown that neither are true, but keeping the truth about dyslexia hidden or misunderstood only hurts the students, their parents and the educators trying desperately to help them.

Understanding Dyslexia and the Reading Brain in Kids 1 October,2015Holly Korbey

  • Carol Black

    Of course children have different patterns of brain development — this would be obvious to everyone had we not created the artificial idea of universal “standards” of learning. But the problem with drawing conclusions about children’s reading difficulties based on the available research is that all the available research is based on children’s experience at school — where they will be humiliated, stigmatized, and made incredibly anxious if they read late. Substantial anecdotal evidence from children who don’t go to school and who do not follow school-based curricula or standards indicates that many children are in fact developmentally late readers — coming to fluent reading as late as 9, 10, or 11, but quickly “catching up” so that they are reading at or above “grade level” by their teens — with no long-term negative impacts on their academic achievement. More study of these learning patterns is essential before we conclude that early aggressive intervention is universally necessary or desirable. The arbitrary standards and pressures of school create a completely artificial environment for children’s development, and alter its course in significant ways.

    In other words, “collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.” http://schoolingtheworld.org/a-thousand-rivers/

    • Studio D

      “many children are in fact developmentally late readers — coming to
      fluent reading as late as 9, 10, or 11, but quickly “catching up” so
      that they are reading at or above “grade level” by their teens”

      Carol you might want to check my response to Amy above but I certainly fell into that category. In my case I’m almost certain that happened because my mind is so strongly visually oriented. I actually figured it out in a very odd manner. I was talking to a Author friend and sharing quotes from him from various novels, and at one point I was looking for a Quote from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing”. I was rapidly flipping through the pages stopped and handed him the book open to the passage. He got this curious look and said: How did you find that? I didn’t understand and he pointed out that I was moving too fast to read the words. He had his own copy from another printing and I had searched for the passage for maybe five minutes in his copy before pulling out my own in frustration. It took me less then a minute to find it once I had a copy I had read. We then realized after some discussion that I had recognized the shape of the words on the page

      . Just as I remembered the quote and page as a visual composition, I think I see words as objects or shapes rather then combinations of letters. If that is true it would certainly explain why I still can not spell, still can not see spelling errors, and went from hardly reading to the top of my class in reading and comprehension in the later grades. It’s all about the critical mass learning enough words to get the ideas.

  • Amy Hiss

    I’d love to see other experts weigh in on the “wait until 9, 10, and 11” to worry about “late” readers. This example pertains to home-schooling, but how many kids are actually home-schooled? I heard the “he just isn’t ready” excuse from too many otherwise excellent teachers (they just didn’t have expertise in this area), and my son has struggled and felt like a failure for far too many years. Reading problems trickle down into math problems, self esteem and anxiety and mental health problems, leading to a whole complex and firmly-rooted pattern of learning failure. Using the “they aren’t ready” approach just eventually feeds the school to prison pipeline and does nothing to help the large majority of students struggling trying to learn to read using whole sight word recognition techniques. We can do better and we should do better. Letting 10-20 percent of students fail or fail to live up to their potential is inexcusable.

    • Carol Black

      I agree with you that this approach does not work within the current school system; the damage done to kids in this context can be catastrophic. I’m simply pointing out that we still know very little about which problems are inherent to the child and which are created — or exacerbated — by the system. The Finnish school system waits to begin formal reading instruction until around age 7, and a new study from New Zealand which compares Waldorf schools, which begin reading instruction at 7, to public schools, which begin reading instruction at 5, has found no long-term advantage to early instruction: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/229433053_Children_learning_to_read_later_catch_up_to_children_reading_earlier

      In these cases, children are not stigmatized for being unable to read at 7, since all the kids are starting later (and in both cases there is greater emphasis on exercise and hands-on learning for young children, which may also help kids at risk for reading problems.) It would be very enlightening to learn more about the incidence and severity of reading difficulties under these different scenarios. This is not so much a suggestion that everyone homeschool as a suggestion that we use the experience of children in different contexts in order to try to learn more about which reading problems are intrinsic and which might be preventable.

    • Carol Black
    • Studio D

      Growing up in the 60s I struggled and failed when it came to reading for years, and no-one knew why. Then suddenly around sixth and seventh grade I went from not being able to read to being the fastest reader in my class and by collage I could easily read a 400 pages in a single evening. No-one got it at the time but now I understand why. My mind works on a visual almost pictorial basis and I essentially learned to read is if written English was a logographic or pictorial language. Initially I fell behind but once I learned enough words as single visual objects I could process the information faster then my peers. Spelling is another matter. I can not spell to this day because if the word has the right basic letters and is approximately the right size my mind autocompletes it. I can’t remember the correct sequences of letters and I can not see errors either. Writing was equally hard as I essentially approach each word like I’m making a drawing. Talk about the death of self esteem. I graduated high school with a low C average emotionally destroyed with hundreds of F papers and tests behind me. Everyone counted off for spelling. I could not write at reasonable speed, could not take notes, and could not spell the things I wrote down. It did not matter how intelligent my ideas were because I could not get my teachers to read them. Fortunately my SAT was off the charts and in collage I discovered word processing and spell check, or I would of never learned to write a paper, finished collage, or got my masters. I’ve been saying it for decades, but essentially there is this myth of normalcy where people have traditionally thought that everyone’s minds work the same way. The truth is all our minds are unique and the way to get the maximum level achievement or utilization is to embrace that difference, figure out how your mind works, then structure the way you learn or even live to maximize function. Use that idea with your children and they will succeed. Above all get them friendly with computers as soon as possible, buy them speech to text software, then teach them to type. Spelling is their self esteem enemy, Spell check is their best friend. I should know it’s already corrected dozens errors for me in this comment section alone.

  • AJ Wilcox

    “The act of reading itself is anything but natural. Human brains weren’t designed to read: There is no “reading center” of the brain, and there are no “reading genes.””

    There’s also no “complex center nor genes” for painting, math, nor any other of the myriad things we do with our brains. Read to your child from the moment they can first talk, and you’ll help them to become readers.

    • Kristin

      Yes, reading to one’s child early and frequently is of great benefit, but it does not “solve” dyslexia. I did and do still read aloud to my youngest child. He is 13 years old and dyslexic. My reading to him as a small child helped develop his large spoken vocabulary, but did little for his phonemic awareness and reading fluency. His comprehension when listening to text has been measured as that of a 12th grader, but his reading fluency (while greatly improved) is at a 4th-grade level. When listening to text, my son is able to pick up contextual clues, find the main idea and form a greater understanding of the material through inference. When he reads on grade level to himself, these skills fall away because of the dyslexia roadblocks. There are specific, empirical teaching methods that help dyslexic children learn to read, it is far too simplistic to say that for all children reading to them will make them readers.

      • Shreknangst

        You are correct. Reading to the child will not address their ability to process the visual images that are words.
        However, exposing them to as many sources of information as possible will provide a framework of knowledge that will, in turn, allow the child to restructure there processing method and thus read.
        Lawyers have a speed reading technique which applies to dyslexic: most of our written language is “boiler plate”, or standard stylistic presentation, dyslexic often learn to skip that and focus on the unusual text or relevant points. When watching tv sitcoms, or the less crippling dramas, you might see the boiler plate as script elements that are cliche.
        Teach your son about cliches and identifying them, his reading and grades will improve.

  • C Beck

    Wonderful article. Very informative. Please write a similar piece on Dyscalculia or specific learning disability in math. It affects children the same way. Tantrums and meltdowns over math. It is also largely ignored throughout grade levels but also deserves proper identification and targeted intervention. It is also greatly misunderstood.

    • Laura Haggarty

      I agree. We have it in our family and it’s an even bigger struggle because it’s less well known.

    • TealRose

      Agreed !! I learned to read very quickly and am a speed reader, but maths ?? Forget it. I have dyscalculia and was called lazy, stupid and worse at high school. I am 61 and can’t do my times tables, can barely add two numbers together if they are two or more digits … And can’t remember HOW to use various formulae, and couldn’t back track through several pages of my ‘workings out’ … because they made no sense to me once on paper either !!

      My children (now adults in their 30s) both have dyslexia, along with my husband (although his is not too bad) and my sister….

  • Endra

    Um, it discusses an “easy” assessment to determine whether there is a problem in the “reading circuit” and then immediately announces that there is no “reading circuit.”

    If there is no reading circuit, how can problems with it be measured?

    Did that really not jump out at anybody in editing? Fact checking? There are many assessments for specific reading disorders, but there is no one specific reading disorder (or problem that causes it). There is no one “different way to teach” that applies to all people with dyslexia. And that seems to be the general gist of the main body of this article, so why does the opening seem to entirely contradict it?

    I have a child with fluency issues, so that test looked relevant to me, but many kids with dyslexia don’t have fluency issues. The “reading circuit” is the whole brain, and the process can break down anywhere.

    • Shreknangst

      The problem is the language and written representation characters utilized by those who speak that language.
      Comically, dyslexic might develop an early need for glasses … the author of GRANDPA WAS A DEITY, who was diagnosed dyslexic in 1954, points out that dyslexic actually use the optic processing centers to think, or pre-process data.
      That has the dual effect of letting them make abstract intellectual connections consistently with an Einstein, and disrupting the more normal “flip” of visual images … hence the early connection to mirror reading.
      Note, the ability it read upside down and backwards is common and “normal”. But for the majority of people it is a conscious retailing of the optic nerve processor … a turning off of the filter.

    • Dogma

      You’re confusing “reading center” and “reading circuit.” The author says that there is no “reading center” in the brain; that is, reading is not a natural function of the brain. We have parts of the brain that very naturally function for spoken language, but not for written language. We must put forth special effort to get our brain to make the right connections to form a “circuit” for reading. The “reading circuit” is what forms during early reading instruction for most children, but for kids with dyslexia, typical reading instruction doesn’t result in the same circuit formation. The assessments mentioned help to determine what part of that circuit has yet to be formed adequately.

  • Carol

    While determining where the problem lies, be it decoding, fluency, or comprehension, is frequently established during evaluations in school, the tools, or training needed to remediate those problems are frequently not available to the educators who need to teach explicit reading strategies to students with dyslexic tendencies. I would like to see a follow up article on where educators could obtain those tools to use in their classrooms

    • Susi

      I completely agree. Diagnosis is nothing without proper remediation training and the tools and resources to get the job done.

    • Laura Monahan

      Carol, I agree wholeheartedly. This entire article could have been based on our experience with our now-4th grade son. He constantly tests “at grade level” for reading – and they insist that he comprehends what he is reading – so he doesn’t qualify for any kind of special ed. intervention (just a grade level reading group.) Knowing there was something at work here, we had Mac tested thoroughly over 3 ½ hours. The psychologist found definitive “working memory” issues consistent with dyslexia, and said without a doubt, that is the problem. Now, even though the school recognizes this, they are ill-equipped to really help him. He is bright, but has to work so much harder (and HATES it) at learning if he has to read. It is horribly frustrating, because it effects his confidence which leads to so much else. Luckily, we got Mac some tutoring at a center that works on his phonics, and that is helping. But oh, how I wish the school would know more about this issue!

      • Kendra Wagner

        This is my life calling, Laura and Carol. I used to be a reading specialist in schools up and down the West Coast, but I noticed a marked difference between generic struggling readers and dyslexics, so I went to get certified in many programs of intervention. And I chose that route because the average Special Ed. Master Degree or Literacy Degree does not address dyslexia at all. And some don’t do more than touch on phonological awareness and rapid naming as the “double deficit” in dyslexia that Mary Anne Wolf hammers home.
        I educate teachers on what dyslexia is, and they are so trained to think from the top down about reading, that I have come up with the analogy that they believe if they just put the right engaging book in their hands – abracadabra! – they will be readers!

        • SPGardner

          I taught myself to read by reading the comics every day in the paper.
          Even that was hard but over the years I found it took less time to get
          through the funnies and I wanted more. I would read magazines but just
          the captions under the pictures. I think the person who first came up
          with the idea of putting a short description under a picture must have
          been dyslexic. I took typing in high school boy was that tough the
          grade was based on how many words you can type in a minute. I couldn’t
          understand how people could type faster than they could read, go
          figure. I didn’t actually read a book all the way through until I was
          in my twenties. I can only read slightly faster than a person can talk.
          Reading out loud is eve slower. Because I read every word I now have
          them all memorized as a picture and often go by there (their?) shape.
          The internet is the best thing ever computers have been a blessing I
          work on the internet and one thing that computer / software is most
          focused on is getting what is inside someones head into the digital
          realm as fast as it can. Today I can learn / read / write more in a day
          than I could in a month the day I graduated from High School. I guess I
          was pretty lucky I figured out that if you showed up to class and payed
          close attention you could get a passing grade on the tests. I don’t
          remember reading a text book or ever doing home work. Not so much in
          math class so I didn’t take many I just majored in art so I could avoid
          the math stuff. Drafting was how I made a living for a long time by
          working in three dimensions it was easy for some reason and I discovered
          trigonometry. By that I mean I had to invent it from scratch and make
          it fit the real world version. I did it with the help of a chart I
          found on the last page of the Starrett tool catalog (page 558 of the new
          catalog) they have a triangle chart of all the possible solutions. It’s amazing
          you can use one chart to do every trig problem on any college trig exam
          with a calculator. Today I do graphic art for web sites using computer
          graphic tools I taught myself how to use and I’m slowly picking up html
          by just looking up stuff as I need it.
          Reading slow can also have it’s advantages. I have a friend who works in a law office proof reading
          contracts. Because he reads every word, like most of us here, he is
          able to see mistakes in contracts the law clerks, mostly fast readers,
          gloss over. We are able to work outside the box because we don’t see a
          box, therefor we aren’t trapped inside one. Some times I kind of feel sorry for people who can’t see outside their box.

        • Hi Kendra,

          I’m wondering….how often do you think ADHD is misdiagnosed as dyslexia?

          I know it used to happen very often. I’ve met adults with late-diagnosis ADHD whose reading challenges were always viewed through the “dyslexia” lens. Yet, once they medically treated their ADHD, they had no trouble with reading.

          So, I have to wonder, is the diagnosis of dyslexia more precise these days? Or it just another victim of stove-pipe thinking?

          • Kendra Wagner

            I don’t think it is misdiagnosed too often, by neuropsychologists, but it is by school psychologists who are not allowed to indicate anything about a medical condition, so they have to skirt around it and write on an assessment report that says,”parents may want to consult a pediatrician since focusing is an issue”, and no further conversation.

            And I am sure you are aware that there IS PROVEN co-morbidity, which is a fancy way of saying that two disabilities co-exist in someone. 60-70% of dyslexics are both ADHD and dyslexic. However, the phonological processing loop, which moves slowly or inaccurately while processing letters into sounds, tests out the same in deficiency after ADHD treatment is underway, with medication and behavior modification. One thing I DO notice is when children get medicated, their attention is so much better that they get more out of their instruction, and the brain is stickier.

            http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

          • Interesting! Thank you, Kendra. Very helpful.

          • Rejoove

            The co-morbidity of ADD/ADHD and dyslexia is very interesting to me. I’m a clinical nutritionist and work directly supporting over a thousand holistic doctors. The correlation between common food allergens (gluten, dairy, soy, etc) and brain behavior as profound. The gut-brain connection was considered “woo-woo” in the 1970’s and is now proven. In fact, most of the brains nuerotransmitters are ALSO produced in the gut! The gut (and the brain) are directly impacted by;
            food allergies to common foods,
            dysbiosis (good bacteria overwhelmed by pathogenic bacteria),
            and fungal or parasitic infections.
            These common conditions often lead to a break down in the intestinal lining (“leaky gut”) where the outside world is able to directly enter the inside world (blood stream, organs, etc).
            The studies on ADD/ADHD have significant correlation with food allergies, ranging from 60-70%. That is huge. So if there is co-morbitity with dyslexia, then it only stands to reason there is a link with digestive/gut health.
            Before drugging our children, we should look at the diet and rule out very common digestive disorders that directly impact and affect the brain.

          • De facto: When someone uses the phrase “drugging children” in a public forum, all credibility is lost.

            You are putting so many carts before the horse, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I’ll just let you do more research and try to look beyond your own professional interests and see if you can figure it out.

          • Rejoove

            Gina, I recognize that there are spectrum of “tools’ available to address health concerns. If offended you regarding drugs and children, I apologize. More than 60% of the US population is on at least 1 pharmaceutical drug and our entire health care model is centered around it, My expertise is in the use of natural tools, to which you will also need to do your research. My professional interests are in no way directly benefited by my comments, so I’m not sure where that came from. That you are even responding in an attack mode is perplexing. Take what you need and ditch the rest.

          • Kendra Wagner

            When I first heard about allergies and nutritional therapies and leaky gut remedies that my clients were trying out I was very hopeful. But hundreds of families later (I worked in schools back then, plus had a private practice, so I got wind of many parents’ journeys to help their ADD child) I have observed little to no change in their brain’s ability to harness attention, stay organized, focus on non-fascinating things, like homework or folding laundry, and monitor their internal time management clock. Parents have reported that it took the edge off, and they were less reactive, or less whiny, but it didn’t truly change the dopamine in their brain.

    • Amy Logan

      Me too, Carol

  • Katrina Beatty

    How is the new New York State ELA Common Core Regents test 11th graders take a level playing field for kids with Dyslexia? The idea that this test could determine weither a child can have their Regents Diploma seems absurd and backward and wholly unfair!

  • Shreknangst

    In the book, GRANDPA WAS A DEITY, the author talks about dyslexia from the viewpoint of having been diagnosed in 1954, after apparently being unable to read by fifth grade and yet scoring in the top thirty of the million NYC students who were IQ tested that year.
    The book, WHY JOHNNY CAN’T READ, was largely based on two individuals — the westerners of its author, and the boy who became author of GRADPA WAS A DEITY. As stated in “GRANDPA”, in 1954, the “JOHNNY” author worked extensively with the young boy and the result was an ongoing study of the boys progress, and the development of the NYC special ed program which became the model for all special education. By 1980, the boy was internationally listed/described in a expanding number of financial and literary WHO’S WHO type biographical references.
    Back then it was called mirror reading, flipping words and letters, the ability to read upside down and backwards faster than one could read forwards. It is also, apparently, a genetic trait that can be passed on and is almost unnoticed in cultures that use pictorial based alphabets (Hebrew, Chinese, etc).
    There is an axiom, a version of which is inferred by a statement on teaching in the article: YOU CAN TEACH ANYTHING TO ANYONE, IF YOU PHRASE IT PROPERLY. Thus teacher, not student, is the weakness in the educational system … a weakness promoted by a somewhat “tongue in cheek” educational school axiom: THOSE WHO CAN, DO; THOSE WHO CAN’T, TEACH; THOSE WHO CAN’T TEACH, TEACH TEACHERS.
    We might venture that, in addition to the teaching anyone axiom, the “GRANDPA” author might add a new one, one significant infers of his other recent books: THOSE WHO DO NOT WANT TO LEARN BECOME CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS.

  • Carrie Bennett

    44 sounds in the English language… Isn’t it 144?? Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems wrong?!

    • mray2b1

      Phonemes, when put together do make more than 44, the human sound system is capable of understanding all the phonemes in the world but by a year we only register the ones we hear around us and for English that is 44.

  • jjca

    Diagnosed with dyslexia & adhd when I was 7 in 1977. There is no doubt they would have me on the Autism spectrum today. Grew up, i’ve done really well despite the rest of you.

    • Betty Spindler

      Yes, I was 37 at community collage when tested and told I was dyslexic that was 1979. From bottom up classes to graduating with honor’s and on to UC Santa Cruz. Still not a reader, its hard work for me, and I would love to be a good reader but you can’t have it all. I am a ceramic artist and doing well, in 5 gallerys at this time. Reading, spelling and math are not my best subjects, I am a visual learner. Betty Spindler you can find me on Google

  • lynn hughes

    I have read this article, and all the comments. I am 61. In school my teachers, parents, and classmates called me stupid. The Drs. Called me dyslexic. I tend to believe the Drs. But I find it very hard to not think of myself as stupid. When I read I pull letters and words from all over the page. I make up new words with the letters. And add change sentences by adding or subtracting words. It makes it impossible to understand what I read.
    I find it very hard to write. d,b,q,p which on do I want to use.
    Today most of my friends know I struggle with this. Now the think I am maybe not very smart, and childish.
    I tell people I am not as stupid as they think I am. It does not work. Quite often I have to concentrate for a second to think of the right word to say when talking. I know I pronounce words wrong sometimes. When I am writing I quite often have to change my wording because I just can’t figure out how to spell a word that I can’t pronounce to begin with. And boy spell checker can sure mess me up with the way it changes what I spell.
    My dad always told me I was to stupid to fly a plane. Many times my family was always telling me I was to stupid. I DONT TALK TO MY FAMILY ANY MORE. I AM NOT STUPID.
    And last December, I flew a plane!

    • TealRose

      Well done Lynn!! You .. are NOT STUPID you are amazing and awesome !!! (I am 61 also by the way!) Most children/adults who have dyslexia are quite to very intelligent. My husband was never diagnosed .. but realised that he has dyslexia too in a mild form, once both our children were diagnosed. Our daughter who is in her mid 30s has ‘auditory’ dyslexia too .. and that answers why she appeared never to be listening .. or that things ‘Went in one ear and out the other’ !! She has been a mortgage advisor in a bank, and after going back to university for two years, graduated a year ago and became a nursery school teacher ( and is able to teach up to about 7 yrs old I believe). She is a bright spark and has two children of her own, one of whom also appears to have dyslexia too .. but is managing to read and write quite well now – he is 10 yrs old and his school has always helped him.

    • Yoda

      Wow! I too have the same issues as you when I read. I haven’t ever been tested or diagnosed. But I know that I have reading disability. However, when a family member starts verbally abusing you… well that’s not cool. I just want you to know I and more people like us are going through the same thing. We aren’t aline. Also, if you’re flying a plane you’re not stupid. I wish you good luck with your family and in life.

    • Holly

      I can relate! You’re not stupid Lynn, because if you’re stupid, I’m stupid! I’m 57 and when I was in school the ‘slow kids’ didn’t get help. I just remember feeling ashamed for being in the stupid reading group. Not knowing how to spell & pronounce words is so frustrating. More frustrating is trying to find a job and all the jobs I want, want to give me a test on spelling & punctuation. It freaks me out – I tell my family I can’t do it – they say “it’s nothing, you’ll do fine”! they really don’t understand how hard it is…I wish I could write whatever I wanted without struggling for words, second guessing if that was the proper way to ‘say it’ or did I spell & punctuate correctly! On the other hand I know I’m very smart – It’s in numbers, artistic and I’m a logical person. So you can’t have everything!

  • debbie roland

    Dr. Nash said this same thing 25 years ago.. What you are saying is so true.

  • Daniel Scott

    Articles like this and almost every other by KQED should be translated into Chinese for our teachers and admin to read. What amazing guidance here. Thank you!

  • Why is this author developing a new term to represent neurodiversity? Is she trying to separate LD from other neurobiological conditions? Although the neurodiversity movement includes developmental delays and mental health issues, it is intended expressly to support people who have differences get the supports they need.

    I’m concerned about the tendency to frame any given neurobiological difference as “better” than another – we should be focused on supporting all children and adults whose needs are not being met.

  • Jessica Sladek Troike

    I am a teacher here: http://www.lawrenceschool.org in Ohio. We teach our children differently, so they can read. Amazing place with amazing dyslexic students and parents that want to see their children succeed.

  • Laura Haggarty

    How does dyscalculia fit into this model? (It’s similar to dyslexia but involves numbers rather than letters.) Both of my daughters and I have it, and I had a very hard time in school because of it.

  • Angela Evoy

    I have dyscalculia not dyslexia but can relate. I returned to college at 35 and still have massive anxiety when I have homework with numbers and math. I just don’t seem to be able to recognize numbers all of the time, it’s like they have been zapped out of existence but all the words are still there. It’s annoying AF.

  • tanya morris

    My son was diagnosed in Kindergarten with Dyslexia and later on Dysgraphia and ADHA. I immediately got rid of the TV and vetoed any video games-to much wailing I might add. We played board games and listened to books. Today my son is a second year medical student. The persistence he developed in dealing with learning to read and write served him well in medical school. And yes, I’m proud as punch:):)

  • Brenda

    What is the best systematic i struction for the dsylexic child?

  • SandraMud1

    Interesting….The progressives were a peculiar bunch. They were members of the Protestant academic elite who no longer believed in the religion of their fathers. They put their new utopian faith in science, evolution, and psychology. Science explained the physical world, evolution explained the origin of living matter (the first living entity crawled out of the primal ooze), and psychology permitted the scientific study of human nature and suggested ways of controlling the behavior of human beings. http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/education/item/19587-sight-method-of-teaching-reading-causes-dyslexia

  • justme

    When will teachers be taught the specialized instruction that’s required?

  • Terry B.

    Thank you Orton Gillingham, for pointing out how important the idea of “multisensory learning” plays in creating new neural pathways!

    • JKOHL

      yes. My daughter with dyslexia was helped with approx 2 yrs of 2x/wk of Wilson Reading System (OG based). She is now entering high school with minimal accommodations and doing very well.

  • George Mecca

    Great peice. One size will never fit all. A standardized educationl system by defenition will always be narrow. 80% is pretty good unless you are in the 10% to 20% group. I am not using spell check as much today to make my point. I thought that I was dumer than everyone. Turns out the opposit is probably treu. I am sixty and very succesfull. Just not at reading or spelling. I wish I had all the time I waisted in special ed, to working on my strength rathers than tring to fit in so I could sit in a cubical as an adult. I don’t have dislexia. I am dylslexic.
    What else don’t we know.
    I recomend the book, The Dyslexic Advantage. It took me a month to read it. I also recomend, recorded books. I finaly began enjoying literature. Reading, like speacking English in the states is nessesary but hardly the best or only language. Love your children. We all understand that. I think?

  • SPGardner

    I taught myself to read by reading the comics every day in the paper.
    Even that was hard but over the years I found it took less time to get
    through the funnies and I wanted more. I would read magazines but just
    the captions under the pictures. I think the person who first came up
    with the idea of putting a short description under a picture must have
    been dyslexic. I took typing in high school boy was that tough the
    grade was based on how many words you can type in a minute. I couldn’t
    understand how people could type faster than they could read, go
    figure. I didn’t actually read a book all the way through until I was
    in my twenties. I can only read slightly faster than a person can talk.
    Reading out loud is even slower. Because I read every word I now have
    them all memorized as a picture and often go by there (their?) shape.
    The internet is the best thing ever computers have been a blessing I
    work on the internet and the one thing that computer / software is most
    focused on is getting what is inside someones head into the digital
    realm as fast as it can. Today I can learn / read / write more in a day
    than I could in a month the day I graduated from High School. I guess I
    was pretty lucky I figured out that if you showed up to class and payed
    close attention you could get a passing grade on the tests. I don’t
    remember reading a text book or ever doing home work. Not so much in
    math class so I didn’t take many I just majored in art so I could avoid
    the math stuff. Drafting was how I made a living for a long time by
    working in three dimensions it was easy for some reason and I discovered
    trigonometry. By that I mean I had to invent it from scratch and make
    it fit the real world version. I did it with the help of a chart I
    found on the last page of the Starrett tool catalog (page 558 of the new
    catalog) they have a triangle chart of all the possible solutions. It’s amazing
    you can use one chart to do every trig problem on any college trig exam
    with a calculator. Today I do graphic art for web sites using computer
    graphic tools I taught myself how to use and I’m slowly picking up html
    by just looking up stuff as I need it.
    Reading slow can also have it’s advantages. I have a friend who works in a law office proof reading
    contracts. Because he reads every word, like most of us here, he is
    able to see mistakes in contracts the law clerks, mostly fast readers,
    gloss over. We are able to work outside the box because we don’t see a
    box, therefor we aren’t trapped inside one. Some times I kind of feel sorry for people who can’t see outside their box. So remember dyslexia can be a feature as well as a bug.

  • Patricia O’Hare Williams

    Reading and interactive material specifically built on structured literacy framework for Dyslexia is limited in the market. Educators speak to panicking parents everyday who know what structured literacy is and many people are looking for this approach in readers. Hop On Reading Series One’s structured and systematic method supports the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading. It is new to the market, fun and an educated way to learn to read. It is available as an ebook and can be downloaded from all channels worldwide as Hop On Reading Series One.

  • Very interesting article.

    I can’t help but wonder why no mention was made of ADHD, because it is too often misdiagnosed as dyslexia (or all the other “dys” conditions….dysgraphia, dyscalculia, etc.).

    ADHD can present a myriad of obstacles to reading and reading comprehension, many of them greatly mitigated by medication.

    As for humans not being “born to read,” I suspect there are many other activities we take for granted that we weren’t “born” to do, either—cook, drive, talk on the phone, etc.

  • Eilish Baldwin Cardone

    Check out Windward School in White Plains, NY and Manhattan, Orton Gillingham system. Life changing for dyslexic children.

  • Russel Fugal

    I love this picture of the mind. Who can I talk to about copyright?

  • T. Cartagena

    As a speech/language pathologist I find this area fascinating and this article useful. Thank you!!! The one issue that bothers me as I read this article as well as others, it the phrase “…child is dyslexic”…. My personal opinion is that a child “has dyslexia” is more appropriate. Personally, I am not “anxiety”, I possess anxiety. It seems paramount to me that whatever disorder we discuss, that we always maintain and respect the person first, and the condition as something he/she deals with on a daily basis. Just my two cents.

  • As with most things in life, good things come to people who put in the effort to realize their goals and dreams. Your child needs to be reminded that there are ways for them to build upon the setbacks in their life and persevere. All it takes is dedication and the determination to not let themselves be held back.
    Sharing an excellent article with you all: https://winstonprep.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/teach-your-dyslexic-child-how-to-build-on-setbacks/

  • Bev

    I taught myself to read whole words in 1st grade–never understood phonetics, still can’t sound out words. But I read between 500 and 900 words a minute (depending upon the test material) with 100% comprehension. On some testing sites, I read faster than speed readers by reading only whole words and skipping articles/punctuation. In first grade, I saw my first library and would check out 10 or more picture books every day. It was like a smorgasbord to see all of this pretty books just for me. But I can’t spell at all. If it weren’t for spell check, my sci-fi short stories, and articles for national art magazines would never have been published. My years as a newspaper art critic and my current job as a technical writer for a University Engineering Research Center would have happened without Microsoft Word spellcheck.

    But I have dyslexia in every other way: including math or dyscalculia; no sense of direction; no inner clock that tells me how much time has passed; and I can’t speed-read at all. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me. When my mom and I would get tired, we would talk backwards (mix-up the front of the sentence with the back half). Most of the time we didn’t even realize we were doing that until we saw the look on other people’s faces. Making a phone call, it’s an adventure. I never know who I am going to get on the other end because I usually can’t push the right button. I tell my mind it’s a number 6 and watch my finger press 9. If it weren’t for my calculator, I would not be able to do simple math.
    I’m always lost–never remember the streets or how to get somewhere. The only reason I know right from left is that I visualize my right hand writing. I could not “tell time” until 8th grade nor find a word in a dictionary because “if you can’t spell it, how can you look it up?” And of course, I can’t recite the alphabet unless I sing that annoying song in my head.

    Algebra? Take two numbers, put them on top of each other, put an “x” next to them, add another set of numbers, then take them and turn them upside down to get an answer. Add fractions, make my brain explode. I can’t follow it, it’s like colors that clash or when someone sings off key. I can’t hardly look at it because it gets flipped and put things upside down and reverse, etc. No way does that work for me.

    But I do write well and read wicked fast in spite of NEVER SOUNDING OUT A WORD or being able TO SPELL. My creative brain works differently than most people. That makes me unique with talents and skills that the average person can only dream of–I can design, draw or paint a picture in my head and put it on paper or canvas. If it doesn’t match what I saw in my mind, I destroy it. I know what I wanted it to look like and the finished product did not match my imagination. My paintings have been juried into national/international art shows from LA to Chicago to NYC.

    I suggest that confining dyslexia to a “reading-only” problem narrows the mind set of professionals, and limits research. It clouds the central issue that a segment of the population sees the world in a different way than the majority of people. Dyslexia and dyscalculia are different sides of the same coin. This “special” wiring gave our world these unique and creative talents:

    Leonardo De Vinci had a short attention span and only finished about 30 works. He made a notebook where he wrote down his designs and ideas backwards and reversed. Mozart wrote his music in his head and wrote down each piece once with no changes. Tesla could visualize how a machine works in his mind, take it apart and put it back together, build it and have it work perfectly. Einstein couldn’t pass algebra but his understanding of physics is still astonishing scientists today. Jack Horner, one of the most famous paleontologist in the world, could not read nor write to pass tests to get his college degree. But he wrote 10 books, published over a 100 papers on dinosaurs, and consulted with Steven Spielberg on the Jurassic Park movies.

    By attempting to make us conform to school standards devised for the non-dyslexic mind, you bind our creativity and strangle our unique talents. Don’t attempt to make us like everyone else. Accept us as not as “learning disabled” or “challenged” but “learning uniquely”. We are not dumb, stupid or lazy. Stop arguing that the problems of dyscalculia, spatial issues, hearing backwards are not true dyslexia. It’s different sides of the same coin. Don’t squabble over whether or not someone like me who reads/writes well has official “dyslexia”. Instead, find a way to teach our children and help adults to succeed in a world where they may never be able to read, do math or write but can be brilliant and special in so many different ways.

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Author

Holly Korbey

Holly Korbey's work on parenting and education has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Babble, Brain, Child Magazine, and others. She lives in Nashville with her family. Follow her on Twitter: @HKorbey

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