Dyslexia definition now covers wider range of reading disorders
March 20, 2012
By Tom Corrigan
There are several myths about the reading disability known as dyslexia, according to Cornell Atwater, director of Issaquah’s Learning Rx center.
For one thing, and perhaps most importantly, dyslexia has nothing to do with mixing up letters. People who have dyslexia do not necessarily see words differently than other people. Further, persons diagnosed with dyslexia do not have one single form of reading disorder.
“Dyslexia really encompasses anyone who has difficulty reading,” Atwater said.
For her part, Kathy Gottlieb agreed. Gottlieb is a literacy TOSA (teacher on special assignment) with the Issaquah School District. She said the district does not use the word “dyslexia” in describing student reading problems.
“It’s a medical diagnosis,” Gottlieb said, later adding that the district does complete comprehensive testing for reading disabilities.
Instead of mixed up letters that need to be descrambled, Atwater talked about reading disabilities or dyslexia in terms of coding and decoding words or letters. Persons may have problems with connecting letters or words on a page with the sounds usually connected with those words or letters.
In addition to auditory processing problems, those with reading disabilities may have visual processing difficulties as well. When the brain’s working memory and processing centers all cooperate with each other, there are no problems. Dyslexia occurs when you can’t, for example, properly visualize a letter or word.
Gottlieb described decoding problems as the inability to recognize individual words and know what they mean. She talked about those with disabilities reading a paragraph on a page and having no idea what it meant. The brain’s decoding of what is on the page is slow or interrupted. Atwater said much the same. For those with reading problems, she added, getting through a paragraph or a page of written materials is a lot of work.
“And you’re not going to like to read,” Atwater said.
For adults who have struggled with possibly undiagnosed reading problems their whole lives, their brains can take up to three steps to read a line that others can comprehend much more quickly, she added. She further talked about persons having problems with similar words, such as “pair” and “pear.”
How does one deal with dyslexia or reading disabilities once they are discovered? For Gottlieb, a diagnosis of “dyslexia” isn’t even very helpful.
“Every kid who comes to the table with a reading disability has unique problems,” she said.
The district response is set to queue up individual education plans for students needing extra help. Plans can include many types of instruction and tutoring, for example focusing on phonics — teaching students the sounds that go with the letters on the page.
In some cases, Atwater said an MRI can help identify what parts of the brain are having difficulties. The most important thing, she said, is to identify the type of cognitive skill that is impaired. Once that is done, clients of Learning Rx are placed with teachers who can help build the needed skills. Practice might be a key to solving the problem.
Gottlieb said that unfortunately some parents believe there is a magic formula, a program that the child just needs to go through and everything will be fine. She emphasized that each student with a reading difficulty needs individual attention.
Issaquah resident and parent Kimberly Undi said her son was flagged as potentially having a reading problem in kindergarten. He was given an IEP in second grade.
“He really has struggled right along,” Undi said.
She said she believes he entered middle school without being able to read and write. Her son is now a junior in high school and goes through several hours of tutoring per week outside of school, including at Learning Rx.
“It’s taken him a long time, but things are starting to click for him,” Undi said.
She had some advice for parents whose children may be struggling with reading and writing. Undi said she believes some parents need to grieve for the child they believed their youngster was supposed to be. One trick is writing a different story for your child. She also wanted to pass on what she called some of the best advice she ever received.
“Don’t base your relationship with your child on a spelling test, on academics,” Undi said.
Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.