What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia means many different things to different people. The usual definition of dyslexia involves difficulty pronouncing, reading, and recalling sounds, letters and words, often leading to difficulties in comprehension. It seems to be characterized by a neurological dysfunction in the left side of the brain to various degrees.

Practically, however, most dyslexics do not get an MRI, so parents and teachers need guidance in realistic and effective practices, medical diagnosis or not. Dyslexia most often affects reading, rather than math skills.

Development of fluent word analysis skills is necessary, whether the approach is phonetic, linguistic, or multi-sensory.

Dyslexics can and do learn to read.  Whether they overcome their disability or just find ways to compensate is still debated. Here are some points to remember about how to remediate dyslexia.  (See also Helping the Troubled Reader.)

  • Analyze strengths and weaknesses.
  • Decide on priorities for instruction. Figure out where a breakdown in this fundamental skill sequence is occurring:
    1. letter identification
    2. letter-sound correspondence
    3. blending sounds into words
    4. rhyming and word families (sometimes more effective with students who fail at phonics)
    5. short and/or long vowels and vowel combinations
    6. high-frequency, irregular sight words
    7. fluent phrasing
    8. literal comprehension skills
    9. inferential comprehension skills
  • Reading Spotlight’s free Reading Profile might be helpful with this diagnosis.
  • Decide on effective strategy.  Remember that humans think and process in patterns, and multiple ways of providing practice in fundamental decoding and spelling skills is necessary. Reading Spotlight’s Reading Tutor Sets, Vowel Tutor Sets, Word Searches, and many Bingo Games provide alternate practice experiences in an enjoyable way. They are based on a word family pattern approach, which is often effective with students who have not learned to decode with phonics instruction. They and many other inexpensive practice materials can be found in the Reading Spotlight Store.
  • Offer many, repeated examples of learning the objective skill. It is necessary to over-practice and over-learn to mastery. In classrooms today, much is taught, but little is taught to mastery. This is why it seems that there are more dyslexics than ever.  Our teachers have so much content to teach that many children who require more practice are not getting it, and dyslexics are at the top of that list.
  • Parents, from Day 1 in school, must go over the papers the child brings home each day and make sure (s)he understands that day’s lessons. Extra practice is often necessary!  There are many “teacher stores.” TPT ( www.teacherspayteacher.com) is obviously my favorite, and you don’t have to be a teacher to purchase.  Most products are reasonably priced. They have numerous practice pages which present the exact reading content your child is learning in school, but in a different presentation.
  • Community or private tutoring are options.
  • Model how you decode a word, how you remember a word, and how you reason while you read.  Copying is a fundamental human characteristic. It is also the easiest way to learn.
  • Build confidence with easy material at first.  Remember that a learner who has repeated failure probably avoids the cause of that failure as much as possible. Use Reading Spotlight’s QRLE (Quality Reading Level Evaluation to help decide when a book is too difficult.
  • Be positive and provide real, meaningful praise whenever possible. See our Free Tip: Praise Brings More Than Smiles.
  • Our Blog Posts: Is Dyslexia A Gift ? and  Happy Students Learn Better  are also helpful.
  • For an interesting analysis of the benefits of the struggles of some successful dyslexics, read “Part Two: The Theory of Desirable Difficulty” in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath, Hachette Book Group, Inc. 2013.


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