October is Dyslexia Awareness Month… but is it dyslexia or something else?
Inattention is often the first and most obvious symptom observed by teachers when children struggle in school. This drives parents to their healthcare provider with the question, “Does my child have ADHD?”
The challenge behind this question is that inattention, squirming in the chair, staring into space, getting a slow start on tasks, poor listening, and taking forever to complete homework can be the result of ADD/ADHD, but even more often, they can be symptoms of dyslexia or other learning problems.
Dyslexic students are often misunderstood at school. Some are so verbal and charming that only their parents realize how much they’re struggling and how much time and effort it takes for them to read and write. At school, they may be perceived as bright, verbal students who don’t always put their best effort into schoolwork.
Sometimes a student’s skills are just strong enough that no one realizes there’s a reading problem.
Letters and words may be hard to look at and sounds may not really make sense. Instead, they may use a combination of their powers of deduction from pictures, their own knowledge, and what they’ve memorized from group reading to basically figure out what the page might say, in order to answer the questions.
But often, their mind drifts away from this taxing process, and so they’re pegged as ADD. What they can create in their mind is usually far more entertaining than a jumble of words and letters that don’t really make sense.
Weak underlying learning/processing skills can cause smart students to struggle in school. In the case of dyslexia, the underlying skills specifically relate to being able to process the sounds in words and neuro-timing differences, which can trigger typical dyslexic symptoms and disorientation on the page.
It’s hard to pay attention when we’re confused or when information doesn’t make sense, as is so often the case for dyslexic students. However, the attention challenges experienced by dyslexic learners, which are so evident in relation to schoolwork and homework, are not generally pervasive, as is the case with true ADD/ADHD.
While every dyslexic student is different, common characteristics include:
• High intelligence
• Good comprehension
• Strong ability to visualize pictures/real things (vs. letters and words)
• Creative thinking
• Weak ability to retain an accurate image of words (sight words for reading and spelling)
• Weak phonemic awareness (ability to think about the sounds in words)
• Extremely poor decoding skills (sounding out words)
• Visual disorientation when looking at the page (i.e., letters appear to be 3D, wiggle, pulsate, or move around the page)
• Family history of dyslexia
• Strong talents in other areas such as math or the arts, or mechanical or athletic abilities
It’s commonly believed that dyslexia cannot be corrected – that you just have to cope with it. This is simply not true.
ADD meds will not solve dyslexic challenges, but retraining the auditory and visual systems to process the sounds and letters on the page accurately get the brain ready to learn, retain, and comfortably use reading and spelling skills.
Dyslexia and learning challenges can be changed – permanently!
Jill Stowell, M.S., is Founder and Executive Director of Stowell Learning Centers, Inc. and author of At Wit’s End: A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities. Learn more at www.LearningDisability.com.