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What is Dyslexia?

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Learning disabilities can be tricky for teachers. Perhaps the most well-known one is dyslexia, which is a learning disorder related to reading. Special education teachers can have a hard time learning to manage it and helping students with this condition learn to read effectively. In this post, we are covering what dyslexia is, how it presents in the classroom, and what teachers can do to help their students with dyslexia learn. 

It is common for people to get frustrated with children who have learning disabilities. Often this comes from a lack of understanding of what a learning disability is and how it affects a child. 

This even happens with dyslexia, despite it being one of the most known and recognized learning disabilities in this day and age.

Normally when people are looking for a learning disability they’re looking for signs that someone has trouble learning all things in general or has some kind of intelligence problem.

In reality, children with a learning disability have a normal intelligence level. A learning disability is typically seen when the child’s intelligence level and abilities outstrip what they are able to demonstrate in school.

Their academic performance does not match their intelligence or ability level. That is a classic sign of a learning disability. 

Learning disabilities can occur in reading, writing, and math. Today we are going over dyslexia, which is a learning disability in the area of reading. 

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The first thing you as a professional should probably know is that dyslexia is not an official name. It cannot be used in paperwork or reports. The DSM V does not recognize the term. When you’re writing IEPs it’s called a “specific learning disability in the area of reading.”

That term however is super awkward to write, so for our purposes, I’m just going to call it dyslexia. 

Dyslexia affects a child or adult’s ability to decode words, comprehend, and generally read texts without errors. 

Commonly on television shows or in movies, dyslexia is shown as a bunch of letters or numbers jumping around on a page. However, this is not a true representation of dyslexia. It can affect students in many different ways and is not a visual problem.

People with dyslexia struggle with decoding, which is the process of connecting letters or combinations of letters to certain sounds. People with dyslexia might not be able to remember which letters make which makes learning to read difficult. 

Some people with dyslexia report learning to read not through sounds, but by memorizing the shape of different letters. It is not unheard of for people with dyslexia who are fluent readers to have almost no phonemic awareness. 

Check out this video from an MIT professor for a first-hand account.

People with dyslexia often struggle with

  • Decoding words and phonemic awareness
  • Learning Sight Words
  • Spelling
  • Rhyming Words
  • Reading Fluency

For more information on Dyslexia click here!

Parents, teachers, and caregivers have to know what dyslexia does to a student. 

Students might have strong feelings and emotions when asked to read. This can steam from frustration at being asked to do something they struggle with or a lack of confidence from seeing their peers excel at reading while they do not.

It is unreasonable to ask some students with dyslexia to learn through reading when it is a skill they struggle to master. 

Typically students are reading to learn in the third grade a beyond. If a student is still struggling with reading, they can miss out on content instruction. That will only put them further behind, possibly damaging their relationship with school.

It is important to make sure children with dyslexia have appropriate modifications in place for certain assignments, in order for them to continue learning the general education curriculum, despite their learning disability.

All teachers, whether gen ed or special ed, must remain encouraging and positive of their students with learning disabilities. It is common for children with dyslexia to hate school and reading because both are so hard for them. 

Encourage students to compare their progress to themselves and themselves only, rather than looking at what other people can do. 

If your students with dyslexia struggle to learn decoding and they are in an upper grade, you can’t reasonably expect them to read an article for science class and learn the content you expected.

Whenever you ask someone with dyslexia to read, their focus and attention will often be on the reading itself, because they do not have the skills to do that without thinking. None of their energy will go into learning the content they are reading about.

That means reading activities should be saved for intervention time and independent reading. In other words, your students should be reading to themselves only during reading class.

However, in science, social studies, or other classes where they need to read to learn, adaptations have to be made. These can include 

  • Reading text aloud to students
  • Audiobooks
  • Popcorn reading with a group
  • Utilizing Read Aloud Technology

Whenever your ultimate goal with your students is to learn something that is not a reading skill, you will need to make these adaptations. This will allow students to learn skills and not be hampered by their disability.

My students with dyslexia all make use of a software called Read and Write, which can be installed in Chromebooks.

That is why I often try to get children a dedicated device on their IEPs so that they can use this technology in all classes.

Read and Write will read texts aloud to them that are found online. It will also simplify pages to remove unnecessary distractions and has a built-in note-taking system. 

On top of that getting your students a dedicated Chromebook can help with their spelling and writing assignments. Commonly people with dyslexia struggle to spell correctly, even at an older age. 

Having a computer allows them to use spell check and edit their own work, reducing any embarrassment they might feel about their disability.

I like to make sure to always have a few games on hand for my students with dyslexia to practice their spelling. 

These can include word games like spelling bee, wordle, or crossword puzzles. Wordsearches and other games that work on finding letters and creating words are also wonderful

For more tips and tricks on games for students with dyslexia check out this blog post!

Though Dyslexia is commonly known in the world of TV characters and mainstream media, it is still very misunderstood.

People who are unaware of how it typically presents might miss the signs and symptoms of dyslexia their child or student is exhibiting. 

Remember children with learning disabilities are intelligent people, who just struggle to demonstrate their intelligence. With proper support and adaptations, they can of course go on to lead fulfilling, professional lives.

Just make sure to make adaptions so their disability doesn’t interfere with them learning other academic content, and they’ll keep growing and progressing. 

And don’t forget that there are other learning disabilities in our world besides dyslexia. To learn more about a learning disability that affects writing, click here! 

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