Master of Science

Saturday, June 29, 2013

All About Dyslexia: A Remembrance

The Science Daily reported that a study published online (and in the American Journal of Human Genetics) found genetic variants in the genome of dyslexic children.  The finding may help lead to an earlier diagnoses.  According to the article, many dyslexic students are not diagnosed until high school, at which point treatments are less effective.

“Senior author Dr. Jeffrey R. Gruen, professor of pediatrics, genetics, and investigative medicine at Yale, analyzed data from more than 10,000 children, the article said.  Gruen, and his colleagues, successfully unraveled the genetic components of reading and verbal language. In the process, they identified the variants that can predispose children to dyslexia and language impairment, increasing the likelihood of earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.”

This is good news.  Today there is a myriad of information about dyslexia; many online sites advertised “certified specialists” who work with teenagers, and even adults, for a fee.  Unfortunately, if the disorder is not caught early, it can become permanent.  It can be touch and go even if caught early, according to Dyslexia: The Real Issues.  But if left undiagnosed, it will remain an “unseen” partner that never goes away.

It is hard to imagine for those who read well, but the struggle to learn is real, and can even be cruel.

“Ruby,” a kindergarten teacher in the American Midwest, for example, asked a student a question:  “What is your problem?” The student did not know.  Oh well....  According to the article, Please Help Me I'm Dyslexic, Ruby sat the student in the wastebasket with a dunce cap on his head.

Then there was Mrs. “Z.”  She was a third grade teacher who at least had the foresight to hold the student back.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Z. came to this conclusion only after hitting him on the head with a book. 

These kinds of stories are not unusual; and especially during the 1950s and 1960s.  Often, and in the crudest way possible, students learned being dyslexic meant the same as being stupid, and that's just what Ruby and Mrs. Z. told their student.  And for a while he believed them.

“If not for the effort of caring teachers and parents,” the author wrote.  "I would have been lost.  Acceptance is one of the most important factors in helping....”

In the 1950s, few knew about dyslexia, and not until college did the boy learn he even had it. 

“Through hard work and sheer effort I learned how to studyI even took advanced statistics....”

The truth hit when he “forgot” certain calculations.  As a graduate student the boy, now a young adult, could do the problems, but on tests had a lot of trouble.

“Whole areas of my mind would go blank,” he said, “and I often left things unfinished.  I remember losing points on a simple calculation—a reverse-like parallel to a problem I had already done —simply because I hadn’t seen it.”

Ruby and Mrs. Z.’s former student moved on from statistics, but he continued looking for new challenges, a common theme for many with dyslexia.  According to the article, he was now reading Sigmund Freud and Merleau-Ponty, a French philosopher, but the disorder still made learning difficult.

In a telling anecdote, the author recounts how he and a grammar school teacher actually saw the disorder. It was during his second year in the third grade, but no one knew what they were looking at.

“I had to stand in front of the class,” he said, “and write the capital letter “N” on the chalkboard.  I stood there — feeling like a dunce — as my new teacher pulled her hair in an effort to help.  I couldn’t do it.  I constantly wrote the reverse figure “И.”  Neither of us realized I had a reading disorder, nor could we understand I wrote only what my mind saw.”

Dr. Samual Orton, a neurologist and a pioneering authority on dyslexia, first identified this problem to the public in 1937.  In his book Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children, he named it static reversal.  A problem most commonly revealed in letters which are alike except for their orientation, such as “p” and “q.”

He also identified the kinetic reversal (more than one figure) and theorized everyone “sees” mirror-like images along with the correct ones.  A word like top, for example, reads both top and pot in the mind.  However, those with dyslexia cannot “see” the image as it is written.  In collaboration with Anna Gillingham, he developed a training program to help fight this problem called the Orton-Gillingham Approach.

New research suggests dyslexics do not have trouble seeing things, but rather, are unable to manipulate what they see at all. But for individuals with dyslexia, and especially young readers, the inability to control, or even understand what the mind is doing, is usually taken in stride — however difficult.  And for many, can also include numbers and calculations.

The boy in the wastebasket went on to become a writer.  His story was first published in Teaching Today, in the March/April, 1991 issue.  The magazine's editor, Betty Ann, wrote: “This article should definitely peak the interest of our readership.

Hopefully it did.    

The author retains the rights to his story.  Excerpts, including the graphic of the little boy reading 1  (first published with the original story) are shared here.  Teaching Today had a small circulation, but the original telling still brought embarrassment, and the author wishes not to be identified.2

Simply, some of his teachers didn't help much.  Dyslexia, if undetected (or ignored) never goes away.  It remains a vexing problem for students, readers, writers and even statisticians for the rest of their lives.

Today, thousands of people live with this frustrating disorderWith training (and new understanding), many will have a much easier time learning how to identify it.  Dyslexics still face a terrible stigma.  There is no need for it to continue.

Editor’s Note: A detailed list of "symptoms" is shared here.  It comes from the Winona Dyslexia Group, and lists problems that may include:
  1. Reversing letters like b and d or p and q
  2. Inverting letters like n and u, M and W, d and q
  3. Mirror writing letters/numbers like on/no and won/now or 71/17 and 35/53
  4. Putting letters in the wrong order like form and from or felt and left
  5. Writing or reading words in the wrong order like are there for there are
  6. Spelling words how they sound like rite for right
  7. Spatial Orientation Problems (Trouble with Left/Right, North/South/East/West)
  8. Poor, inconsistent or illegible handwriting/unusual pencil grip
  9. Can count but has difficulty counting objects or dealing with money
  10. Can do math but has trouble understanding algebra, word problems, or other more complex math
  11. Seems to "Zone out" or daydream often, has trouble sustaining attention
  12. Can have difficulty telling time on a traditional clock
  13. Reads and rereads with little comprehension
These are just some of the many signs of dyslexia, a simple test can be done to tell whether or not a person has this or any other learning disability.

1 Teaching Today is out of print.
2 Contact the editor:  


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