Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
She was a charming 7 year old child who was getting help at the public library after school homework center. My wife and our service dog, Mingo, were working with this youngster at the library on this particular day three years ago. The girl was reading aloud to Mingo while my wife was listening carefully. The girl was sitting on the floor and Mingo was holding down the page with her paw. Mingo’s job was to encourage children to read and learn. The children loved to come to the homework center largely for the chance to be with Mingo. The girl, in reading one sentence, read a word as “NA.” My wife stopped her and asked her if that was correct. The girl looked at the page again, corrected herself and said, “No, the word is ‘AN.'” She then smiled and in a completely guileless way said “You know, I have “Lysdexia.”
Despite the fact that this is a true and very adorable story, what it reveals is a very real problem that afflicts up to 17% of our children at least that is some of the estimates. Dyslexia is not a joking problem. Dyslexia is also not a simple reversing of letters or of seeing words in reverse. It is much more varied and complicated. Worst of all, it is a problem that causes children to feel awful about themselves.
Those children grow into adults who have difficulty copying words and numbers, following instructions in the correct sequence and organizing their daily lives. As a result of these and other problems, they experience low self esteem, anxiety, depression and constant self doubt.
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1. There are many definitions of dyslexia. Depending on what national or international organization is formulating the definition, it is considered to be a learning disability, brain dysfunction, and neurological disorder. In all probability it is a combination of all of these things.
2. Dyslexia is unrelated to intelligence. It affects those who are highly intelligent as well as those with lower intelligence levels. Also, it affects both male and female children.
3. While children up until 6 years of age make mistakes in translating what they are reading and saying, by age 7 they should have outgrown these problems. Children with dyslexia continue to have difficulties in translating the written word into meaningful sentences, speaking about what they read and in making sense of what their eyes see when they read.
4. This learning disability lasts throughout life and is never out grown. However, there are ways to compensate for this problem. The younger the disorder is identified and diagnosed and the younger help is provided, the better the outcome. Nevertheless, there is help for adults with this problem.
5. Left untreated, dyslexia causes serious emotional problems for the children afflicted with this problem. It causes serious embarrassment both in and outside of school. In addition, there is the experience of enormous frustration with learning to read. Anxiety and depression go hand in hand with frustration and embarrassment.
The 7 year old child in the example above was diagnosed and in the process of being treated for this disorder. This is what enabled her to directly report that she was dealing with dyslexia.
6. Following is a list of some of the most common symptoms of dyslexia. There is confusion or difficulty with:
A. Before/after, right/left, and so on.
B. Learning the alphabet.
C. Word retrieval or naming problems.
D. Identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting.
E. Syllables in words (phonological awareness).
F. Hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness).
G. Distinguishing different sounds in words (auditory discrimination).
H. Learning the sounds of letters.
I. Associating individual words with their correct meanings.
J. Time keeping and concept of time.
K. Confusion with combinations of words.
Reading correctly is such a fundamental aspect of life in school that the fear of reading and speaking incorrectly causes many dyslectic children to withdraw and become socially avoidant for fear of suffering shame and mortification. Of course, they often secretly harbor the incorrect belief that they are stupid and that others think them stupid.
8. There are different forms of dyslexia. For example, there is dyscalcula. This has to do with difficulties in understanding and using numbers, reversing numbers and not being able to translate the numbers seen on a page into meaningful concepts. There are also challenges with remembering numbers in sequence and with the ability to solve math problems.
There is dysgraphia or problems holding a pen or pencil correctly and problems controlling the pencil. For this reason, some professional consider dyslexia as a problem with fine motor coordination. This would explain why some of these youngsters have problems with their handwriting.
9. For some children with this disorder, there is difficulty in seeing a connection between letters on a page and the sounds that represent those letters. As a result, they may add or subtract sounds when reading aloud or to themselves. This is accompanied by great difficulties in spelling correctly.
10. Difficulties in distinguishing similar letters can lead to such errors as mistaking the word DOSE for DOES. Of course, there is the problem of reversal of letters as in seeing the word, SAW as WAS.
In case the reader is feeling discouraged it is important to point out that there is a very bright side to this problem. Many people with dyslexia go on to have very creative careers in the arts and in business. For example, those with dyslexia often have a flair for the arts such as music, dance, drawing or acting. Dyslectic people also often have a natural ability to see patterns in noise and for producing creative abstract ideas pulled out of what many would look upon as mundane sensory environments.
What to do?
If you have a child that you suspect may have dyslexia the first step to take is to make an appointment with her or his school teacher and find out if the child is having similar problems at school as at home. If the answer is yes, have your child referred to the school psychologist for evaluation and testing or go to a private psychologist who does the same types of evaluations. If the tests are positive, meet with the school psychologist and administrators to have special programs set up to have your child be given the best possible methods to cope with this problem. Most public schools have some type of committee for the handicapped made up of a team including parents. Disregard the term “handicapped” because it is simply an overall term used to cover massive numbers of problems.
To repeat, the earlier the child is diagnosed and helped the better the results.
If you suspect that you have some form of dyslexia do not despair. Help is available and a consultation with a psychologist should be scheduled. Then, follow the recommendations for treatment. For adults, this is often a matter of learning to compensate for this disability. Most adults have taught themselves some coping mechanisms but it is also necessary and helpful to learn more of them.
Your comments are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.
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