Dyslexia Part 1: Myth Busters


In the midst of many cultural treasures, reading is by far the finest gem. ​

~ Stanislas Dehaene (2009)


For a significant number of our students, words like treasure and gem do not describe their experience learning to reading. For students with dyslexia, reading can be deeply discouraging. Parents are left wondering why their bright child is struggling and teachers may not be equipped with the knowledge and tools to meet the needs of this population.


Conversations regarding dyslexia are not new, but fairly recently science has made some significant strides. Neuroscience is a major contributor to the body of knowledge we refer to as the Science of Reading. Through brain imaging studies, we can see the brain at work while performing the highly complex skill of reading. The fascinating result of these brain images is concrete evidence that debunks some long-held misconceptions surrounding dyslexia.


October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and we proudly join the movement by busting some dyslexia myths.


Myth #1

Dyslexia is a visual problem and students with dyslexia see letters and words backwards.


If educators are going to meet the educational needs of this population, we need to understand the linguistic nature of dyslexia.


Leading dyslexia researcher Sally Shaywitz (2020) informs us, "Research has shown that in contrast to a popular myth, children with dyslexia are not unusually prone to seeing letters or words backward and that the deficit responsible for the disorder resides in the language system."


Shaywitz (2020) goes on to clearly state, "The problem is a linguistic one, not a visual one."



Myth #2

Writing letters backward ​or upside down is a ​sign of dyslexia. ​


Writing letters backward or confusing similarly shaped letters such as p/b m/w u/n and p/q is actually quite common in young readers. ​

Letter reversal is a product of mirror invariance and not dyslexia in beginning readers. Mirror invariance refers to a predisposition of the human visual system, which allows us to consider mirrored images as corresponding to the same object. If you view a chair from any direction your brain knows it is still a chair. With the invention of the alphabet, all of a sudden directionally and position matters! The brain must unlearn this mechanism in order to distinguish between letters with mirror symmetry. Mirror invariance was useful to our ancestors but poses a struggle for learning an alphabetic code!



Myth #3

Just wait, students can outgrow dyslexia.


When a child struggles to read many of us have heard or been told, "Just give them some time, they will catch up." This ‘wait to fail’ model is detrimental to many students, including those with dyslexia. We now know the power of early instruction, intervention and identification.


Myth #4

Dyslexia cannot be identified before 2nd or 3rd Grade.


According to Sanfilippo et al. (2020), "Cognitive-behavioral research has revealed that there are early literacy skill deficits that represent red flags for dyslexia risk and can be measured at a preschool age."


A few early skills that serve as red flags include:

· Phonological and phonemic awareness

· Letter-sound correspondence

· Pseudo-word repetition or the ability to pronounce nonsense spoken words

· Rapidly retrieve the names of objects, letters or colors ~ RAN

· Oral language comprehension

· Receptive and expressive vocabulary



Myth #5

Dyslexics have a low IQ and are generally not as bright as their peers.


The International Dyslexia Association definition is as follows:


Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”


Notice in this widely accepted definition there is no mention of unusually high or low IQ, general intelligence or vision issue.


As teachers, we need to know what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to dyslexia and teaching children to read and spell. We cannot leave this to chance. Check out Dyslexia Part 2: Be the Change (coming Halloween night)!




References:


Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. Penguin Books.


Hasbrouck, J. E. (2020). Conquering Dyslexia. Benchmark Education.


Sanfilippo, J., Ness, M., Petscher, Y., Rappaport, L., Zuckerman, B., & Gaab, N. (2020). Reintroducing Dyslexia: Early Identification and Implications for Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics, 146(1), e20193046. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-3046


Shaywitz, S. (2020). Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level (2nd ed.). Vintage.