Guest editorial: Dyslexia – the silent struggle
Of our approximately 4,700 students in the Park City School District, NIH research shows that 20%, or around 900 of these students, are affected by dyslexia. As a mother to one child who is dyslexic, it is very disheartening to know that the majority of our students with dyslexia are left unidentified and are silently struggling. We must begin screening for dyslexia in our schools. Only early identification and appropriate intervention will enable these students to succeed to their full potential.
When a disability affects approximately 20% of our population, it shouldn’t be a secret. Yet, rarely do we even encounter the word "dyslexia" in our school system.
Dyslexia should be spoken about freely in our schools. Teachers and parents should have knowledge of the symptoms and evidence-based interventions should be provided at an early age. Recognizing that dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States, Governor Herbert declared October as Dyslexia Awareness Month in Utah.
Until two years ago, I basically knew nothing about dyslexia. I’d heard that dyslexia might be something about switching b’s and d’s in writing or seeing words backwards, but truthfully, didn’t give it much thought. It turns out, I had a lot of learning to do. Hopefully, sharing my knowledge will help other families and teachers recognize the signs of dyslexia and more students will receive the assistance needed to become confident and successful. Letting these children remain unidentified leads not only to a lack of learning, but a lack of self-esteem. Early screening and intervention is crucial.
Dyslexia is a neurological-based learning disability that affects reading, writing and spelling with various degrees of severity. It does not affect intelligence, and many young students with dyslexia are able to mask their reading difficulties until the third or fourth grade. Generally, if a child is unexpectedly struggling to learn to read, it is most likely due to dyslexia.
Warning signs of dyslexia may include difficultly learning letters and their sounds, difficulty sounding out unknown words, slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling (a dyslexic child will constantly be asking how to spell words and their written words will appear very phonetic), difficulty memorizing math facts, lack of capitalization and punctuation in writing and difficulty telling time. Dyslexia is also genetic, so knowing your family’s history is important.
It is equally important to understand that dyslexia is not a lack of intellect and many people with dyslexia have great strengths in areas including science, engineering, music, art and athletics. Dyslexics are often creative, big picture thinkers with exceptional 3D visual-spatial skills. In fact, 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic and an inordinate number of CEO’s are dyslexic, including Ted Turner, Charles Schwab and Richard Branson.
It is imperative that we begin screening for dyslexia in our schools at an early age. Too many parents are being told "wait and they will catch up." Well, we are really just waiting for them to fail. And that is unacceptable. We must provide early intervention and evidence-based teaching strategies. Additionally, we must provide effective accommodations at all grade levels. Students in Park City receive personal computers beginning in fifth grade. The use of assistive technology tools provides students with dyslexia access to knowledge, while interventions continue to build their skills. Among other accommodations, students with dyslexia benefit from audio textbooks (they are great ear readers!), recorded or shared class notes and the use of speech to text for writing assignments.
I encourage you to learn something more about dyslexia this month. As a parent, learn more about the signs relevant to your child’s age. As a teacher, understand that up to 5 of the 25 students in your classroom may be dyslexic and look for the child that may be silently struggling. Only knowledge, awareness and action can ensure that all of our students are successful in the classroom and throughout their lives.
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