What is dyslexia? This is a question that is often asked by parents who are trying to understand why their child is not learning to read with ease. Many people think dyslexia is seeing words and letters backwards. Contrary to what was once thought, dyslexia is not a visual problem such as seeing the letters backwards, or reversing the order of letters in a word. Rather the difficulties for a child with dyslexia occur in the area of the brain where language is processed. Children with dyslexia have difficulty hearing the individual sounds within a spoken word, called phonemes. Difficulty with phonemes can include not being able to hear individual sounds, the inability to segment a word into its individual sounds, or not being able to blend sounds together to make a word. This can lead to difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, decoding abilities, poor spelling, as well as difficulty pronouncing words correctly.
Dyslexia is not an intellectual disability. Research has shown that readers with dyslexia activate different parts of the brain when reading, as compared to the non-dyslexic reader. These findings are clear regardless of age, proving that dyslexia is lifelong and with specific teaching these students can learn to read, spell, and write at any age. Some early warning signs might be seen in early spoken language, then later in slowness of reading and spelling. One of the most effective things that can be done for struggling readers, including those with dyslexia, is to provide a minimum of 90 minutes of high quality teaching daily that includes both reading and spelling.
Since early identification is most helpful, schools are encouraged to begin screening children in kindergarten to identify any child who shows the early signs of potential reading difficulties. Iowa’s educational system is designed to provide assistance early for all learners who are not on track to be successful readers. With the passing of the Early Literacy Implementation rules, all students in grades K-3 receive a screening for their reading skills three times a year; and interventions are put in place for those needing more support. Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) partner with local school districts to make sure that all students learn reading and other literacy skills. Iowa’s AEAs support literacy because reading skills lead directly to success in other subjects such as social studies, math, and science.
There are many families that have children who are struggling readers and oftentimes parents feel helpless. They want to support their children but may not be sure of how best to go about it. Iowa AEAs, along with local school districts, are partnering with families to help all children learn to read. Statewide resources around dyslexia are posted on each AEA’s website to provide further information and contacts for assistance.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s reading skills, contact your child’s teacher, principal, or your local AEA.
Kim Swartz is a Regional Administrator with Area Education Agency 267, which serves over 62,000 students in school districts representing 18 counties in north central and eastern Iowa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.