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What Is Dyslexia in Children? - Symptoms, Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects between five and 17 percent of children in the United States. Learn about dyslexia, its symptoms, how it is treated, and more.

Identifying Dyslexia

Suppose that you are a second grade teacher. You notice that one of your students has trouble reciting the sounds of the alphabet. You review his written assignments and see that the way he spells words is inconsistent and that he has trouble copying down words. You grow concerned with his reading and writing abilities and refer him for an assessment. Your student's reading and writing difficulties are symptoms of dyslexia.

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that is based in the brain. It is estimated that 5-17% of children are dyslexic. Dyslexia affects the way that the human brain processes and interprets information. Dyslexia interferes with the ability to read and spell words. Children with dyslexia experience problems in the following areas:

  • Phonological awareness, which is the ability to understand speech sounds and how they can change the meaning of words
    • i.e., understanding that if you change the m in 'map' to a c, the word becomes 'cap'
  • Verbal memory, which is the ability to recall verbal information for a brief amount of time
    • i.e., recalling a list of three items that someone asked you to pick up from the store without writing them down
  • Verbal processing speed, or how quickly you can process and recognize verbal information that is familiar
    • i.e., how fast you can write down a telephone number when it is given to you verbally

Some other dyslexia facts include:

  • People can struggle from dyslexia throughout their entire lives, not just in childhood.
  • People who have dyslexia are born with it, although many people are not diagnosed until adulthood.
  • Research is currently being done to determine which areas of the brain are most involved with dyslexia and how this relates to the severity of dyslexia symptoms.
  • Recent research has found that dyslexia can be inherited.
  • Contrary to popular belief, people with dyslexia often are very intelligent and may be intellectually gifted in certain areas.
  • Many geniuses in our history, for example, Albert Einstein, had dyslexia.

Symptoms

Dyslexia should be thought of as a continuum. The symptoms of dyslexia can range from mild to very severe. Researchers are still trying to figure out what determines the severity and type of symptoms a dyslexic has.

The following table contains dyslexia symptoms by age:

Symptoms of dyslexia

Treatment

So how do we treat dyslexia? Although there is no cure, children can learn to cope with dyslexia with treatment. The treatment for dyslexia depends on the child's age, symptoms, what the family prefers, and if there are any co-occurring medical or learning disorders. For example, many children with dyslexia also have ADHD. Since dyslexia affects everyone differently, the best way to treat dyslexia is to focus on the specific learning problems that each individual has.

Drugs and psychotherapy generally aren't used to treat dyslexia. The primary treatment for dyslexia is education. Research has shown that educational interventions that begin before the child is age seven result in long-term reading and writing improvements in dyslexic children. The earlier the intervention is started, the better the outcomes.

States are required by law to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children who are diagnosed with dyslexia. The IEP process varies from state to state, but it usually requires a diagnosis and some type of psychological or educational testing to be done prior to the development of the IEP. The IEP is created by a treatment team which includes the parents, the child's teacher, school counselor, and other school personnel in order to determine what accommodations or adjustments need to be made in order to fit the educational needs of the student. The IEP is reviewed annually to make necessary changes.

Suppose that you have a student named Trevor who has a diagnosis of dyslexia. His IEP might include statements such as:

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