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Are You Reading This?

If you are reading this you likely do not have difficulty in reading but likely someone in your life does. That difficulty has a label called dyslexia. Dyslexia is, simply put, difficulty with learning to read or interpret words, letters or symbols. It is not related to low intelligence. There is more than one type of dyslexia and it is important to distinguish the type in order to know how to intervene. In fact many experts list 6 types of dyslexia:

1. Phonological Dyslexia - This occurs in about 75% of people diagnosed with a reading disorder. It involves difficulty breaking down speech into its individual sounds that make a word. Most interventions connected to the diagnosis of dyslexia involve some type of phonics instruction without regard to the type of dyslexia diagnosed.

2. Surface Dyslexia - Readers with this type of dyslexia take a longer time to process language because they are spending too much time breaking words into sounds - phonetic reading. This decreases their fluency, comprehension and enjoyment of reading.

3. Visual Dyslexia - This involves difficulty with processing visual information and poor visual memory.

4. Primary Dyslexia - Readers with primary dyslexia inherited this from a family member. Readers with this type of dyslexia have difficulty with spelling, reading and mathematics. It occurs most frequently in males and in left-handed people.

5. Secondary/Developmental Dyslexia - This type of dyslexia is caused by pre-natal infections or poor nutrition which results in a neuro-impairment. This may be the easiest type of dyslexia to remediate.

6. Trauma Dyslexia - Readers develop this following some brain injury and it usually stems from resulting language processing difficulties.

So how do we learn to read - what happens in the brain when we read? Reading is a very complex skill which involves all areas of the brain both verbal and non-verbal. It involves a multitude of functions including attention, executive functioning (planning, problem solving, inhibition, etc.), abstract or fluid reasoning, long term and short term memory, working memory, retrieval of information (can you remember what you have learned and rapidly access it), visual processing, emotions and language.

About 1/3 of the brain is involved in analyzing things that we see. This is the visual system. Other parts of the brain, mostly the left half of the brain (left hemisphere) help us analyze and produce language. A third part of the brain links these 2 systems. This is the area in which we often see break downs in the acquisition of reading skills and which reading instruction helps us develop. This part of the brain focuses on knowing what written words look like. How does it do that? First, we learn to recognize different shapes and that they have permanence. For example, we recognize that a book is a book whether or not it is right side up, upside down, or sideways. But what about the letters "d","b", "p", and "q". The shape is the same but the letter changes. With practice we learn to recognize the names of these letters based on their position and not their shape. Second, we learn that the order of letters is important because it makes a different word with a different meaning - ex: 'tap' and 'pat'. So we learn in English that reading occurs from left to right. No matter which language you speak and whether you read from right to left or left to right, the part of the brain involved in this process is the same.

Another important part of the brain involved in the acquisition of reading is the limbic system. This part of the brain controls and is controlled by our emotions. If we have negative emotions and stress connected to reading or if there are unusual stressers in our lives both in and out of school, we will likely experience negative outcomes in reading. We will avoid reading and never learn the joy and feelings of success it can bring.

Now that you have this information - simplified as it is - it should become clear to you how important it is to obtain a thorough evaluation of the processes involved in reading. When choosing a professional be sure that they provide this type of evaluation and tie their interventions and remediation to the information produced by the evaluation.

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