Dyslexia, or reading disability, is one of the most common childhood conditions—and most misunderstood. It affects 20% of children. For comparison, ADHD affects 11% and autism 2%.
Parents have a lot of questions when they see the lists of symptoms posted by dyslexia sites. If my child shows some of these symptoms, but not others, is it still dyslexia? Do I have to wait for reading failure to identify a reading disability?
Part of the confusion comes from different sources using terms differently. Let’s clear up the terminology first.
Condition – Dyslexia is a general class of conditions characterized by reading difficulties. By “general class,” I mean it takes different forms in different people, but the result is a reading difficulty always.
Dyslexia is the resulting condition, not the cause. So we can’t say, “Cayden can’t read because he has dyslexia.” The question is, What is causing his dyslexia?
Cause – The cause of a person’s dyslexia is inefficient language processing in the brain. Therefore, dyslexia is a language processing disorder. Language processing disorders occur when the brain cannot process parts of language efficiently. Thus we can say, “Caty has dyslexia because her brain can’t process these parts of language.” The goal of any program should be to identify and resolve whatever these parts may be.
Co-existing conditions – People with dyslexia often mention other symptoms, such as problems with speech, listening comprehension, learning, math, writing, attention and memory. That is, people with dyslexia may also have speech or auditory processing disorders, learning disabilities, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, or ADHD.
These conditions share something in common: language processing. How the brain processes language affects how the person speaks, reads, writes and understands language. Language is the basis for learning, which is why math and memory may be affected as well. When brain processes are inefficient, processing overload often occurs. At that point, it can no longer attend to more information, and the person may show restlessness and inattention.
To understand the whole child, we have to relate all symptoms seen. They range from the physical to the linguistic, behavioral, psychological and social. Yet they are all connected to how the brain processes language.
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