“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”  – Ignacio Estrada 

Reading and writing are important and integral part of our daily life. Reading can be a fun and imaginative activity for children. A child's reading skills determine her/his  success in school and work. For most people, learning to read and write are simple and effortless processes. But some show difficulties in reading and writing despite normal intelligence. Here you will find a brief description of Dyslexia, a reading language disability, and strategies you can follow to remediate.

Historical Perspective

In 1896, Dr. W. Pringle Morgan in England, published a paper titled ‘A case of congenital word blindness’. In this article, he wrote about a fourteen year old boy, Percy.

"PERCY F.-a well-grown lad, aged 14-is the eldest son of intelligent parents, the second child of a family of seven. He has always been a bright and intelligent boy, quick at games, and in no way inferior to others of his age. His great difficulty has been-and is now-his inability to learn to read.  This inability is so remarkable, and so pronounced, that I have no doubt it is due to some congenital defect."

He has been at school or under tutors since he was 7 years old, and the greatest efforts have been made to teach him to read, but, in spite of this laborious and persistent training, he can only  with difficulty spell out words of one syllable. He knows all his letters, and can write them and read them. In writing from dictation he comes to grief over any but the simplest words.

For instance, I dictated the following sentence:" Now, you watch me while I spin it." He wrote: "Now you word me wale I spin it"; and, again, "Carefully winding the string round the peg" was written:  "Calfuly winder the sturng rond the Pag.". He did not notice the mistake until his attention was called to it more than once.  (Pringle-Morgan, 1896).

Morgan actually identified the basic features of a disability what we call today as developmental dyslexia. The term 'dyslexia' is derived from the Greek words dys meaning difficult and lexis meaning word.

Definition of Dyslexia

The definition of Dyslexia according to Rose report (2009) is as follows:

  1.  "Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  2. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
  3. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.  It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
  4. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
  5. A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention."

In addition to their language based difficulties, dyslexics have other cognitive difficulties that are not language based. These include difficulties in visual and sound processing, short-term memory, order perception and sequencing. Consequently, not only do dyslexics struggle with reading and writing, they also encounter difficulties in tasks that involve organizing and timing, remembering sequences of items, concentrating for long periods of time, understanding and recalling spoken words, and finding and navigating through textual information.

Prevalence of Dyslexia

Developmental dyslexia is a highly prevalent neurocognitive difficulty that impairs the individual’s ability to read, write, and spell, despite normal intelligence and adequate training.  Approximately 700 million people (10% of the world's population), and more than five million Indian school children display dyslexic symptoms. Since reading and writing form an integral part of daily life, the consequences of unaddressed or improperly addressed dyslexia can be devastating for the individuals concerned.

A few dyslexics are able to obtain much needed remedial help; some manage to stumble upon techniques to teach themselves reading and writing; but many dyslexics continue to experience reading retardation through their adult lives, and are at least marginally isolated from the literate world.  Without early diagnosis and appropriate intervention, dyslexic children risk life-long illiteracy and inability to function fully in society. Unaddressed dyslexia is the prime cause of school drop-out, marginalization and social exclusion.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia runs in families. Almost 85% of dyslexics show strong genetic influence. Dyslexia also can be caused by a difficult child birth. A traumatic birth may cause damage to the brain leading to difficulties in learning. Dyslexia is not related to intelligence. Highly intelligent can also have dyslexia. Many suggest that Albert Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison were dyslexics. Poor parenting and inefficient teaching do not cause dyslexia.

Are there differences between the brain structure of dyslexics and non-dyslexics?

Research has established that specific areas of the brain are involved in activities related to various components of reading, writing and memorizing. The imaging techniques show differences in the structure of brain of people with and without learning difficulties.

The brain has two types of material. The gray matter helps to process information. The white matter is involved in facilitating communication between nerves. The white matter also transfers information around the brain. Studies show that the dyslexics have less gray matter in the areas involved in understanding sounds of the words. Similarly, in the areas involved in communicating to each other the white matter was found to be less in the dyslexics. In short, there is a difference in distribution of gray and white matter in the areas involved in processing information and in areas crucial to processing words. The research also shows that in the right handed dyslexics the size of the left and right hemispheres are the same. On the other hand, in the right handed non-dyslexics the left hemisphere (involved in language processing) is larger than the right hemisphere.

The available evidence suggests that dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder because of the structural differences in the brain.

See the images of non-dyslexic and dyslexic person.



Are dyslexic kids lazy?



Many teachers and even parents label the dyslexics as lazy. A large number of dyslexic children are smart in everything else except in studies. Therefore, it is easy to stick the label ‘‘lazy’‘on them. On the other hand, often dyslexics are the hardest working among us as every day is a battle for them. We actually don’t know how desperate they are to please their parents and teachers. It is cruel to tell a dyslexic child, “You are not working hard enough.”

Do dyslexic children work hard?

There are chemical differences in the brain function of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area as normal children while performing language tasks. What this means is that the dyslexic children’s brain work harder and their brain uses more energy. Some activities we do effortlessly are a struggle for the dyslexics. How much is the struggle we cannot understand because we cannot read the brain activity. We must learn to respect the dyslexics for the effort they are putting in.

What are the first signs of dyslexia?

Children show signs of dyslexia even at preschool stage. Delayed speech is an early warning signal of dyslexia. Difficulties with naming objects, rhyming words, learning about colours and shapes are indicative of learning difficulty.  Young children show difficulty in telling stories in the right order. They mispronounce words. They may also show difficulty in understanding and following instructions. Delayed milestones are an indicator.

Is there a cure for dyslexia?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dyslexia. It cannot be outgrown. It is a lifelong condition. Early intervention and specialized training can certainly reduce the severity of dyslexia.

Why early remediation is important?

Studies conducted show that early intervention is vital. Delay in taking remedial measure have long term effects as the child may find it difficult to fill in the ‘gap’ in reading. An effective early intervention also helps to boost the self- image of the children and these children become more emotionally equipped to deal with the problems they face.

Can people with dyslexia lead a normal life?

Yes. Many famous personalities are dyslexics. There are scores of successful people around you who are dyslexics. Individualized training for dyslexia can help to reduce the effects of the condition. Early remedial action is very helpful. A study conducted in 2007 shows that more than 30% of the successful American entrepreneurs are dyslexics.

Are there concessions for students with learning difficulty in the Xth and XIIth standard examinations?

CBSE, ICSE and many State Boards of Education give concessions for students having learning difficulty. The concessions are in the nature of extra time for writing the answers and help of a writer. Details of concessions are given in the websites of these boards.

Can my child  appear for secondary school examination without learning maths and science?

Yes, your child can enroll in The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). It offers courses equivalent to the Xth standard and the XIIth standard and social studies, maths and science are not compulsory subjects. With the NIOS certificate for the Senior Secondary Course (XIIth standard) one is eligible to join courses offered by colleges/universities in India.

What is NIOS?

NIOS is a Government of India organization and it offers   distance education programme for secondary and Sr. Secondary levels.  The advantage is that it offers a variety of subjects including home science, data entry operations, painting and music. Your child can select subjects which appeal to her/him. The course can be completed over an extended period of time. For more details go to www.nios.ac.in

Suggested reading:

  • Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level- Sally Shaywitz M.D
  • Overcoming Dyslexia A straightforward guide for families and teachers – Dr. Beve Hornsby
  • Alpha to Omega:  The A-Z of Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling Dr. Beve Hornsby with Frula Shear
  • The Gift of Dyslexia- Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn Ronald D Davis (The author himself is a dyslexic)
  • Learning Disabilities in India Willing the Mind to Learn Edited by Prathibha Karanth and Joe Rozario
  • Educating Children with Learning Problems in Primary Schools: Resource Book for Teachers Published by National Institute For The Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad.
  • Dyslexia A teaching Handbook M.E. Thomson and E.J.Watkins
  • Know Your Child V.V. Joseph Published by ALDI Learning Centre, Nallankara, Nettissery, Thrissur 680657, Kerala.
  • A Guide to Educating Children with Learning Disabilities Anupriya Chadha
  • The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A   Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning Ben Foss (This is a book written by a dyslexic)
  • Physical Activities for Improving Children’s Learning and Behavior- A Guide to Sensory Motor Development  Billye Ann Cheatum and Allison A. Hammond
  • Smart Moves Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head      Carla Hannaford, Ph.D
  • Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition Paul E Dennison and Gail E Dennison