Opinion
Special Education Opinion

Stop Punting Dyslexia to Teachers. It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Reading disorders are more than just a classroom problem
By Molly Ness — October 07, 2019 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Thsi is ont waht dyslexia lokso lkie.

Most likely, you were able to read the previous sentence. A powerful pattern seeker, your brain ignored the errors and instead sought out pre-existing logical patterns to reconstruct a meaningful sentence. Too many children, however, will never be able to complete such a task. For them, the joy of reading—with its boundless adventures, liberating knowledge, and compelling characters—remains an unattainable goal.

For tens of millions of people in the United States, learning to read is rife with struggle and frustration. Estimates vary, but the International Dyslexia Association suggests that as many as 15 to 20 percent of the population present with some symptoms of dyslexia.

Struggling to read is more than an educational problem; it is a societal one. As such, we cannot punt dyslexia to the purview of teachers alone. Overcoming dyslexia requires a confluence of players.

What has been forgotten here is the people it affects the most: the children."

Despite many common misconceptions, dyslexia is not seeing letters or words backwards, reversing or inverting letters. It is not linked to intelligence or attributable to laziness. A 2011 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics states unequivocally that dyslexia is not rooted in visual problems. Nor is dyslexia a life sentence for failure; several dyslexics in popular culture (including Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, and Whoopi Goldberg) attribute their reading differences as a key ingredient in their success.

Instead, dyslexia is a neurobiological reading disability. A child with dyslexia may have difficulties understanding and manipulating the sound structure of language, including difficulties in recognizing rhyme, breaking words into syllables, blending sounds together to form words, or connecting letters to their associated sounds. A domino effect of literacy challenges often occurs, including problems in decoding unfamiliar words, slow and inaccurate reading, and poor writing and spelling.

When children struggle to read, they suffer in more than academics. Children with reading disorders are more likely to face emotional and behavioral challenges, including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Today, dyslexia is a highly contested topic in social media conversations, mainstream press, and even state legislatures. There are battles among teachers quarreling over best instructional strategies, school district leaders pointing the finger of blame at poor teacher preparation, scientists nonplused that their findings have not translated into classroom practice. What has been forgotten here is the people it affects the most: the children. There are many stakeholders in this fight to overcome dyslexia. As a group, we need to push past our ideological positions so that we can collaborate to minimize the stigma and struggles of the disorder.

At an immediate level, children with dyslexia need support and advocacy from vocal parents who fight tirelessly on their behalf. They need knowledgeable pediatricians who recognize the warning signs as early as age 3 and school psychologists who follow guidelines set forth by the American Psychological Association in identifying dyslexia under the umbrella term “specific learning disorder.” Also essential are general education teachers, who understand both the art and science of multifaceted reading instruction, and special education teachers, who provide high-quality instruction and targeted interventions. School social workers and counselors can help students with dyslexia navigate the social-emotional challenges associated with reading difficulties.

Additionally, children with dyslexia need peripheral support from visionary professionals, including school leaders who prioritize meeting the needs of all children, teacher-preparation programs that effectively train teachers, professional organizations who advocate for them, insurance companies that reimburse families for the high costs associated with advocating for their child, employers who support time off for parents to attend school-based meetings, and translators to communicate with parents from diverse language backgrounds.

Research groups and think tanks must push forward scientific brain-based advances. Publishing companies and curriculum designers should prioritize best practices over profit. Colleges and universities should continue to provide support services for students with dyslexia while they pursue higher education. Technology companies can expand digital tools to assist struggling readers. Lawyers can defend every student’s right to a free appropriate public education. State legislatures should prioritize funding for universal early screening, effective intervention, and teacher training.

When we come together to address our nation’s disservice to growing readers, we have the potential to prevent reading failure. Most importantly, we will help all children along the path towards lifelong reading.

Related Tags:

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2019 edition of Education Week as Stop Punting Dyslexia to Teachers

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
4 Ways to Support Students at Risk for Dyslexia
Read this white paper: Dyslexia Screening and the Use of Acadience™ Reading and discover four distinct ways educators can improve student...
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP