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
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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.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2019 edition of Education Week as Stop Punting Dyslexia to Teachers

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