It’s Not That Simple

Dyslexia is much more than most people think

“Dyslexic kids are creative, ‘outside-the-box’ thinkers. They have to be, because they don’t see or solve problems the same way other kids do. In school, unfortunately, they are sometimes written off as lazy, unmotivated, rude or even stupid. They aren’t. Making Percy dyslexic was my way of honoring the potential of all the kids I’ve known who have those conditions. It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented.” ~ Rick Riordan (author of Percy Jackson series)

Have you ever witnessed a child or an adult turn left when they were supposed to turn right, or seen someone have difficulty tying shoes, yet are athletic and capable with so many other things? Or watch a teenager attempt to draw a picture of an object or image in front of them, yet leave out many of the small details they were supposed to copy?

Many parents have watched their child — who appeared to be happy, inquisitive, smart and full-of-life — change almost rapidly overnight. They witness tantrums and meltdowns on school nights (even though they are much too old for that type of behavior), or right before a test. Some refuse to read out loud in the classroom, yet love books as long as someone else reads to them. Others may read beautifully out loud but cannot explain or discuss what they just read.

These are all symptoms that something may be going on with your child. There are many things that can cause these underlying issues, but one of them could be dyslexia.

Many people will say dyslexia is a reversal of letters — it’s not that simple. Did you know dyslexia is a neurological condition and every individual with this learning difference has a very unique profile? This makes defining dyslexia much more complicated.

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability (SLD) that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” – Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. This Definition is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Source: The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) (www.eida.org).

The IDA’s definition is informative, but it doesn’t address everything that impacts the inherent learning differences of dyslexics. “Having dyslexia can have far-reaching consequences on education,” said dyslexia expert Dr. Rachna Varia, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of testing and diagnostics at MindWell Psychology. “While students ‘learn to read’ through third grade, it then changes to ‘reading to learn.’ If a student is not a strong reader, it will impact all areas of study.”

Dr. Varia also noted that dyslexia impacts the decoding of the written word. “Dyslexic students may add or delete sounds when reading individual words, which of course then changes the entire meaning of a passage and [reading] comprehension will suffer. Many dyslexic students (but not all) have vulnerabilities in phonological awareness (the auditory route to reading), and orthographic processing (the visual route to reading),” she explained. Also, if decoding is difficult for someone, then spelling (encoding) may also be challenging. For students, “creating a link between a written symbol (letters and numbers) and the name for that symbol can be slow. This is known as rapid automatic naming which impacts reading fluency.”

Dyslexic students have to work very hard to keep up with their peers. “Visual motor integration, or the ability to copy down visual information and make it meaningful, can also be affected,” Dr. Varia explained. Reading fluency may also be slower for dyslexics, which can affect how long it takes to copy notes from a board or presentation and complete tests and assignments within the same time frame as their peers. Dyslexic students may also have difficulty with sequencing (i.e. months of the year) and working memory (“the mental sticky note we use to keep track of information until we need to use it,” according to Understood.org, a great resource site for learning and attention issues).

“Unfortunately, many teachers today do not really understand dyslexia, or all the ways this condition may affect student learning. Nor are they educated on how to notice symptoms, or what the proper methods of intervention and remediation are. This is not their fault,” said Lynda Bruni, regional leader of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia Fauquier – Haymarket Chapter.

Symptoms of Dyslexia

There’s not a one-size-fits-all checklist. Each person’s symptoms will vary. Some may have significant struggles with reading fluency. For others, spelling or reading comprehension can be difficult. And some children may even advance through many years of school without being diagnosed. Reading specialists, parents and teachers need to look for a variety of symptoms.

If you are a parent or educator, and you think a child is being lazy or not trying hard enough, check this list before suggesting they try harder. Most dyslexics actually work much harder than their peers — and many have average to high intelligence — they just learn differently.

  • Meltdowns and anxiety over going to school
  • Test anxiety
  • Phonological awareness issues
  • Phonics issues (sounding out words)
  • Reading comprehension issues
  • Difficulty learning math facts — learns them but a few days later doesn’t remember them
  • Spelling difficulties (encoding) — learns to spell correctly and/or knows flash cards, but next day doesn’t spell correctly and spells a word differently each time (many times the way it sounds when they hear the word)
  • Slow reading speed (out loud and silently)
  • Difficulty with reading fluency (reading fluency is rate and accuracy)
  • Fear of reading in class or in front of others
  • Speech delay or difficulty with speech articulation in younger children

What do parents do if they suspect their child may be dyslexic?

Ask the school, in writing, for a full and complete psychoeducational evaluation to determine if your child needs remediation and intervention for reading, spelling, etc. Send this request, making sure to detail your exact concerns and specify this particular test. The school then has to conduct this evaluation—by law—within 65 business days. For more information, you may visit page 12 of the Parents Guide to Special Education, available through VDOE.

Parents may also seek a private psychoeducational evaluation from a clinical psychologist who specializes in dyslexia. These tests are expensive but extremely insightful. The results provide a more in-depth discussion of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide an amazing framework to assist a child (or even an adult—it’s never too late to obtain intervention and remediation for dyslexia). Importantly, a private evaluation will provide you with a diagnosis. School districts are unable to provide a formal diagnosis of dyslexia; they identify a child as having a single learning disability and they determine if a child is eligible for special education services.

“In public school settings where many teachers are not knowledgeable about this condition, students with dyslexia may be considered stupid or lazy. Parents who have children diagnosed with dyslexia should seek out reading instruction that is based upon a systematic and explicit understanding of language structure, including phonics. This reading instruction goes by many names, Structured Literacy, Orton-Gillingham, Simultaneous Multisensory, Explicit Phonics, and others.” ~ The International Dyslexia Association (source eida.org)

Without proper identification, intervention, and remediation, dyslexic students may experience limited success in school, anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. For students with a learning disability the dropout rate from school is three times that of peers, according to an Understood.org presentation on Capitol Hill. Community residents, parents, and educators alike may assist dyslexics by providing their valuable input at local school board meetings, SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) meetings, and by speaking with their state legislators.

New Virginia Laws

Until last year, there has been no mandate in Virginia for higher education (such as colleges and universities) to provide detailed instruction about dyslexia to those studying to become teachers. Also, it has not been required for existing teachers to have training on this learning difference and how it may affect students in order to become recertified.

Things are about to change. In 2016, Virginia House Bill 842 (HB 842) was passed and signed by the governor. The law, which took effect this month, requires that aspiring teachers — and veteran teachers seeking recertification — have dyslexia training.

In 2017, Senator Richard Black and Delegate Benjamin Cline wrote mirror bills in both the Virginia House (HB 2395) and Senate (SB 1516) to provide more support for dyslexics. Legislators passed both the house and senate bills unanimously, and they were combined and signed into law by the governor in March and became effective July 1. Specifically, the bill “requires one reading specialist employed by each local school board that employs a reading specialist to have training in the identification of and the appropriate interventions, accommodations, and teaching techniques for students with dyslexia or a related disorder and to have an understanding of the definition of dyslexia and a working knowledge of several topics relating to dyslexia.”

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) now has instructional material available on their websites for teachers who require, or wish to participate in, training on dyslexia. There are many organizations, such as PEATC, that periodically offer in-person and online training sessions for teachers, parents, and even dyslexic learners.

So what do these laws mean?

Lorraine Hightower, a regional leader for Decoding Dyslexia Virginia (DDVA) and a long standing member of the Virginia Parent Teacher Association (PTA), has a great deal of experience with this silent disability. DDVA members, including Hightower, assisted in creating the language used in Senator Black’s bill.

Hightower explained the impact of these laws: “While public school reading specialists do have training to help struggling readers, many have not received any specialized training on the warning signs, effective interventions, or appropriate supports for students who have the specific learning disability of dyslexia.” The new legislation requires “that for every school district that employs reading specialists, there will be a trained and qualified dyslexia advisor, who can guide the district on how to best identify students with dyslexia, effectively meet their unique academic needs and also serve as a vital resource for parents,” Hightower said.

Fauquier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David Jeck said, “We will be in compliance [with HB 2395 and SB 1516], since several of our reading specialists are completing the GMU (George Mason University) dyslexia courses. We should also be in a position to exceed the requirements which is, essentially, to have one reading specialist trained in the identification and interventions for students with dyslexia.”

“There are still school districts in Virginia who are hesitant to even use the word ‘dyslexia,’” Hightower said. “This [law] is a huge step forward for dyslexic students and their families.”

“The new laws give Virginia’s public schools fundamental authorization to make efforts to both identify and more appropriately teach students with dyslexia. If reading and writing instruction is effective, it will create significant and tangible growth toward independence that the student, family, and teacher clearly recognize: skill mastery that creates real, age-appropriate independence in reading and writing. It is our hope that when schools provide Multi-sensory Structured Language classes, more dyslexic students will achieve independence. Parents also still have the option to hire a Certified Academic Language Therapist that specializes in dyslexia, and that will remain particularly important for students with more complex dyslexia.”   – Susan Louchen, MS, CALT (Certified Academic Language Therapist) www.KeyToReading.com

How well are the public schools in the region helping students with this invisible disability, as measured by SOL scores?

Special note: Dyslexic students are categorized under specific learning disability (SLD), but not all SLD students are dyslexic learners. At this time, the state doesn’t offer a dyslexia  category as they do for autism.

Source: Virginia Department of Education with search parameters: students (all), genders (all), grades (all), economically disadvantaged (all), limited english proficient (all), migrants (all), homeless (all), disability (yes), disability type (Specific Learning Disability – SLD), state level – division (Fauquier County and Prince William County).

SOL pass rates for children with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) in Fauquier County Public Schools.

School Year 2015-2016

SOL TEST                        PASS RATE

English: reading                 28.81%

English: Writing                 26.21%

History & Social Science   53.75%

Mathematics                        37.31%

Science                                  45.00%

School Year 2014-2015

SOL TEST                        PASS RATE

English: reading                 24.48%

English: Writing                 25.61%

History & Social Science    47.58%

Mathematics                         32.01%

Science                                   44.33%

SOL pass rates for children with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) in Prince William County Public Schools.

School Year 2015-2016

SOL TEST                        PASS RATE

English: reading                 35.64%

English: Writing                 26.34%

History & Social Science    52.78%

Mathematics                         36.71%

Science                                   40.81%

School Year 2014-2015

SOL TEST                        PASS RATE

English: reading                 38.25%

English: Writing                 28.17%

History & Social Science    52.23%

Mathematics                         36.01%

Science                                   39.66%

Compare overall student pass rates to that of those with a SLD: Overall pass rate for Fauquier County (all county students) is 80 percent plus for all SOL tests. Overall pass rate for Prince William County (all county students) is 79 percent plus for all SOL tests.

Resources

There are many sites with information on dyslexia. It is important to know the legitimate sources that have the proper resources for you, with a proven track record and a comprehensive understanding of this condition. Here are a few websites to consider.

Some Notable Individuals with Dyslexia

Celebrities:

  • Rick Riordan
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Walt Disney
  • Magic Johnson

Investors, Inventors & Entrepreneurs:

  • Steve Jobs – cofounder of Apple Computer
  • Ben Floss – inventor of the Intel Reader
  • Albert Einstein – inventor and theoretical physicist
  • Thomas Edison – inventor
  • Leonardo da Vinci – famous painter, scientist, and philosopher
  • Sir Isaac Newton – astronomer, mathematician, and scientist
  • Michael Faraday – physicist that discovered electromagnetic induction, electromagnetic rotations, the magneto-optical effect, and diamagnetism
  • Barbara Corcoran – real estate mogul and Shark Tank investor
  • Kevin O’Leary – founder of O’Leary Funds and Softkey Software Products, and Shark Tank investor
  • Daymond John – investor on Shark Tank and founder of FUBU
  • Charles Schwabb – businessman and investor

(Source understood.org  and IMDb)

Bill Information

HB 842 (2016)

House patrons included: Benjamin Cline (chief patron), Thomas “Tag” Greason, Jennifer Boysko, David Bulova, Patrick Hope, Timothy Hugo, Mark Keam, Mark Levine, G. Manoli Loupassi, T. Montgomery “Monty” Mason, and Sam Rasoul, and Tony Wilt. The Senate patrons included senators Adam Ebbin and Scott A. Surovell.

HB 2395 (2017)

House patrons included: Delegate Benjamin Cline (chief patron), Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (chief co-patron), Lashrecse D. Aird, John J. Bell, Jennifer B. Boysko, David L. Bulova, Patrick A. Hope, Timothy D. Hugo, and J. Randall Minchew.

SB 1516 (2017)

Senate patrons included: Richard H. Black (chief patron), Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, and Jill Holtzman Vogel.

Debbie Eisele
About Debbie Eisele 13 Articles
Debbie Eisele is a writer and editor at Piedmont Lifestyle Publications, certified horticulturalist, education advocate, and president of the board of directors for Allegro School of the Arts. She lives in Warrenton with her husband and twin daughters. In her free time, she enjoys a cup of coffee and being outdoors.

2 Comments

  1. I would like to recognize Fauquier County Public Schools for being proactive in their efforts to provide educational opportunities for teachers in specialized reading instruction. I am pleased that fifteen teachers in Fauquier County have completed the GMU Specialized Reading program and are ready to provide multisensory literacy instruction to their students. This dedicated group included classroom teachers, special education teachers and reading specialists. Dr. Wiley, Dr. Fontana and I stressed to our students one very important thing, “you teach the child, not the label.” Therefore, a student does not need to be identified as having dyslexia to receive effective reading instruction. In fact, it is my sincere belief that if comprehensive multisensory literacy instruction was provided by trained teachers in the tier 1 classroom (general education) from kindergarten on, we would see fewer students requiring tier 2 and tier 3 interventions.

    Sincerely,
    Katherine T. Nutt, PhD
    Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator
    Virginia Department of Education’s Training and Technical Assistance Center @ GMU
    Adjunct Professor, Specialized Reading Certificate Program

  2. Dr. Nutt,

    I agree with your sentiment concerning early intervention with appropriate instruction tailored to the specific child, but you must diagnose to treat. My children would not quickly receive the right treatments for asthma If I did not have or share their diagnosis. Dyslexia is life long and it will need identification and to be shared when a student or adult struggles to attain their next level of achievement. More than a few government jobs require testing to advance in a career. Those adults often need an assessment and specific identification to be able to access the accommodation of more time to demonstrate their proficiency. There is just no reason for guessing with a diagnosis, it just facilitates stigma, and poor self esteem. I am happy to hear of the recent training that are ongoing. Many counties are joining in with the training and in several years, I hope to see more articles on the progress that has been made in our school districts for the families with dyslexia. As a new Prince William County resident I want to thank Delegate Timothy Hugo for his patronage of the new dyslexia laws. As a past Fairfax City resident I want thank Delegate David Bulova for his continued support and patronage of these two laws.

    Joan Moore Rizek
    Parent

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