What Educators Really Believe about Dyslexia

Article excerpt

The purposes of this study were (a) to create and validate a scale measuring beliefs regarding dyslexia, (b) to use the scale to investigate the beliefs of educators regarding dyslexia, and (c) to recommend ways that educators can be better prepared to help students with dyslexia. Participants included university faculty as well as undergraduate and graduate students preparing to become administrators, counselors, elementary general education teachers, secondary general education teachers, speech therapists, and special education teachers at a southern regional university. Using the Dyslexia Belief Index (DBI), developed and validated by the researchers, it was found that the majority of participants believed a significant number of misconceptions about dyslexia. However, elementary general education majors had significantly fewer misconceptions than the other groups. Recommendations to better prepare educators include providing more opportunities to learn about dyslexia through avenues such as participating in a dyslexia simulation and observing/tutoring individuals with dyslexia. These findings illustrate the need for educators to have formal and informal educational opportunities as well as hands-on field experiences with individuals who have dyslexia.

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The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (2000) reports that at least 17% to 20% of the United States' population has a reading disability. This means that one child in five will experience significant problems learning to read which will persist through the teenage years and adulthood. Early intervention and treatment are absolutely necessary for these children who are at risk. Very often, the first adults who notice a problem are the educators who work with children at school.

Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia (reading disability) report that the attitudes of educators profoundly affect the way they perceive themselves as well as their success in school and life (Hellendoorn & Ruijssenaars, 2000; Levine, 1998; Ryan, 1994). Students indicate that discrepancies exist between educators' and their own views of their scholastic competence that severely limit students' functioning in courses (Carlisle & Andrews, 1993). As a result of school experiences, many students develop social and emotional problems such as low self-esteem, frustration, helplessness, stigma, and depression (Currie & Wadlington, 2000; Riddick, 1995; Rubin, 2002; Ryan, 1994).

Problems are compounded because parents are sometimes treated like clients rather than partners in the educational process (Riddick, 1995). When parents report that they suspect that their young children have dyslexia, often educators do not recognize the characteristics and delay timely assessment and assistance. Sometimes, local boards of education do not regard dyslexia as an entity because they do not have the resources to meet the needs of students with dyslexia (Katz, 2001). Consequently, undiagnosed primary children with dyslexia often become increasingly disruptive in order to avoid frustrating school tasks. As they grow older, they may get in serious trouble with the schools and the law because of behavior problems (Currie & Wadlington, 2000; Thornton, 1999). On the other hand, sometimes districts are tempted to incorrectly label students as dyslexic to justify poor standardized test scores (Rubin, 2002).

Parents often complain that schools do too little too late in spite of rising public awareness (Thornton, 1999; Vail, 2001). This is especially unfortunate because most parents and children report personal relief at receiving a diagnosis of dyslexia. However, some are hesitant to use the label because it is so often misunderstood and perceived as an excuse for poor performance. Many parents send their children to private schools where they believe that they receive more help and understanding than in public schools. …