Dyslexia-Implications for Physical Educators and Coaches

By Waugh, Leslie M.; Sherrill, Claudine | Palaestra, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Dyslexia-Implications for Physical Educators and Coaches


Waugh, Leslie M., Sherrill, Claudine, Palaestra


Dyslexia is a condition that "... impedes the learning process in reading, spelling, and/or writing independent of socioeconomic factors and intelligence. This definition includes accompanying weaknesses, such as impairments in sequencing and organization, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language, and motor skills" (Chiappe, 2002. p. 24). Many adapted physical educators believe these and other accompanying impairments affect mastery of sport and game behaviors (e.g., Sherrill, 2004: Winnick, 2000).

One in five students in the United States may have dyslexia (Shaywitz, 2003), and it is likely physical educators and coaches teach, coach, and counsel several individuals with dyslexia each day. Despite the myth that more boys have dyslexia than girls, new research shows dyslexia affects males, females, ethnic groups, and socio-economic backgrounds equally (Shaywitz, 2003). Overcoming dyslexia is one of the primary goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001 and an area of concern to the general public, as evidenced by its coverage in such sources as Time Magazine (see cover story, July 28, 2003, and Gorman, 2003).

Most physical education research, to date, has been published on specific learning disabilities (the federal category including dyslexia and used for IEP-based identification of students eligible for special education services, including physical education) rather than dyslexia per se. Shapiro and Ulrich (2001; 2002) are among the few researchers of children with learning disabilities (LD) who carefully described composition of their sample in terms of number with dyslexia (16 out of 30) as compared to other conditions. Despite the fact dyslexia comprises about 80% of all LD conditions (Shaywitz, 2003), no one has yet published information about dyslexia with specific reference to physical education and sport.

Given the high prevalence of dyslexia, the purposes of this article are to (a) promote awareness of physical educators and coaches of individuals with dyslexia in their classes and on their teams, (b) decrease generalizations concerning association of dyslexia with clumsiness, and (c) discuss strategies to enhance successes of individuals with dyslexia in physical activity and sports.

Dyslexia and Comorbid Conditions

Historically, LD (and hence dyslexia) has been associated with perceptual-motor problems, inefficient movement control, and general clumsiness (Ayres, 1972; Bruininks & Bruininks, 1977; Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker, 2004; Lazarus, 1990; Sherrill & Pyfer, 1985). Today, an important issue is whether these problems are integral parts of LD (i.e., generated by LD) or representative of the concomitant or comorbid condition called developmental coordination disorder (Henderson & Henderson, 2002), physical awkwardness (Fitzpatrick & Watkinson, 2003), or clumsiness (Cratty, 1994). It is essential to understand dyslexia may occur in isolation or coexist with a variety of other learning problems, including developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and attention deficit disorder (Cermak & Larkin, 2002). Research findings on comorbid conditions are summarized as follows--"To date, there is no consistent correlation between motor dysfunction and learning disabilities. Moreover, the motor deficits of children with learning disabilities are quite variable, and there is no characteristic pattern" (Cermak & Larkin, 2002, p. 21).

Awareness of physical activity specialists concerning dyslexia is enhanced by an understanding of DCD (used hereafter in this article as including physical awkwardness and clumsiness) and development of assessment competencies enabling distinction between DCD and dyslexia-generated movement problems. DCD was recognized officially by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization in 1987 and 1989, respectively. Inclusion of DCD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders allows professionals who are salaried through insurance payments to earn hourly wages for documented motor intervention. …

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