Dyslexia: Some Background, Some Technology Tools

By Reilly, Rob | MultiMedia Schools, November/December 2001 | Go to article overview

Dyslexia: Some Background, Some Technology Tools


Reilly, Rob, MultiMedia Schools


Simply put, dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language despite having at least average intelligence.

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As I read through the biography of World War II general, George S. Patton Jr., I was surprised to find that he was dyslexic. It seems from what his biographer Carlo DeEstes found, the future general was not just marginally dyslexic, he had great difficult reading. As General Patton noted in his memories, "I had trouble with my As, Bs, and what was that other letter?" I was even more surprised to learn that he graduated from West Point. But General Patton did overcome, or at least make accommodation for, his dyslexia. He may have even found a method of remediation. It would be interesting to pore over General Patton's papers to see how he dealt with his disability.

But when George Patton was having his difficulty, dyslexia and other such maladies were, as yet, unidentified. It was not until the late-20th century that dyslexia was recognized; however, the prevailing definition of dyslexia was an exclusionary one. If lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, low IQ, poor eyesight, poor hearing, or behavioral problems could not account for a child's reading difficulty, then it was assumed that the child must be dyslexic.

It was not until the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began research in 1980 that there was a bit more of an accurate definition of dyslexia. Simply put, dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language despite having at least average intelligence. The NIH position supports the notion that dyslexia, which affects at least one out of every five children in the U.S., is the most common and prevalent of all known learning disabilities. Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties in single word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonological processing ability This is typically manifested by a conspicuous problem acquiring proficiency in writing and spelling. However, the prevailing opinion is that no two people with dyslexia are exactly alike. This is not difficult to understand, as there is a long list of symptoms [see, for example, http://www. dys-add.com/symptoms], which leads one to believe that dyslexia is not too far removed from still being diagnosed in an exclusionary manner.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has revised and expanded the NIH definition. The IDA's definition views dyslexia as a neurologically based, often familially inherited, disorder that interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. It varies in severity and is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing; in reading, writing, spelling, and handwriting; and sometimes in mathematics.

Research has shown that there is a neurological difference between the brain of a person with dyslexia and the rest of the population. People with dyslexia have a noticeably larger right hemisphere. This may account somewhat for the fact that people with dyslexia often have significant strengths in such right brain activities as art, athletics, 3-D visualization ability, music, and creative problem-solving skills.

A critical issue in the understanding of dyslexia is that people with this problem, according to NIH researchers, have a lack "of phonemic awareness [and that] is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to learn to read.... Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor separating normal and disabled readers."

NIH research has typically shown that a lack of phonemic awareness is the root cause of reading failure. (Note: Phonemes are the smallest unit of spoken language, not written language. Thus children who lack phonemic awareness are unable to distinguish or manipulate sounds within spoken words or syllables. …

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