Demystifying Dyslexia

By Peterson, Elisabeth; Kinell, Jennifer et al. | New England Reading Association Journal, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Demystifying Dyslexia


Peterson, Elisabeth, Kinell, Jennifer, O'Brien, Laura, Valerie, Lynda M., New England Reading Association Journal


There is currently a lot of buzz about dyslexia. Buzz creates interest but also can induce a fair amount of misinformation or cause some fundamental misconceptions. Here are a few questions that can lead to misconceptions or misinformation depending on your level of awareness about dyslexia.

Are there more boys than girls with dyslexia?

Are dyslexic students able to participate in the gifted/talented program?

Are educators informed about teaching students with dyslexia?

Are letter and number reversals a sure indicator of dyslexia?

Do individuals with dyslexia enjoy reading?

Are school districts prepared to comply with forthcoming legislation concerning dyslexia?

Unfolding the Myth About Dyslexia

As educators, we are responsible for demystifying misconceptions or misinformation about dyslexia. But first we must aim to become knowledgeable about dyslexia. Second, we must familiarize ourselves with the laws and regulations that impact on our ability to address dyslexic learners, and support and safeguard their rights to receive excellent education.

The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the definition of dyslexia, review recent dyslexia legislation, and address the question regarding the preparedness of our teachers and schools to address the needs of students with dyslexia.

The Evolution of Definitions of Dyslexia

The understanding of dyslexia began in the late 19th century. In 1878, a German physician, Dr. Kussmaul studied a man who was unable to learn to read. The man was of normal intelligence and had received an adequate education. Dr. Kussmaul described his particular problem as "reading blindness" (http://www.dyslexiasw.com/ advice/all-about-dyslexia/history-of-dyslexia). In 1887, German physician Rudolf Berlin used the term dyslexia to expand the definition of reading problems.

In 1925, an American neurologist, Dr. S amuel T Orton proposed the first theory of how specific reading difficulty arose. He studied the effects of left and right brain dominance on language and theorized there was a connection of hemisphere dominance and language development. He also developed teaching strategies during his research that are still in use today (The Academy of OrtonGillingham Practitioners and Educators, 2012).

Dr. Pringle Morgan's early definition of dyslexia: "the condition as we know it-an inability to learn to read occurring in an otherwise bright and developmentally normal child" first appeared in the British Medical Journal on November 7, 1896 (http://www.dyslexia.com). Dr. Morgan recognized that children with dyslexia have the intellectual capability to be academically successful. The challenge for students with dyslexia is the development of decoding and encoding skills, which could delay and sometimes derail development of their literacy skills.

Definitions of dyslexia have been debated and discussed for over a hundred years. Currently, many states, organizations, and legislation have varied definitions of dyslexia. The commonalities in the definitions from the New England States and New York State include the following phrases: neurobiological in origin, impacts decoding and accurate fluent word recognition and spelling, and deficits of phonological processing. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) definition is well known and adopted from the IDA Board of Directors (2002):

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. The 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 (http://eida. …

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