Understanding Dyslexia: LearningRx Dispels Four Common Myths

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Dyslexia is a household word. But do you really understand the disorder? LearningRx explores why dyslexia is more than just reversing letters, and how a new technique called "brain training" is helping thousands of people with dyslexia nationwide.

A child's cognitive skill set is made up of several cognitive skills including auditory processing, visual processing, short and long-term memory, comprehension, logic and reasoning, and attention skills. In children with dyslexia, the weakest cognitive skills are phonemic awareness and auditory processing, although other areas may suffer as well.

Dyslexia is a household word. But do you really understand the disorder? LearningRx explores why dyslexia is more than just reversing letters, and how a new technique called "brain training" is helping thousands of people with dyslexia nationwide.

Myth #1: Dyslexia is about reversing letters.
The most basic sign of dyslexia is not "reversed letters" as many people think, but rather weak phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness and auditory processing skills are the underlying cognitive abilities to hear and remember the smallest individual units of sound in a word.

The word dyslexia actually means "poor with words or trouble with reading." Where does this definition come from? This could mean a person has trouble reading fluently, out loud, reading new words, and/or pronouncing words correctly.

Some of the most common symptoms include:
1.    Difficulty translating written words into speech, and vice versa
2.    Struggles pronouncing new words.
3.    Poor at distinguishing similarities/difference in words (no, on)
4.    Weak at letter sound discrimination (pin, pen)
5.    Low reading comprehension

Myth #2: Dyslexia is a lifelong label.
Dyslexia doesn't need to be a permanent diagnosis or condition. It is simply a term identifying a child (or teen or adult) who reads poorly.

As with almost all learning struggles, the most common root cause is one or more weak cognitive skills - the fundamental tools of effective learning.

"Cognitive skills are the underlying tools that enable us to successfully focus, think, prioritize, plan, understand, visualize, remember and create useful associations, and solve problems," explains Tanya Mitchell, co-author of "Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in your Child." "A child's cognitive skill set is made up of several cognitive skills including auditory processing, visual processing, short and long-term memory, comprehension, logic and reasoning, and attention skills. In children with dyslexia, the weakest cognitive skills are phonemic awareness and auditory processing, although other areas may suffer as well."

Myth #3: There's nothing parents can do to help.
Although Mitchell recommends a thorough, intense program of 'brain training' for children who have been diagnosed as dyslexic, she also offers suggestions for games that parents can do at home to improve their children's phonemic awareness and auditory processing skills. They include:

  • Sound segmenting games: Say a two-sound word, like bee or tie, and have the child tell you which sounds are in the word ("/b/" and "/ee/" for "bee" and "/t/" and "/ie/" for "tie"). Then start to increase to three-sound words like cat, ("/k/" "/a/" and "/t/") and tree ("/t/" "/r/" and "/ee/"). This builds auditory segmenting which is necessary for spelling when children get older.
  • Phonetics using building blocks: Help develop analysis skills by using blocks to make up nonsense words starting with two to three blocks. Create a nonsense word, then have the child remove one of the blocks and add a new one while verbally trying to figure out what the new nonsense word sounds like. (If they can't read, just say the sounds for them, and ask them to try to figure out from hearing the sounds what the new word would sound like when they switch the blocks.)
  • Rhyming games: Say a word and then take turns with your child trying to come up with a new word that rhymes. This develops auditory analysis, which is important for reading and spelling as well as processing auditory instruction.

"Again, I'd suggest that parents try these exercises at home to complement a cognitive skills training program," says Mitchell. "After working with a professional (brain trainer) in a one-one-one setting, most children who have been labeled as having dyslexia other learning disabilities like ADD and ADHD can improve from three to five grade levels."

In fact, according to Science Daily, a new Carnegie Mellon University brain imaging study found that the brains of dyslexic students and other poor readers were permanently rewired to overcome reading deficits after 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction.

Myth #4: Only a special ed teacher can screen for dyslexia.
Some brain training companies offer free screening tools to kids and teens to help evaluate for several types of learning issues. Here are some sample questions taken from a free online test created by LearningRx, a national brain training franchise:

1.    Does your child misread similar words?
2.    Does your child need words repeated when taking spelling tests?
3.    Is your child's oral reading slow or choppy?
4.    Does your child make spelling errors in written assignments?
5.    Does your child have difficulty sounding out unknown words?

If you answered "yes" to three of more of these questions, visit the LearningRx website to contact a learning center near you and ask about our cognitive skills test.

"The good news is, weak cognitive skills can be improved," says Mitchell. "Brain training does for the mind what physical exercise does for the body. A diagnosis of dyslexia doesn't need to remain with a child throughout life."

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer and editor with more than 1,000 published pieces.

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