The Truth About Dyslexia: Myths Debunked and Strategies for Success
During the learning process, writing, reading, and math are fundamental functions that every child must acquire. When we talk about reading, the specific learning disorder we refer to is dyslexia.
In this article, we will examine:
The specific learning disorder affecting reading skills in 1 student per class
Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) that affects the reading skills, one of the main functions for the learning of every student. Today, this disorder is quite well-known and investigated, although in the past, relational and emotional components tended to hide it.
According to Italian data, around 5% of students in Italy are affected by dyslexia, which is roughly one student per class. There are many myths to debunk about dyslexia: dyslexia is not a disease, and there is no such thing as a "typical dyslexic". It should be emphasized that the causes of dyslexia are qualitatively and quantitatively different. In each student, any problems with attention or executive functions are isolated with appropriate investigations. It is possible to achieve excellent results by working accurately on reading and attention. It should also be remembered that dyslexia is diagnosed in the absence of other deficits of neurological, sensory, social, and relational origin.
The comorbidity of specific learning disorders and the impact on reading accuracy, fluency, and speed
When dyslexia is analyzed within the context of Specific Learning Disorders, it is very difficult to find students who have problems solely with reading. It is very common to observe heterogeneous situations that manifest as difficulties in calculation and writing, reading and emotional sphere, as well as attention or memory. These situations are defined as comorbidity of different Specific Learning Disorders.
If not diagnosed in time and addressed correctly, dyslexia can cause students difficulties in school and socializing.
The IQ of these students is perfectly normal, their difficulty lies in the accuracy of reading, in the complexity of reading fluently, and in the persistence of the problem over time. The parameter that is conventionally used especially in the school context is the speed of reading.
Understanding the visual and cognitive challenges of dyslexic readers
When we refer to complex activities, reading is one of them. It is the result of a set of other skills (visual, linguistic, cognitive) that the student uses in the acquisition of knowledge. The decoding of visual information and its processing are the basis of the process that allows the child to learn to read.
Readers with dyslexia see words and letters that change direction, orientation or move.
Many lose their place, skip lines and words, and get tired very easily. It is also important to remember the "crowding effect" or visual crowding. The student perceives the identification of a central stimulus as an obstacle when it is surrounded by other stimuli, thus in a crowded situation. In some cases, it is recommended to increase the space between words but also between letters.
Below is a simulation of reading by a student with dyslexia:
Signs to watch for and steps to take
When in class we are faced with a student with a decoding problem, text comprehension difficulty or slow reading speed, we are probably dealing with a dyslexic student. Sometimes even just one of these parameters is enough to alert the teacher and set in motion a system of direct and indirect observation.
Subsequently, specific reading tests will be administered to the student to definitively ascertain dyslexia. When the teacher perceives such a difficulty in a student, they first alert the parents who will then turn to health services.
The health services will try to draw up an initial evaluation quickly and compatible with the start or continuation of school activities, from this moment on specific interventions begin. It is important to emphasize that a diagnosis of dyslexia cannot be made before the second grade of elementary school, and then it is possible to consider any activities to enhance the child's abilities.
Strategies for success and the importance of an individualized education plan
In case of students with DSA, schools can implement a series of strategies to create an optimal situation. Some of these strategies may include:
- avoiding situations that generate frustration, such as reading out loud in class;
- reducing the workload that involves individual reading (producing graphic material such as a mind map);
- strengthening reading skills through alternative and strengthening exercises;
- always thinking in compensatory and dispensatory terms;
- being welcoming towards the child and their difficulties.
It is important to emphasize the importance, in these cases, of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) tool. The IEP is drawn up by the school every year and contains a series of information that guarantees that the student with DSA can achieve the same goals as the class. The school takes the first steps with the reception of the DSA diagnosis, which is updated every year and the child is evaluated at the end of the school cycle they are attending.
Understanding compensatory and dispensatory measures
From the moment of receipt, the school institution and the teacher make available to the student dispensatory and compensatory measures. In this regard, we recall the Law of 8 October 2010, No. 170:
"New rules on specific learning disorders in the school environment", which defines the four recognized learning disorders (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dysorthography, dyscalculia) and aims at the academic success of children with learning disorders, enhancing the strengths of the student through individualized paths, ensuring them the same opportunities as their peers."
Based on all of this, what do we mean when we talk about compensatory and dispensatory measures and tools?
They help the student with dyslexia to mitigate the disorder, recreating a learning methodology that is more closely aligned with their characteristics. However, the objective is not to facilitate the assigned task.
The compensatory tool allows the dyslexic child to perform those activities that are defined as "non-intelligent" - automatic tasks.
Below are some examples of tools that the teacher can use to dispense the student:
- concept maps;
- educational software;
- speech synthesizers.
Concept maps have proven to be a significant aid for students with dyslexia during the learning process. They allow a topic to be explored without great difficulty, the creation of a sequence and the small amount of text allows the student to memorize in a simplified and agile way. They can be a valid line to follow for both parents and teachers.
When a teacher decides to dispense a student from a certain activity, it is said that they are implementing dispensatory measures by respecting their time, their personality, and also personalizing the evaluation.
Article by Mariana Ciaglia, pedagogue.