How Do I Explain Dyslexia?

overloadThe most common misconception is that dyslexics see things backwards.  While it is true that some, not all, have a problem with reversing or flipping similar looking letters like b and d, this does not mean they see things in mirror.  As defined by the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia results “from a deficit in the phonological component of language.”  To put it simply, dyslexics do not have an ear for the sounds of speech.

I use the analogy of musicians: they know a note by sound and they can identify when a wrong note was played.  Non-dyslexics have this ability for the sounds of speech:  they can distinguish between similar sounding letters, such as m or n, f or v, and they can hear more crisply the individual sounds that make up spoken words.  Dyslexics simply have a harder time processing the individual sounds that make up spoken words and they have a harder time mapping the sound (phoneme) to the written letter (grapheme).

The brain of a dyslexic individual is not wired efficiently for language, and this not only impacts correctly mapping and identifying the phoneme to the grapheme, but also the storage and retrieval of language based information.  Everyone experiences moments of “it’s on the tip of my tongue”, but a dyslexic individual experiences this with significantly more frequency.  This has a major impact on the fluency of reading and why a dyslexic individual requires more time:  the processing of language is inefficient and can be mentally draining.

When advocating for my child or trying to explain to teachers the effort it takes, I use this example – the effort it takes my child to read and write could be compared to the effort it would take to spend your school day being taught in a foreign language that has not been mastered or learned to automaticity. Everything you read, write, even note-taking, you are translating in your head as you go along. It would be mentally draining to have to do this all day long. This analogy seems to work well in helping my son’s teachers to understand how much effort a dyslexic student puts into a school day.

To help with cognitive overload, both Learning Ally and Bookshare are great resources for a dyslexic student.

  •  Learning Ally provides audiobooks that are read by people, good for those who prefer to have a human voice instead of a computer synthesized voice.
  • Bookshare is a service free to students on an IEP for a documented reading disability.  The voice is synthesized, but the nice feature is that it highlights the sentence that is being read in one color, and highlights the word as it is read in another color allowing the reader to follow along with the text as it is read aloud.


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