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April 26, 2011

Dyslexia: What it is, and how to treat it

Written by Dr. John Carosso

I am often asked, “does my child have dyslexia.” A follow-up question usually pertains to what exactly is “dyslexia” and what can a parent do to help. Here’s what you need to know:

‘Dyslexia’ vs a ‘Learning Disability’
Dyslexia (disorder of reading) and Dysgraphia (disorder of writing) are two conditions that are often labeled by school districts, more generally, as a “learning disability”. In fact, over 90% of students classified as having a ‘Specific Learning Disability’ (and given an IEP) are classified as such because they have some form of dyslexia. 

Like father, like son
These conditions are almost always inherited (that’s right kids, don’t say your parents never gave you anything) and can greatly interfere with a child’s ability to make progress in school. 

More than just a reading disorder
Dyslexia is actually a problem with the processing of language; kids have difficulty processing the sequence of sounds that comprise spoken words. Consequently, you get words like “psghetti” and “amninal.” Interesting, these kiddos genuinely don’t ‘hear’ themselves saying the words incorrectly so it’s difficult for them to self-correct.  Moreover, they also struggle with visually processing the specific sounds. Consequently, they may read “gut” for “glut” and so on.

The foundation of treatment
All of the effective strategies are based in a ‘multi-sensory’ approach that incorporates, in the learning process, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  

In that respect, a child may be shown the word, asked to say the word, hear it spoken by the teacher, write the word on paper, and write the word or letter (using his finger) on a rough surface. Consequently, the child is receiving varied feedback (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) regarding how that word looks, sounds, feels, and is written.

Kinesthetic tends to be especially important  (once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget…)

The Orton-Gillingham approach is commonly used, and incorporates this multi-sensory approach.

What you can do
Here are some considerations:

Read to your child daily, assuming that the person reading to the child is a good reader and can clearly and accurately pronounce the letters and words. In that regard, there’s no sense in confusing the child further. Books on tape can be helpful otherwise and Kindle is becoming popular (read-aloud option)

Two second rule
When reading to your child and taking turns, use the ‘two second rule’. When your child struggles, wait two seconds, then quickly pronounce the word for your child and move-on with the reading. Otherwise, the reading experience becomes burdensome, boring, and your child will resist. Moreover, basic reading passages have lots of repetition of words, so you’ll re-encounter that word soon enough.

Practice makes perfect
Practice writing by tracing and progressively moving to free-hand. Tracing and writing of problem letters (b’s, p’s, d’s…) is helpful. There are also various helpful tricks (“bed” featuring a picture of two people - pictured as the ‘b’ and ‘d’ -  holding between them an ‘e’ on which a person is sleeping…).

“Those letters are jumping around…”

Use off-white paper or background with larger-size (14 pt or more) comic sans font to reduce the letters appearing to “move around on the page” (a common complaint from kids struggling with dyslexia).

Technology is our friend
Practice phonics on-line; simply google “free phonics games” and plenty of sites will be available for daily, fun-filled practice. There are also inexpensive ‘apps’ that can be downloaded. I also refer parents to any number of commercial software products that provide comprehensive instruction, in a child-friendly manner, on the computer.

Get our Dyslexia Packet free of charge
Simply email me at and ask for our Dyslexia Packet that outlines these strategies, helpful websites, websites addresses for software, and a host of other treatment options.

What to do in the meantime
Parents often ask how their child can manage during the time they’re receiving support at school, but not yet showing marked improvement, and therefore still struggling in completing assignments. I’ll cover those very helpful tips in my next post.  Stay tuned.

Lets hear from you
Please comment on what you’ve found to be helpful for your child. Also, if you found this helpful, please forward to a friend. Thanks.

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