Earlier this month, Bebe Cline, Julie Fine, Angela Hester and Renee Hutchins traveled to Grace Point School in Kennesaw for a staff development session titled “Understanding Dyslexia,” taught by Brenda Fitzgerald, Ed.S. The two days of training were packed with valuable information about the characteristics of children living with dyslexia, challenges faced by these students, and methods used to meet their unique academic and social needs.
What is dyslexia? Mrs. Fitzgerald explained that dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disability with a genetic link. A student living with dyslexia usually has a strong IQ, but demonstrates weaknesses in word recognition, spelling and decoding. These areas of weakness result in overall challenges in reading comprehension and vocabulary.
As a child with dyslexia moves from preschool to higher grades, the disability presents itself through many characteristics. One of the earliest characteristics of dyslexia is an inability to learn common nursery rhymes. The child has difficulty rhyming. As the child moves into first grade, he or she struggles to associate letters to sounds and sounds to letters. Reading single-syllable words is difficult and exhausting. From second grade and higher, the student often mispronounces long words, leaving out parts or confusing the order of parts. Speech is not fluent and is often broken by hesitations and “um’s.” He or she needs extra processing time and may misname objects, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because the student confuses the sounds of the language. Story problems in math will be difficult for a child with dyslexia, and learning a foreign language is extremely difficult. Experts sometimes recommend children with dyslexia study Latin in elementary grades since the vast majority of English words contain Latin roots.
Dyslexia can also manifest itself in some unexpected behaviors. A child may have difficulty completing tasks on time. He or she may have poor spatial sense, inattentiveness and a lack of perseverance. A faulty pencil grip is often evident in a child living with dyslexia. He or she is usually very literal and a concrete thinker. Some have weak impulsive control and difficulty reading social cues. New information must be repeated over and over and over for mastery.
If a child has dyslexia, the process of learning to read, write and spell can be torturously slow, and benchmarks are often delayed. Fortunately, there are many, highly effective, research-based methods for teaching these special children.