Top Five Myths About Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities

Myth #1: "Individuals with dyslexia are of low intelligence, slow learners, or mentally retarded."

This could be one of the most damaging misconceptions about dyslexia. Often, because of their struggles with reading, writing, and spelling, these individuals begin to feel like they are stupid. Unfortunately, many misinformed educators and parents reinforce this idea and create an assault on the person’s self esteem.

"There are many misconceptions about dyslexic children. They are believed to be slow learners, mentally retarded, slow in comprehension, emotionally disturbed and totally unfit for learning. This surmise is not only popular, but also wrong. Dyslexics have a problem only in reading, writing, spelling and sometimes arithmetic, but not in thinking. 'My daughter was performing very badly in her exams. She would answer correctly when you ask her orally, but she was not able to put them on paper. It took us a long tome to find out that she was dyslexic,' says the parent of 10-year-old Nisha."

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In fact, the exact opposite is the case. If you look up the word dyslexia in the dictionary, you'll find that it is derived from the Greek word dys (meaning poor or inadequate) plus lexis (words or language). Perhaps you know people with dyslexia. If so, you probably know one of the common problems they have is transposing letters or numbers. These problems can occur in listening, writing, reading, spelling, or handwriting. In other words, dyslexic people process language poorly, but that doesn’t mean they aren't intelligent.

Dyslexia is not related to low intelligence. Dyslexia is a unique mindset that is often gifted and productive but learns differently than other minds. In fact, some of the most brilliant minds of our time have been known to have dyslexia: Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and John Lennon, to mention only a few. There are people with dyslexia in many types of highly respected careers such as: Tom Cruise, Danny Glover, Cher, Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, and General George Patton. Most dyslexics often have a better sense of spatial relationships or better use of their right brain."

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Myth #2: "Individuals with dyslexia are just lazy and simply need to apply themselves."

Research has shown, with the technology of MRIs and brain mapping, that those with dyslexia use a different part of their brains when reading and working with language. "I feel really very gratified that these individuals can now say there is good evidence that this is a neurobiological disorder," said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale pediatrician who headed the study. Dyslexic people show an abnormal pattern of brain function when reading: underactivity in some regions, overactivity in another. And that accounts for the difficulty they have in extracting meaning from the printed word, researchers say. The findings provide evidence that people with dyslexia are not poorly taught, lazy, or stupid but have an inborn brain abnormality that has nothing to do with intelligence, say the scientists from the Yale School of Medicine.

(Saltus, Richard. "Different Brain Pattern Seen in Those with Dyslexia," The Boston Globe.)

The process is not as efficient and often takes them longer, with much more effort required than for those who use the automatic language centers in their brains. This extra time needed for processing does not mean they are slow or lazy. This process for them is exhausting, and, until they are taught in the way their brains need to learn to make these connections to the automatic language center, it will always be a laborious process for them.

"Lack of awareness about this disorder among the teachers and parents, has often resulted in the child being branded as 'idiot' or 'lazy.' Constant failure and censure from both parents and teachers affect these children emotionally. They develop low self-esteem and school becomes a stressful place. Studies not only become an ordeal, they hate their teachers and classmates who are good at studies."

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Rather than them feeling our frustration, it would be of greater benefit if they received our understanding.

Myth #3: "Individuals with dyslexia 'see backward.'"

Individuals with dyslexia do see things differently, but they do not see things backward. Dr. Glenda Thorne stated, "Dyslexia is not a deficit in the visual processing system; however, it is a language processing problem. The hallmark characteristic of dyslexia is a breakdown in what is called phoneme awareness." This difficulty in processing language is what can cause mispronunciation that may appear like they are reading backward. This can also come from what is called "Recency Effect," in which their sounding out is so isolated and choppy that, by the time they are sounding out the final sound, they cannot remember the first sound, and so they pronounce the word with the most recent sound first, like "tap" for "pat." This is where teaching blending the initial consonant with a vowel sound can be so beneficial for fluency instead of memorizing ending patterns.

These learners think better with pictures and often have trouble associating and connecting symbols and letters with sounds and names. Many individuals with dyslexia have proven to see things three dimensionally, which can effect how they look at words. Teaching them to work linearly, left-to-right, is very helpful, and attaching pictures and meaning to letters and combinations of letters is very helpful. There is the Davis Reading Method, by Ron Davis, which helps them work with their "mind's eye" and their ability to see three-dimensionally. This information is helpful and can be another piece of the puzzle, but it is not a comprehensive program, and research has shown that those with dyslexia must have systematic, explicit, sequential phonics in order to improve their decoding, fluency, and comprehension. All of this information supports the idea that those with dyslexia do process information and symbols differently, but they do not simply "see backward."

Myth #4: "Those with dyslexia make up a small percentage of the general population."

According to the latest dyslexia research from the National Institutes of Health, dyslexia affects 20 percent of Americans (and about the same percentage of people in foreign nations).

That's one out of every five children. According to NIH research, of those who are placed in special education for a learning disability, around 80 percent of those have dyslexia. Dyslexia is by far the most common learning disability.

If these were percentages of a deadly illness, they would receive mass attention. Ignoring the affects of not being able to read or process language past a 4th-grade level is just as serious as ignoring an illness. This has a great effect on these individuals' lives.

This is not a small percentage and is something that should not be ignored nor skirted around by changing the name to something more "socially acceptable." A problem can be fixed only if it is diagnosed correctly. In order to get the proper help, it must be labeled for what it is; then, we can find the right help and empower these learners with the right tools.

Myth #5: "Those with dyslexia will never improve and will always be poor readers."

Dyslexia is a not a disease and cannot be cured by a trip to the doctor or a magic pill. It is a way of thinking, the way the brain is wired, and how it processes information. Recent research and studies such as the one performed at Yale University by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, using MRI technology, have proven without a doubt that those with dyslexia use different parts of their brains than non-dyslexics. Research has shown that the brain can actually be rewired if the individual is taught with systematic, explicit, sequential phonics taught in a multi-sensory way. Dr. Shaywitz documented the results after intervention with this type of phonics instruction had been used:

"Images obtained immediately after the intervention showed the tentative emergence of primary left-side systems used by good readers as well as the development of right-side secondary pathways for reading. The final set of images obtained one year after the intervention had ended was startling. Not only were the right-side auxiliary pathways much less prominent but, more important, there was further development of the primary neural systems on the left side of the brain. Their activation patterns were comparable to those obtained from children who had always been good readers. ... After more than a century of frustration, it has now been shown that the brain can be re-wired and that struggling children can become skilled readers!"

(Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D., Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2003, p. 86.)

Those with dyslexia will always see and process things differently, and, truly, this can be a gift. When dealing with language, there is proven help to ensure a more automatic, less laborious process for these readers. It is freeing and empowering to dispel the myths associated with dyslexia and to understand the truth about it.

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"Dyslexia is not a disease to have and to be cured of, but a way of thinking and learning. Often it's a gifted mind waiting to be found and taught."

- Girard Sagmiller, Dyslexia My Life

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