On Being Dyslexic

Eight-year-old Evan is one of the brightest children in his third-grade class. He has a wonderful vocabulary and knows everything there is to know about baseball—he can even tell you who played in each of the last ten World Series games and who won.But when it comes to reading about baseball—or anything else—Evan has a lot of trouble. It takes him a long time to read each word, and even longer to read whole sentences. He often has to guess at how you say a word—and sometimes his guess is wrong. Reading out loud is especially stressful and embarrassing. His teacher recently told Evan’s parents that she thinks he might have dyslexia.

Most people assume that part of being smart is being able to read well. About 100 years ago, though, doctors figured out that some people, even some very smart people who do really well at many other things, have trouble learning to read. This difficulty with reading is called dyslexia.

No one is born knowing how to read.We all have to learn how. | Why do I have dyslexia? | A new way to learn… | The good news about dyslexia…

No one is born knowing how to read.We all have to learn how.

Just about every person starts talking without having to learn how. When you were a baby, just being around people who were talking was enough to get you started talking, too. You didn’t have go to talking school or take talking lessons. Human beings’ brains are just designed to make talking happen almost automatically.

Reading is different, though.No one is born knowing how to read—we all have to learn how. When you read, your brain has to do a lot of things at once. It has to connect letters with sounds and put those sounds together in the right order.

Then it has to help you put letters, words, and paragraphs together in ways that let you read them quickly and understand what they mean. It also has to connect words and sentences with other kinds of knowledge. When you see “c-a-t” on a piece of paper, your brain doesn’t just have to read the word “cat,” it also has to make the connection that “cat”  means a furry, four-legged animal that meows.

Why do I have dyslexia?

Dyslexia is sort of an invisible problem. It’s not an illness like chicken pox or a cold. In school your teachers can see you working hard, but they can’t see all the steps your brain has to take to make sense of the words on the worksheet she gave you to do.

Many kids with dyslexia worry that there is something wrong with their brain. That’s a pretty scary thought. Thanks to recent research, though, we have lots of scientific proof that a dyslexic person’s brain is normal and healthy.

When you have dyslexia, though, your brain takes longer to make some of these connections, and does it in more steps. It especially has trouble matching the letters you see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make. And when you have trouble with that step, it makes all the other steps harder.

Dyslexia isn’t rare. You might know other kids in your school who have dyslexia, too. Although dyslexia isn’t contagious, sometimes several people in the same family have dyslexia. Older kids and adults can also have dyslexia.

A new way to learn…

It’s actually lucky that you’ve already found out you have dyslexia. The younger you are when you figure out that reading is tough for you, the sooner you—with the help of your teachers and parent—can find ways to learn that make it easier. Even though dyslexia isn’t something you’ll grow out of, there are lots of things your teachers and parents can show you to help you to read better and even to enjoy reading.

In fact, you may have already figured out some strategies all by yourself that help you when you’re reading. Kids with dyslexia often learn to use other skills to help them make sense of what they’re reading or studying. You might already be especially good at:

  • Observing—looking for clues in pictures or other kinds of illustrations
  • Listening—paying attention to what your teacher is saying or what other kids are reading out loud
  • Memorizing—remembering what you hear as someone reads or talks to you

Using creative skills like these is not cheating! They’re great tools that can help you as you learn to read better. Your parents, your teacher and maybe other people at your school, like a reading specialist, can take other steps to make reading better for you. Some of these steps might include:

  • Starting you on a reading program that helps you to figure out what sounds make up each word
  • Letting you do your work in a quiet place
  • Allowing you to listen to books on tape or CD as you read along in your own book
  • Letting you do some of your written work on a keyboard
  • Giving you extra time to do your work

The good news about dyslexia…

One thing we know for certain about dyslexia is that this is one small area of difficulty in a sea of strengths. Having trouble with reading does not mean that you’ll have trouble with everything. In fact, most kids with dyslexia are very good at lots of other things.People with dyslexia are often very creative, and typically develop some clever skills to help them figure out words and sentences that give them trouble at first. Dyslexics often think of unexpected ways to solve a problem or tackle a challenge.

We don’t fully understand whether this kind of creativity comes from the extra work dyslexics have to do to succeed at reading, or whether dyslexics are just naturally creative. What we do know, though, is that many, many people with dyslexia, even some who really struggled with reading and writing in elementary school and high school, went on to college, and work in jobs they love.

Did you ever read any of the Captain Underpants books? The author of these funny stories, Dav Pilkey, has dyslexia. So does Scott Adams, who draws and writes the popular comic strip Dilbert. Many famous performers (ever hear of John Lennon or Whoopie Goldberg?) have dyslexia. So do lots of famous doctors, business people, inventors, artists, and scientists.

Having dyslexia can sometimes make you feel frustrated or sad. With the right help, though, you can learn to read—and even to enjoy reading—and you can be anything you want to be.

This article is based on content from
Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Read More!

Setting People Straight about Dyslexia.

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Links to Check Out:

Young People’s Reading List

Successful Dyslexics

Professor Garfield

Developed from the vision of Jim Davis, the creator of the popular cartoon cat Garfield, this website is an interactive learning tool, where kids with learning disabilities (and even those without) can express themselves and practice and enhance their skills—and have a bunch of fun doing it, too.

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