Dyslexia is a neurobiological condition that creates challenges reading and learning. It’s about a lot more than just letter reversals, and manifests in a range of styles and degrees. In some people dyslexia comes with associated anxiety struggles.
Our children with dyslexia don’t know why school is difficult for them at first. Neither do their teachers and neither do their parents. What we do see is a child who doesn’t want to work on homework after school. We see a child who doesn’t want to go to school in the morning, and may complain of headaches, stomachaches or other pains. We do see a child who calls herself ‘stupid’. We see a child who works slowly and doesn’t understand what they have read. We do see a child who picks up a book, attempts a line or two and then ends up in a puddle of tears.
Their teachers point out that they are ‘behavioral’ or difficult, or my favorite, lazy. Our children learn to avoid the school assignments that are hard for them, like reading, spelling or writing. We see children who visit the nurse during those subjects often, or who become agitated or argue with their teacher, refuse to work on a writing task, or don’t want to come to school at all.
Our teachers are often baffled, thinking this is a child with a behavioral problem, and the behaviorist is called in, along with parents. Recommendations like a behavioral plan, outside psychological support, and more structure at home are often made. But this just distracts us from the learning disability that exists. Not the behavioral problem. Think about it – why would a child willingly want to approach a reading, writing or spelling task when she knows it will be so very difficult. And embarrassing. Embarrassing because they know well enough that the kids sitting around them can read and write and spell easily.
Emotional Impact of Dyslexia
That’s when the anxiety sets in. Our children anticipate the next day’s academic tasks, the questions they may be asked, the thoughts they may have to express in writing, the passage they have to read, silently or out loud, and the questions they have to answer, in writing or out loud.
Unfortunately, dyslexia is more than a reading disability. It has a large emotional impact that affects other areas of functioning. Our children don’t feel normal; they don’t feel like everyone else; they feel badly about themselves; they have low self confidence that doesn’t just apply to their academics. It spills into their everyday abilities. It impacts their social relationships. They lack the confidence to join a group, or they are consumed with their anxiety or their list of “I can’ts.”
What are the Red Flag Signs?
During the late fall of your child’s kindergarten, your child will likely begin to lag behind his peers. You may hear things like:
- Your child learns a letter one day, but then can’t recognize it again the next day or a few days later.
- Your child works slowly
- Your child has an unusual pencil grip
- Your child doesn’t consistently know the sound that the letters make
If your child made it to 1st or 2nd grade, you may hear things like:
- Your child isn’t consistently spelling words correctly
- Your child is spelling words phonetically
- Your child is struggling to follow the sequence of items on a worksheet
By 3rd grade, you may see that:
- Your child avoids reading out loud
- Your child is struggling to express herself in writing
- Your child seems to know the answer but can’t find the right word
- Your child is still reversing letters and number
- Your child needs more time to process and provide an answer
- Your child has difficulty transferring information from the board to paper
What are the different types of Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that impacts a child’s ability to fluently and accurately identify words, spell them, read and thus understand what has been read. There is a neurocognitive and genetic component to dyslexia. According to well known Dyslexia expert and author Shelly Shaywitz, the following is a breakdown of the types of dyslexia:
Developmental Dyslexia refers to difficulty with sight word recognition, or matching sounds with letters.
Language Learning Disability/Dyslexia refers to difficulty with reliance on sight recognition to read and being unable to sound out unknown words which impacts reading comprehension. This impacts reading speed as well as the ability to recognize and process letters and numbers.
Global Dyslexia refers to weak executive functioning as well as phonetic skills. We often see difficulty with remembering daily school materials or following routines. They struggle to find materials in their desk or locker.
Where Should Parents Begin?
As a parent who is receiving the above feedback from your teacher, the first step is to request additional support, through an Intervention and Referral Services Plan (I&RS Plan). Then seek out a Basic Skills Intervention in the area of reading and writing.
The next thing is to ask for a Child Study Team (CST) Referral. You should put your request in writing, stating briefly that you would like to request additional support for your child named XXX, age XX, in grade XX, and ask to be contacted promptly at (insert phone number) or (email address).
Follow up and make sure you are scheduled for a meeting within a reasonable time frame. At your meeting, you will sit with the entire Child Study Team (School Psychologist, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, and Social Worker) where you will share your child’s area of struggles, specifically, within the areas of reading, reading comprehension, written expression and/or spelling and state that you suspect that your child has a learning disability. Document your teacher’s feedback as added support, and bring samples of your child’s work.
When your Child Study Team decides to move forward with testing, the School Psychologist will provide a psychological assessment, the Learning Specialist will provide an educational assessment, and the Social Worker will interview you (as the parent) for a social background. Expect these evaluations to be completed within 90 days.
Eligibility for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is under Specific Learning Disability (SLD). An academic program can then be put in place for your child each day in school. For example, pull out resource with specialized curriculum for remediation.
According to Shaywitz, the Orton Gillingham and Wilson curriculum are multisensory ways to teach phonetics, sight word recognition, reading and reading comprehension.
Anxiety and Dyslexia
So to answer the question – which came first, the behavior or the disability? The answer is, the disability, and the behaviors became the child’s way of coping. By our nature, when a skill that is a prominent part of our daily functioning, such as reading, is difficult, it impacts our sense of self, our sense of “I can.”
Once our brains are awakened to letters and words, this becomes a large part of our daily functioning to gain information. Think about it – how many times do you google something you don’t know? Imagine how hard it would be if you couldn’t even spell what you wanted to look up? It’s not surprising that anxiety would ensue after months of trying to read with struggle and limited success.
For our children with dyslexia, the emotional support is equally as important as the academic remediation. In fact, when our children are struggling behaviorally (e.g., school phobia or separation anxiety), I like to ask about academics in an effort to rule out (or in) if learning is difficult. None of these variables function in isolation and the process of identifying the learning disability is sometimes not that clear because our children develop areas of strength to compensate for their weakness. Our children may also ‘fall in between the cracks’ if they are hard workers and continue to try