Most experts agree that in general dyslexia is the result of an inability to distinguish and/or process the sounds that make up speech, but when trying to define it opinions begin to dramatically differ. This article is reprinted from Phonics Talk Newsletter, vol.9, by Dolores Hiskes
What is dyslexia?
Most experts agree that, in general, it is the result of an inability to distinguish and/or process the sounds that make up speech, for whatever reason. When trying to define dyslexia, it's difficult to find any one group that totally agrees with another--in either its definition, diagnosis or treatment.
What can we do about it?
Some experts feel that dyslexia is inborn and can never be cured, while others believe there is no such thing as dyslexia, and it is just a result of improper teaching methods. It is at this point where opinions begin to diverge.
Merck's Manual defined dyslexia as:
Since whole language programs do not teach students individual letter/sound correspondences, how can they hear the sounds comprising the word? And if children are encouraged in first grade to substitute words for those they cannot read, do not these programs actually train children to do the very thing that medical journals define as dyslexic?
My own experience is that while true dyslexia is much rarer than is commonly thought, it indeed can be an inborn organic phenomenon--our own son has it.
Although he was taught how to read with explicit phonics, he still struggled with learning. Although he is now 45 years old, has graduated with honors in Microbiology from the University of California, and frequently reads a book in one sitting, he still needs to think twice before writing "b"'s and "d"'s in order not to reverse them!
Children exhibiting dyslexic symptoms who were taught with whole-language methods have what I term "whole-word dyslexia" and no longer exhibit any signs of reversals or confusion once they learn how to read properly. It can be difficult to differentiate from true organic dyslexia.
But whether dyslexia is organic or educationally-induced, treatment still consists of good phonics remediation. Whether irregular eye movement patterns are a cause or consequence of poor decoding skills, the remedition is still the same.
When phonemes are individually learned, slowly blended into syllables and words, and then built into sentences, eyes are being patterned to move together smoothly from left to right across the page. It is eye training at its simplest, most basic level. It is my experience that if bad training can be a cause of dyslexia, then good training can help overcome it!
We are not born with the ability to automatically move our eyes from left to right--it is an acquired skill that is absolutely necessary in the earliest stages of reading. Without it, irregular eye movements, reversals, etc., can become established that result in slow and/or inaccurate reading. Eye-tracking skills must be well-established before real learning can take place.
Some students get over this hurdle quickly once they learn how to read correctly, others need more time and training to correct irregular eye movements. Sporadic and irregular eye movements have become so firmly entrenched that specific convergent eye exercises are needed to help them get over this difficulty.
This process actually can be painful for some students! A resource specialist recently wrote to me:
"Eye training" is not new or unique to America--it has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. No doubt there are false and overblown claims made by many practitioners. But it is my experience that "dyslexic" students who were taught how to read incorrectly have benefited greatly from vision/motor training, which in its simplest form should be embodied in any good phonics reading programs. It's certainly an important component of Dorbooks' products!
One mother recently wrote,
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Teaching reading is really very simple - anyone can teach it,