According to the National Institute of Health, about four million children in the United States have some learning disabilities. Nearly 2.9 million of those are classified as having a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia.
But hardly anyone ever talks about the struggle, the feeling of helplessness and frustration in the beginning, the difficult road to seek out the right professionals and find the right school, and the pride we feel when our children thrive by simply learning differently. Unless you are part of "this secret club," dyslexia and learning disabilities in general have become a taboo subject!
Why is that? For one, more often than not, parents won't research dyslexia unless they or their children have been screened for a learning disability or have been diagnosed. Secondly, because few people really know the facts about it, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths going around.
Today, we tackle the most common ones — and how to debunk them once and for all:
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Myth number 1: Dyslexia is uncommon or nonexistent.
Fact: The International Dyslexia Foundation has found that language-based learning disabilities impact between 15% and 20% of the world's population, with dyslexia being the most common. The United States Department of Health and Human Services as well as the National Institute of Health have found that approximately 15% of the US population has dyslexia. There are many forms of dyslexia, some more mild than others, and only 1 in 10 dyslexics qualifies for an IEP to receive special educational services in order to receive help with reading.
Myth number 2: Smart people can't be dyslexic.
Fact: Many dyslexics are extremely intelligent with high IQs. Dyslexia has no link with intelligence, and dyslexic people can be found on all ranges of the intelligence scale. There are gifted people at the top of their fields who struggle with dyslexia: authors, scientists, actors, etc. A few famous dyslexics include Whoopie Goldberg, Octavia Butler, Ann Bancroft, and Jay Leno.
Myth number 3: Dyslexia can be cured with "more practice", "trying harder", or repeating a grade level.
Fact: The reading-related symptoms associated with dyslexia can be addressed, but repeating the same task by rote without special instruction will not help to address these symptoms. Dyslexic people use different parts of their brains to accomplish tasks associated with reading and writing, and this difference in brain activity requires specialized re-training. Without that re-training, a dyslexic person will continue to struggle to accomplish rudimentary reading tasks no matter how bright or motivated he or she might be.
Myth number 4: Dyslexia is more common in boys than in girls.
Fact: A 1990 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that dyslexia impacts the same comparable numbers of girls and boys. That said, there is documented evidence that shows boys are more likely to be diagnosed with reading disorders than girls. It has been posited that this imbalance is due to the behavioral tendencies of each gender; boys are more likely to get frustrated and lash out, causing their reading disabilities to be tested and diagnosed, while girls are more likely to suffer in silence. As a result, girls with dyslexia often go unnoticed at early ages, causing them to be diagnosed much later or not to be diagnosed at all.
Myth number 5: Teachers will know if a child is dyslexic and/or the school will test all children for dyslexia.
Fact: A dyslexic child will face many challenges at school and deal with them in his/her unique way. Since teachers are not trained formally in handling dyslexia, and since there is a wide spectrum of learning disabilities, it is easy for a teacher to miss the "warning signs" of dyslexia in students. Additionally, lack of funding prohibits schools from testing students for learning disabilities unless a problem has begun to manifest.
Myth number 6: The symptoms of dyslexia can be "cured" with eye patches, fish oil, modeling clay letters, special balancing exercises, training primitive reflexes, etc.
Fact: Many remedies have been studied using scientific evidence, and the only thing that has been found effective in helping a student to deal with dyslexia is specialized instruction. Dyslexics must learn phonics, spelling rules/patterns, and phonological rules specifically, explicitly, and systematically. An educator trained in helping dyslexics can teach your child these strategies.
Myth number 7: There is no clear way to diagnose dyslexia; there are no clues about it before a child enters school.
Fact: There are distinct methods of dyslexia diagnosis, and students at-risk for dyslexia can be identified as early as preschool. There are several clues that might key a parent into this risk such as: a slight delay in speech acquisition, an inability to identify rhyming words, and family history of reading troubles. Dyslexia diagnosis can be made as young as the first grade.
Myth number 8: Dyslexia is genetic and caused by faulty genes.
Fact: There was one study, the "Twin Study", that determined this, but the study has since been debunked as having numerous statistical errors and assumptions that created invalid data.
Myth number 9: A dyslexic child will never learn to spell or read.
Fact: While dyslexia will delay a child's reading fluency as well as their spelling abilities, with the right tools and instruction, dyslexia isn't going to keep your student from reading. There are several learning methods that a dyslexic student can use to grow, and there are several teaching methods that teachers can use to help support this growth.
Myth number 10: Dyslexia is a visual problem involving seeing and/or writing words/letters backwards.
Fact: When learning to write, many children will reverse their letters. This is not a guaranteed sign of dyslexia. In fact, many highly dyslexic children write letters without reversing them. Dyslexia has nothing to do with eyesight, but rather brain functionality.
Conclusion: Break The Taboo Because Early Intervention Matters
Keeping silent on something that stamps 15-20% of our population as "dumb" or "illiterate" isn't going to help anyone. If parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators and the general public knows some basic facts, we can all work together to discover the signs of dyslexia early on.
Because early intervention matters. While many dyslexic students are very highly intelligent and creative, if not addressed early enough with appropriate instruction and learning environments, they will struggle in school.