Leah, a smart, talented, and social fifth grader down right hates school! According to her mom, Leah would feign just about any illness to avoid going to school. This has resulted in increased conflict and tension in the home as Leah’s parents are at their wits end trying to figure out what is wrong with their agitated child.
For Leah, school is a struggle. Although she tries her best to keep up with her peers, she finds that no matter how hard she tries, she’s often gets failing marks and sees herself falling further and further behind academically. For those who know her, this problem does not make any sense. Leah is bright, very curious and full of life, but she turns into a ball of frustration and anxiety as soon as she is required to do anything school related.
Leah is not alone. Many children today struggle in school, but this does not need to be the case. Often the struggle is a result of an undiagnosed learning disability, the most common of which is dyslexia. Yet with the right approach, these student can not only succeed, they can soar.
Dyslexia is a neurologic language based learning difficulty that affects ones ability to acquire reading, process language, write, spell and comprehend written material despite adequate exposure, motivation, and at least average to very superior level of intelligence. Research shows that dyslexia affects 1 in 5 children and varies in severity from mild, moderate, severe, to profound. Children with dyslexia are present in every classroom, but often are not identified because of lack of knowledge on the part of the school and the parents, and also due to the child’s strong desire to hide their learning difficulty. Because these children don’t look different from children who are not dyslexic; there are no outward physical signs of dyslexia aside from the child’s obvious struggle to read or comprehend written material, dyslexia is often referred to as a “hidden disability”. Only recently through fMRI research have researchers been able to uncover and identify the neurological imprint of dyslexia in the brain. Although dyslexics can be helped to improve their reading skills throughout their lifespan, early identification, ideally by first grade or the latest by third grade, combined with a proven research based reading intervention can go a long way to correct and not just compensate for this learning difference.
In addition to an appropriate reading intervention there is much that teachers and parents can do to enable these students to succeed in school. Knowledge is power. Start by educating yourself about what dyslexia is (a neurological learning difference) and what it is not (it is not about seeing letters backwards). Visit your local library or learning disabilities websites online to learn more about this condition. Many children with dyslexia can be taught to read, yet once they master reading, they will still need appropriate accommodations and modifications to succeed in the classroom, because having dyslexia compromises their reading and writing speed and spelling as compared to their non-dyslexic peers. With the right combination of accommodations and modifications that gap can be minimized, while enabling the child to demonstrate their true capabilities and experience success.
Some may express concern that giving dyslexic children accommodations and modifications will give them a “leg up on the competition”. That they will have an “unfair advantage” over their non-dyslexic peers. Research shows that nothing can be further from the truth. Even with accommodations and modifications in place, dyslexic students still have to work harder than their non-dyslexic classmates to succeed. Having these resources simply enables them to better acquire the information and demonstrate what they know.