Peter works so hard at reading, but it just never gets easier. He knows he's smart so why can't he read like the other kids? Peter has a problem called dyslexia.
Dyslexia (say: dis-lek-see-uh) is a learning problem some kids have. Dyslexia makes it tough to read and spell. The problem is inside the brain, but it doesn't mean the person is dumb. Plenty of smart and talented people struggle with dyslexia.
But dyslexia doesn't have to keep a kid down. With some help and a lot of hard work, a kid who has dyslexia can learn to read and spell.
How Does Reading Happen?
To understand dyslexia, it helps to understand reading. Reading is a real workout for your brain. You need to do the following steps — and all at once:
- Understand the way speech sounds make up words.
- Focus on printed marks (letters and words).
- Connect speech sounds to letters.
- Blend letter sounds smoothly into words.
- Control eye movements across the page.
- Build images and ideas.
- Compare new ideas with what is already known.
- Store the ideas in memory.
Phew! Kids who have dyslexia struggle with the beginning steps, so that makes doing the rest of the steps even harder. It's no surprise, then, that trying to read and dealing with dyslexia makes a kid's brain really tired really fast.
How Kids Become Readers
Most kids start learning to read by learning how speech sounds make up words. Then they connect those sounds to alphabet letters. For example, they learn that the letter "b" makes a "buh" sound.
Then kids learn to blend those sounds into words. They learn that "b" and "at" makes "bat." Eventually, most kids don't have to sound words out and can instantly recognize words they've seen many times before.
But it's tougher for kids who have dyslexia. They may struggle to remember simple words they have seen many times and to sound out longer words. Why is it so hard?
Dyslexia means that a person's brain has trouble processing letters and sounds. That makes it tough to break words into separate speech sounds, like b-a-t for bat. When it's hard to do that, it's really hard to connect speech sounds to different letters, like "buh" for b, and blend them into words.
So a kid who has dyslexia will read slowly and might make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes he or she will mix up letters in a word, such as reading the word "was" as "saw." Words may blend together wrong and look like this:
What's It Like to Have Dyslexia?
Even before kindergarten, a kid who has dyslexia usually has trouble with letters and sounds. Later, a teacher might say that the kid is smart, but doesn't seem to be getting the hang of reading. Other times, it's a parent who notices the kid is struggling. The best thing to do is to go to a specialist who can help figure out what's wrong.
A specialist in learning disabilities knows a lot about learning problems that kids have and what to do about them. During a visit with a specialist, a kid might take some tests. But the idea isn't to get a good grade; it's to spot problems. Discovering a learning disability is the first step toward getting help that will make it easier for the kid to learn.
Making Reading Easier
Most kids with dyslexia can learn to read with the right kind of teaching. They might learn new ways for remembering sounds. For example, "p" and "b" are called brother sounds because they're both "lip poppers." You have to press your lips together to make the sound.
Thinking about the way the mouth needs to move to make sounds can help kids read more easily. Learning specialists know lots of special activities like this to teach reading to kids who have dyslexia.
Kids with dyslexia also might use flash cards or tape classroom lessons and homework assignments instead of taking notes about them. They may need parents and tutors to help them stay caught up.
Extra time for tests is really important, so kids with dyslexia have enough time to finish and show their teacher how much they have learned. Computers help a lot, too. You can get programs that "read" books out loud from the computer or even download recorded books to an iPod!
How Do Kids With Dyslexia Feel?
Kids who have dyslexia might get frustrated, angry, or sad because reading and spelling are so hard. They may not like being in a different reading group than their friends or having to see a special reading tutor.
But getting this help is so important and will help them go on to do great things in life. Some of the most creative and successful people have dyslexia, but it didn't stop them from chasing their dreams!
Reviewed by: Laura L. Bailet, PhD
Date reviewed: May 2009