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Posted on September 14, 2022 at 6:00 am
Updated: September 26, 2023
Dyslexia is one of the most common specific learning disabilities (SLD) in the world. According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, it affects up to 20 percent of the population. However, despite the high prevalence of this learning difference, it is often misunderstood by the general public, educators, and parents. As a result, dyslexia often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity defines dyslexia as “an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. It is most commonly due to a difficulty in phonological processing (the appreciation of the individual sounds of spoken language), which affects the ability of an individual to speak, read, spell and, often, learn a second language.”
Essentially, an individual with dyslexia has a brain that processes language differently.
This difference in processing often manifests as difficulties with reading, rhyming, spelling, and writing. Processing differences can also present as difficulty orienting left and right, challenges with memorization (especially sequenced information), struggles with organization and time management, and difficulty following directions.
Though the different wiring of a dyslexic brain presents challenges with accessing, processing, and understanding information, this difference also creates strengths. These strengths tend to allow individuals to flourish in the “real world” as opposed to the classroom or traditional workplace settings. People with dyslexia tend to have great people skills, are very creative, bring outside-the-box problem-solving skills, and are great builders and designers.
“Many of my students are extremely bright, have high verbal acuity, and are such a joy to work with,” says Michelle Gibson, Founder and Director of the Cedar Literacy Center and Co-Founder of the INW Dyslexia Alliance. “I love seeing my students thrive and become empowered once they connect with reading. Helping a child unlock their potential and see the world of literature come to life is an incredible experience!”
Dyslexia presents differently in individuals depending on age, educational exposure, and experiences.
It is important to remember that dyslexia is not just a challenge with reading. It is a neurological difference impacting language and processing. As the organization Understood.org states, “People with dyslexia don’t all struggle in the same way. Some have a hard time with early reading skills like sounding out words (decoding). Some read words and sentences fine, but they have trouble understanding what they read.”
Early signs of dyslexia in young children may include delayed speech, difficulties with rhyming words, mispronouncing words, or telling stories that are hard to follow. As students enter elementary school, signs could include mixing up letters, writing letters and numbers backwards, odd letter formation, difficulty learning sight words, and challenges with spelling.
Children with dyslexia often find ways to circumvent their challenges by creating strategies to help them lessen the impact of symptoms. As a result, they may “fly under the radar” through elementary school and beyond.
In teenage and adult years, signs of dyslexia may include taking longer to complete reading and writing tasks, preferring audiobooks, strong auditory memory, finding patterns and connections, and excelling at “big picture” thinking.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity has additional information on signs of dyslexia from preschool through adulthood.
If you suspect your child has dyslexia, early recognition, diagnosis, and intervention can have a great impact on academic success.
Dyslexia is identifiable with 92 percent accuracy in children at ages 5.5–6.5 years (Educational Pathways Academy). According to Harvard Medical School, “With early intervention, many children at risk for dyslexia can become skilled readers… One meta-analysis showed that up to 70 percent of at-risk children who receive educational intervention in kindergarten or first grade become proficient readers.”
Being aware of the signs of dyslexia and acting early could change your child’s whole academic experience. However, while certain behaviors can be flagged as warning signs, not all who have learning difficulties have dyslexia.
“A thorough evaluation is needed to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia,” says Alicia Weeks, speech language pathologist and Founder of Niche Therapy and Co-Founder of the INW Dyslexia Alliance. “With detailed diagnosis we can create personalized education, accommodation, and intervention plans. Additionally, diagnosis gives individuals the knowledge and power to re-write their personal narrative. It gives them the why behind their challenges and a clear pathway forward.”
Learning more about dyslexia and how to support your child in the classroom, at home, and throughout everyday life is a big first step.
For recommendations or next steps to take once you have identified your student may have dyslexia or was recently diagnosed, you can visit the INW Dyslexia Alliance website to view providers in the Spokane region, a list of resources, or how to contact the INW Dyslexia Alliance if you would like further information.
“People with dyslexia may not become fluent readers, and instead reading may continue to be a cognitively intensive and intentional task. Fluent readers can automatically recognize large chunks of text, leading to quicker and less effort for reading. Individuals with dyslexia may never achieve this level of automaticity, and for them reading requires a high level of concentration, effort, and commitment,” says Weeks.
As a result, traditional school and work settings where fluent reading is not only expected but assumed are often extremely difficult. Unemployment runs as high as 30–40 percent among the neurodiverse, largely because the typical work setting exposes their weaknesses instead of emphasizing their strengths.
As work and workplaces evolve, the strengths of those with dyslexia—people skills, creativity, problem solving, 3D visual skills, and resiliency—are the skills employers are becoming increasingly desperate for. Businesses are beginning to realize the value of neurodiverse individuals and the work-from-home revolution is allowing them to thrive in a more comfortable environment.
If you run a business or work in human resources, taking steps to understand what accommodations support dyslexic workers is a strategically wise move in an increasingly tight labor market.
“While the majority of our initial efforts are directed towards dyslexic students in early elementary and the professionals and caregivers who support them, we recognize that dyslexia affects up to 20 percent of the entire population and has a unique impact on each phase of life,” says Lisa Repp, Co-Founder of the INW Dyslexia Alliance. “We look forward to expanding our horizon and initiating ways to support students in middle and high school as well as those within the workforce. There is much work to be done with awareness, building community, and educating employers in this area.”
October is recognized as Dyslexia Awareness Month, and now that children are back in school, it is a great time to learn more about dyslexia, including how it may be impacting those close to you, and to find ways you can support them. A variety of resources exists online and locally where you can find information about dyslexia.
“Throughout our family’s journey with dyslexia, I discovered the importance of gaining as much knowledge as possible to best support and advocate for my children. Researching online and reading articles and books have provided invaluable resources,“ said Colleen Mazurek-McCowan, Co-Founder of the INW Dyslexia Alliance and member of the SLD Implementation and Transition Workgroup created by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
An array of literature provides different perspectives and information about dyslexia. The following books, nearly all conveniently available through Spokane County Library District, are a great place to start for evidence-based information about dyslexia, the neurological side of dyslexia, and methods for overcoming challenges with dyslexia.
Spokane County Library District has a wonderful assortment of books in its collection for all audiences around the topic of dyslexia. You can also read eBooks and listen to audiobooks in its collection on OverDrive and available with the Libby app. If you have suggestion for a book to add to the collection, you can use the Suggest an Item online form to send it in or talk to staff at your local library.
You can attend events held by INW Dyslexia Alliance to learn more as well. During October 2023, they are holding the following programs: Dyslexia 101, Overview of the INW Dyslexia Alliance and Services, Directed Studies/Learning Resource/Reading Specialist Gathering, and Dyslexia in the classroom.
As the new school year kicks off, here are a few tips to consider if your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia or you suspect he or she may have dyslexia:
A new law (SB 6162) went into effect in Washington state in the 2021–2022 school year. This law requires all public schools to screen K–2 students for dyslexia and other literacy challenges. However, while steps have been taken to begin identifying and supporting students in this population, there is still much work to be done. SB 6162 only requires schools screen students, not diagnose or provide intervention. For many families, whether in public or private schools, pursuing private diagnosis and intervention is the only reliable option to help give their child the support they need to succeed in school.
You can learn more about the state’s Screening Tools and Best Practices along with the Early Dyslexia Implementation Guide by visiting the website for the Washington OSPI.
The INW Dyslexia Alliance is a Spokane based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and advocating for individuals with dyslexia, their families, and professionals in the field. We focus on building awareness of dyslexia, fostering community, and facilitating professional development opportunities to further support the dyslexic community.
Through wonderful partnerships with organizations like Spokane County Library District, we can build awareness of dyslexia, change the stigma around this learning difference, and better support those impacted by dyslexia.
To learn more, join the community, support the mission, and contribute financially, you can visit the website at www.INWDyslexia.org.
Dyslexia information referenced in this article include:
Drew Repp is a member of the INW Dyslexia Alliance and father to children with dyslexia. The challenges of navigating the education system to find support for his son’s learning difference has given him a passion for helping others on a similar journey. Drew is a Content Manager for Lightcast, where he writes about labor market data and economic development. He loves reading and has enjoyed watching his son see literature come to life through audiobooks available through the Spokane County Library District.