We’re in the final countdown to the next presidential election!  What does that mean?  In addition to a tidal wave of new campaign ads, this period of time is certain to produce a great deal of discussion about presidential and vice-presidential debates – past and future. Given the serious issues of the day, there is certainly value to weighing the candidates’ positions on various issues. But October isn’t just about presidential electoral politics, it is also National Dyslexia Awareness Month. And it is refreshing to know that in this arena, there is no debate. Dyslexia is not a life-sentence. It can be overcome. Unlike politics, there is no spin here - - just science!

In decades past, most people believed that dyslexia was a permanent condition and that a person who struggled to read, would always struggle.  Thankfully, today, most people understand the basic facts about dyslexia - it makes reading difficult, it’s not really about reversing letters, and even smart kids can be dyslexic. Simply put, dyslexia is a broad term used to describe a learning struggle characterized by difficulty reading.

The goal of this article is to spotlight the science behind dyslexia, including things you can do at home and how to essentially eradicate your own or your child’s dyslexia.

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  1. Dyslexia affects how a person perceives spoken language. These subtle difficulties in speech perception can even be found among infants from families with a pattern of dyslexia. (SOURCE: “Study Sheds New Light on the Nature of Dyslexia” – September 21, 2012, Medical News Today)
  2. New research shows that while dyslexia may compromise the phonetic system (which detects speech sounds, such as /ba/ vs. /pa/), it doesn’t necessarily always impair the phonological system (which detects patterns of sounds used in language). (SOURCE: September 19, 2012 PLOS ONE)
  3. Even before children begin to read, visual attention deficits can better predict reading disorders than language abilities. (SOURCE: Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua in Italy)
  4. Dyslexic students who underwent intensive, 40-minute daily training for 12 weeks showed “significant progress” in decoding, reading speed , reading comprehension, and spelling. The intensive study included one-on-one work with specially trained educationalists that helped the nine-year-olds practice linking phonemes and graphemes (sounds and letters), phonetic awareness, reading and guided reading aloud. (SOURCE: Reading and Fluency Training Based on Phonemic Awareness)
  5. A study of 56 adults with reading and writing struggles found that there were three general long-term consequences to living with untreated dyslexia. First, dyslexics who don’t possess certain skills often struggle as adults (e.g. job skills). Second, it’s more difficult for these adults to absorb their education to achieve good results. Third, adult dyslexics often compare themselves to other non-dyslexic adults and therefore feel inferior. (SOURCE: Nadja Carlsson’s doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg)
  6. Standardized reading and language tests cannot reliably predict reading gains in dyslexic children, but neuroimaging  (i.e., photos of the brain) can - - with 90 percent accuracy! Images of the brain obtained while subjects are reading have shown that dyslexics use the inferior frontal gyrus (part of the frontal lobe) more than typical readers. Research has found that the more involved this part of the brain is during reading and the more organized the white matter connected to this region is, the greater the long-term gains for dyslexics. The theory is that dyslexics who use the inferior frontal gyrus more are learning to compensate. (SOURCE: December 20, 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
  7. Children in first through third grade who perform hand-clapping songs have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors than their peers who don’t take part in the activity. It’s believed that the hand-clapping songs train the brain and enhance their cognitive development. (SOURCE: “Impact of Hand-clapping Songs on Cognitive and Motor Tasks” – study out of Ben-Gurion University of Negev)
  8. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine and University of California Davis found that in non-dyslexic readers, reading and IQ track together and influence each other. On the contrary, in children with dyslexia, reading and IQ are not linked and don’t influence each other. That’s because IQ is a measurement of cognitive skills, and while children with dyslexia may have weak auditory or visual processing skills, their other cognitive skills (processing speed, logic & reasoning, attention, memory) could be very strong. This also explains why strengthening cognitive skills (such as those weak brain skills associated with dyslexia) can actually raise IQ.
  9. A team from Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory found that children with developmental dyslexia have difficulty separating relevant auditory information (such as their teacher’s voice) from competing noise (such as scraping chairs and slamming lockers). It’s important to note that the term “auditory processing” refers to how your brain analyzes, interprets and makes sense of what you hear. People with auditory processing disorder (APD) actually have normal hearing acuity, but their ability to make sense of what they hear is inefficient. In other words, auditory processing doesn’t refer to how the ears hear, but rather how the brain hears.
  10. The Grammar and Phonology Screening Test (GAPS test) is a 10-minute test made up of 11 sentences and eight nonsense words used to pinpoint significant signs of language and reading impairment. With the results of the GAPS test, an intensive, one-on-one brain training program can correct the weak cognitive skills to help your child treat and overcome dyslexia. (SOURCE: www.LearningRx.com)

If you’re still not convinced that it’s time to take action against your own or your child’s dyslexia, consider this: a survey by leading learning disability charity Mencap found that 82 percent of children with a learning disability have been bullied and 79 percent are too scared to go out because they are afraid of being bullied. Worse still, 58 percent said they had been physically hurt by bullies. If your child were being hurt (physically or emotionally) by bullies, you’d interfere. So why not interfere when they’re being hurt by dyslexia?

To start, there are things you can do at home. Many people incorrectly believe that letter knowledge is the foundation to reading. But reading skills are built on phonemic awareness (sound blending and segmenting). In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities.

You can work on sound analysis skills by practicing rhyming, which forces the dissection of sounds. The importance of this skill became obvious in the largest ever study of reading struggles. In the 10-year effort by the Institute of Health, 130 studies identified a single weak cognitive skill as the cause of 88 percent of all learning to read problems: phonemic awareness.

Sound segmenting games can also offer a fun opportunity to teach phonemic awareness. Say a two-sound word, like bee or tie, then have your child tell you which sounds are in the word (“b” and “ee” for “bee” and “t” and “i” for “tie”). Gradually increase to three-sound words like cat, (“c” “a” and “t”) and tree (“t” “r” and “ee”). This builds auditory segmenting, which they’ll need as they begin to spell.

You can also help develop analysis skills by using building blocks with letters to make up nonsense words. Start with two to three blocks, then have the child remove one of the blocks and add a new one while verbally trying to figure out what the new nonsense word sounds like. (If they can’t read, just say the sounds for them, and ask them to try to figure out from hearing the sounds what the new word would sound like when they switch the blocks.) Remember, the goal isn’t to teach them letter or word recognition, but rather sounds. Look for games that require auditory processing, like “Simon,” or “My Word!” (good for sound blending and segmenting).

Depending on your child’s age, you can read to them and have them follow along in the book or have them read to you.

While auditory processing games and activities can help, the best way to effectively treat dyslexia is through intensive, one-on-one cognitive skills training. You’ve got science on your side to understand dyslexia, now put science on your side to treat it. If your child or grandchild is struggling to read, enroll them in a brain training program that uses scientifically proven methods to strengthen weak cognitive skills. You’ll strengthen their ability to read and learn, their IQ and their confidence. If you have struggled with reading, the same is true for you. Students of all ages and abilities can benefit from brain training. It’s never too late!

In honor of National Dyselxia Awareness Month, LearningRx Warren is offering $100 off a complete cognitive skills assessment and consultation package (normally $299) to anyone who calls and mentions this campaign before the end of the month.  It’s the first step to pinpointing a person’s strengths and weaknesses, and to building a better brain. About  that there is no debate!