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Dyslexia Assessment and Treatment

Dyslexia Assessment and Treatment
Definition: Greek dys (impaired) and lexis (word)

"I frankly think that dyslexia is a gift…. If you are supported in school and your ego remains intact, then you emerge with a strong work ethic and a different view of the world." ~Dr Cosgrove, CEO, Cleveland Clinic.

Dyslexia is often described as a sea of strengths in creativity and out-of the box thinking in a person who does not read and/or write rapidly and may not retrieve spoken words quickly. Many of today’s leading innovators from a variety of fields— business, medicine, film, design, and even writing— are dyslexic. Most rose to their positions not by accident, but by a careful navigation of barriers. ~ The Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity

Mapping of brain functioning over recent years has enabled a clear neurological ‘footprint’ describing the pattern of neurological functioning resulting in dyslexia. It has been suggested that now, however, there is less of a knowledge gap and more of an action gap around this learning disorder. As a consequence, dyslexic children frequently go un-identified, un-remediated and un-accommodated with great harm to the children, to their families and to society.

Dyslexia is a very broad term defining a learning difficulty (which can become a disability without accommodation) that impairs a person's fluency of reading and writing - they are not quick, accurate and effortless. Reading and writing develop incompletely or with great difficulty. This difficulty exists despite adequate intelligence, educational and sociocultural opportunity, and often despite remedial assistance. It is unexpected given the person’s other cognitive skill levels.

It is characterised by difficulty decoding (reading written text), and encoding (writing text) because of the way the brain is processing the written material. Their brain is not using the usual pathways that establish it as an automatic skill which is what makes a task quick and accurate.When a task becomes automatic it requires less conscious thinking about it and therefore there is less demand on our attention. This makes us less readily distracted.

Problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary, spelling and learning knowledge, can occur as secondary consequences to this difficulty.

Dyslexia is a diagnosable medical condition according to the DSM-5.

Dyslexic people are better identified by reading and writing that does not seem to match their level of intelligence after observation of their other skills. For example they may have strengths in maths or science and high levels of understanding especially when expressed verbally, hence their reading is the unexpected underachieving element of their academics – i.e. you would expect the person to be reading at a higher level based on their other abilities. This does not mean that they cannot read and write however, nor that they don't like reading and writing. There are many highly acclaimed lawyers, librarians, researchers and other professionals who require high levels of reading as part of their professions. It does, however, require more effort for them and sometimes some additional techniques to be efficient.

There are different types of dyslexia related to the sensory difficulties associated with either the eyes, ears or both. Early identification and intervention are regarded as important but intervention at any age is effective.

Intervention Programs must be:

* Explicit, direct instruction

* Individualised

* Intensive

* Meaning-based

* Linked with positive emotion

* Multisensory

Simultaneous to treatment are other forms of assistance (strategies, techniques, products and

approaches) to help the dyslexic.

Treatment – improving the neurology through ‘brain training’

Intervention – remedial assistance to increase reading fluency

Accommodation – alleviate the effect of the symptoms e.g. extra time

Compensation – strategies learned to bypass the weakness e.g. mnemonics

Modification – curriculum or instruction changed e.g. verbal assessment, reader, scribe

A unique experience

Understanding your own dyslexia is a learning process in itself, filled with much trial and error, frustration and surprise.

Because this learning difficulty involves BOTH under-activation of some areas of the brain as well as over-activation of other areas to compensate, there is a uniqueness about how the individual will use their strengths to overcome their difficulties. Careful assessment and exploration is required to determine the weaker areas and then creative experimentation adopted to find ways around the limitations, while simultaneously spending as much time as possible specifically improving the weaknesses.

The challenge for the dyslexic is to find their way to learn easiest. This takes time, and with the pressures of the school curriculum and the burden of appearing unable to do the work, the dyslexia can become frustrated and encouraged … and at worst traumatised by the school experience.The dyslexia student needs family and school colleagues who can support them emotionally and creatively to allow them to show their true abilities, despite an educational system which is often discriminatory.

The dyslexic student needs teachers who will spend the time to listen, and appreciate that, although all dyslexics are not the same, in some ways they are – they are ALL intelligent and they would ALL do the work if they could!

So, whether you are dyslexic or a supporter of one, spend the time to:

* identify and acknowledge abilities

* encourage and support outside-the-box thinking

* allocate time to nurture strengths

* explore alternate ways of acquiring information more efficiently

The best approaches acknowledge that the objective in helping to improve a dyslexic's 'reading' is not to 'read-like-a-non-dyslexic-does', but to find a way of extracting information from text that works efficiently for someone who processes such information differently from the majority.

Remember Dr Cosgrove’s words, echoed by many dyslexics still on the journey, [paraphrased] If you survive school without giving up, going mad or getting bitter and twisted, then you emerge knowing how to do it tough, how to be inventive and how not to let other’s expectations impede your vision. You are the most worthwhile employee because of your commitment to consistent hard work, and you bring a creative spark to everything you do.

Yes. Its hard. But please, never give up.

The world needs you.

Leonie Hehir is a psychologist experienced in assessing and working with dyslexic students and adults. She has worked for almost 15 years in schools as well as in her own practice. Click here to learn more about the services that Leonie Hehir provides.