Reading this article comes easy for most people, even though there are hundreds of neurological processes involved at an unconscious level. Some people’s brains, however, are wired in a way that makes reading difficult.
Such individuals may have a disorder called dyslexia, a neurobiological condition that can impact reading comprehension, word recognition and written expression. Symptoms can be mild or severe, but research shows that support systems and interventions make a difference – reducing the number of dyslexic students who might drop out of high school, suffer from anxiety and depression, become incarcerated or have challenges getting and keeping a job..
Unfortunately, many dyslexic students and adults have never been properly identified or treated. They struggle in and out of school, which is why early and accurate identification of dyslexia is crucial.
Thanks to a group of parents, the state has taken steps to help public schools get better at identifying and helping at-risk students. The grassroots movement Decoding Dyslexia of California helped draft and get passed Assembly Bill 1369 in 2015. Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill helps define dyslexia, how it is identified, how teachers should be trained and what services should be provided.
An important aspect of AB1369 is the addition of “phonological processing” to the list of basic assessments to be conducted when a student is being considered for special education eligibility.
UC Merced is partnering with the DDCA to help, too, launching a series of gatherings on the subject. The first, Sept. 30 at UC Merced, is aimed at school administrators, teachers and healthcare professionals. Tools for identification and interventions will be discussed. Later sessions will target parents, though parents are welcome to attend any session.
It’s important to note that dyslexia is a learning difference, separate from general intelligence. Mainly, those with dyslexia have trouble with phonological processing. It doesn’t mean those with dyslexia are not smart. Dyslexics can have average to above average intelligence but have a harder time correctly identifying and discerning the distinct sounds of language – or “phonemes” – and attaching those sounds to letters.
That can hamper the reading process and the rapid naming of individual letters, numbers or entire words.
The law created new Dyslexia Guidelines, designed to help teachers, special-education professionals and parents plan, provide, evaluate and improve educational services for dyslexic students.
With appropriate identification and intervention, the number of students receiving effective instruction can be dramatically increased.
UC Merced researchers and other experts who study dyslexia say the understanding of treatments is rapidly evolving. But parents and teachers need to be aware of warning signs, which can show up even before a child learns to read.
Those signs can include delayed speech, difficulty discerning directions and sequencing, difficulty learning letter names and sounds, and having a hard time correctly pronouncing multi-syllable words, such as saying “pah-sghetti” for “spaghetti.”
Many of these traits show up in children who are not dyslexic. But if you have concerns, you should speak with a healthcare or education specialist. If you suspect your child has dyslexia, first contact your local public school. For more information, go to the Decoding Dyslexia CA’s website www.decodingdyslexiaca.org, the International Dyslexia Association’s website https://dyslexiaida.org, and the Help for My Child site at UC Merced, www.help4mychild.org.
The day-long symposium at UC Merced will illuminate the causes, expression, definition and life course of dyslexia. There will be information on new state legislation for how schools and clinics can identify the condition, parent and student rights, and the ramifications for intervention or individual education plans.
To learn more about the symposium on Sept. 30 go to http://ucmalliance.ucmerced.edu/events/dyslexia-ab1369-workshop-teachers-administrators
For information about other research projects on dyslexia-related topics at the UC, see the Precision Learning Center and UC Merced Alliance websites.
Jeffrey Gilger is the Carlston Cunningham Chair in Cognitive Development and director of UC Merced Alliance and Help for My Child. He is part of a multi-campus research initiative examining dyslexia among students who are not native English speakers. Kathy Futterman, Ed.D., ET/P, is a dyslexia consultant with Decoding Dyslexia CA and an adjunct faculty member at CSU-East Bay. They wrote this for The Merced Sun-Star.