It is sometimes referred to as a reading disorder or a specific learning disability, but they all mean the same thing. Contrary to popular myth, dyslexic folks do not see things backwards, rather in an overwhelming majority of people with a reading disorder, the problem results from a difference in how the brain processes and deals with phonological information. The very well-known problem with visual reversals, such as b/d, results not from seeing things differently but from the child’s inability to retrieve the correct verbal labels for these sounds. Dyslexia is just another word for a specific learning disability in reading. Many of us choose to continue to use the word dyslexia because most of the research that has been done on reading problems for decades uses this word.
It is important to realize that there are many underlying neuropsychological problems that contribute to dyslexia or reading problems. First, it is important to understand that reading is not hardwired into our brains – like language is -, rather it is a learned skill. There is no gene for reading in your DNA. What is required in order for your brain to learn how to read is that many different substructures within the brain have to be working just right to accomplish this incredibly complex task. It is possible that genes or a combination of genes can affect how well these substructures within the entire reading network do their jobs. Therefore, we often see a genetic component to dyslexia – it often runs in families.
All of us are “wired” for language, but to learn to read we must use older structures with vision, language and especially phonological processing and rearrange the way we use them. Boy, this is hard to do!
Let’s take a trip through the brain to find out what you have to do to read and understand a single word:
First, the printed word is interpreted in the visual area of the brain (occipital lobe) and a specific portion of the brain referred to as the visual word form area. Thus, begins a journey requiring numerous connections to other areas of the brain which specialize in certain processes. This constitutes an entire network of connections that have to work efficiently for the word to be processed. Connections must be made to the angular gyrus, an area particularly attuned to making symbol and sound associations.
Thus, begins a journey requiring numerous connections to other areas of the brain which specialize in certain processes. This constitutes an entire network of connections that have to work efficiently for the word to be processed. Connections must be made to the angular gyrus, an area particularly attuned to making symbol and sound associations.
Travels continue forward in the brain to auditory centers, language centers and areas of the frontal lobe that provide meaning to the word being read. These connections are reciprocal – that is – connections travel both ways. The cerebellum is also involved as a support system for many of these functions. In addition, frontal areas are activated to assure that appropriate attention and understanding may occur in the process and that the child can self-monitor his or her understanding.
Not only must all of these areas be working adequately to perform the necessary task but the connections need to be fast and become automatic. (One area of the brain particularly involved with this automaticity is the insula).
Not only must all of these areas be working adequately to perform the necessary task, but the connections need to be fast and become automatic. (One area of the brain particularly involved with this automaticity is the insula).
From this journey through the brain for reading just “one word” it is readily apparent that a breakdown in any of these areas, connections or processes can contribute to reading problems. That is why it is essential to investigate all possible components of neuropsychological processing to really understand what is happening when a particular student is experiencing reading difficulty so that targeted intervention for their particular needs can be designed and implemented. Without question, almost all reading researchers will tell you that the “one-size-fits-all” teaching techniques used in many schools cannot meet the needs of students with dyslexia.
A Frequently Asked Question
How do I explain to my child that he/she has dyslexia?
I think I can answer that best by sharing a personal letter I would give to students I diagnosed with dyslexia after the evaluation. I encouraged parents to read it with the student or read to the student. It is appropriate for students in the fourth grade up through college. Click here to view the letter.