The Science of Learning Blog

October 25, 2016

Risks of Not Identifying Dyslexia

BY Joanne Gouaux

An image of a little boy in a superhero mask and a cape.Think about your favorite stories.  From personal tales, to books and movies, the common catalyst of action and emotion comes from opposing forces.  Storytellers and writers call these opposing forces antagonists.  Opposing forces can take the shape of authority, flawed relationships, ticking clocks, hostile worlds, or an enemy within.  When heroes overcome opposing forces, the typical result is a satisfying outcome, or at least, a good story.   

Struggling learners face opposing forces on a regular basis.  While not every struggling learner feels trapped inside a hostile world, many relate to the pressures of trying to uphold respect from teachers and friends while feeling like they’re letting everyone down.  These heroes feel their own disappointment and frustration, along with the disappointment and frustration of people close to them.  That’s a big burden for a child to bear alone. Try as they might, their struggle to learn can grow into anxiety, impatience, fear, humiliation, loneliness, or shame.  Many blame themselves, and develop an inner sense of dislike or distrust.  After repeated attempts to learn in a particular way, they lose confidence and faith in their own abilities to change outcomes.    

Understanding dyslexia leads to empowerment

Identifying dyslexia can clarify and validate your child’s learning struggles, putting him or her in control of their own story.  Terms such as diagnosis, identification, or labels need not define or limit any person, adult or child.  Instead, the knowledge can be used as a tool for greater understanding, allowing your child access to education through instruction that is appropriate for the way they learn.  Recognizing that dyslexia, also known as a Specific Learning Disability, plays a role in your child’s behavior and learning allows parents and educators to offer appropriate learning support.

Dyslexia can affect:

  • Academic performance
  • Behavior
  • Confidence
  • Communication
  • Perception of learning ability
  • Learning
  • Relationships

The effects on academic performance and learning are logical consequences of a difficulty with reading.  Less obvious for many parents is their child’s avoidant or camouflage behaviors. Learners with dyslexia may avoid written assignments for fear of being seen as unintelligent.  Being aggressive or playing the role of the class clown are other distraction strategies a learner with dyslexia may consciously or unconsciously employ as a means of camouflaging their reading and writing difficulty.

Potential benefits of identifying dyslexia include:

  • Gaining appropriate support to become an independent learner
  • Building creative strategies for learning
  • Discovering new abilities, talents, and strengths
  • Identifying future career options

Potential risks of not identifying dyslexia include:

  • Barriers to independent learning
  • Chronic stress
  • Low self-image
  • Negative learned behaviors such as helplessness
  • Limiting academics and career options
  • Difficult to develop skills to compensate for areas of weakness
  • Susceptibly to bullying (for example, being taken advantage of, or bearing social stigmas for low reading ability)

When we don't identify dyslexia, we wind up wasting time and energy being stuck in a cycle that doesn’t improve in proportion to invested energy, time and effort.

What can be done to support learners with dyslexia? 

Learners with dyslexia benefit from accommodations, interventions, individualized instruction, tools, and support for skill development and strategies. 

Examples of learning support include:

  • Multisensory language learning instruction at school
  • Structured writing interventions at school
  • Reading interventions such as Fast ForWord
  • Assistive Technology reading tools such as Reading Assistant
  • Assistive Technology tools as the writing workload increases in middle grades
  • Practical accommodations such as audio books for reading
  • Executive skills coaching to develop skills necessary to plan and prioritize, carry out tasks

Coaching can also include improvement in time management, working memory, the ability to organize tasks and materials, initiate tasks and follow-through, be a flexible thinker, control impulses, maintain emotional control, and sustain attention.

Create your own hero

Identifying dyslexia offers struggling learners clarity and insight into their experiences, allowing learners to find alternatives to overcome obstacles that may otherwise remain roadblocks.  A willingness to see obstacles as puzzles to be solved allows your child to exercise problem-solving skills that can be applied to other areas of his or her life.  Problem-solving skills develop a sense of agency and personal power to affect opposing forces and outcomes in both school and life.  Being able to identify a root cause of your child's frustration and struggle surrounding homework and school provides an opportunity to find more appropriate ways of learning.  Providing access and tools for your child creates an opportunity to emerge as the hero of their own story, creating an abundance of options for their future.

For Dyslexia Awareness Month, we thank guest blogger, Joanne Gouaux, mother of a bright 10-year old boy with dyslexia, for sharing her thoughts on why it's so important to identify dyslexia. 

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