Dyslexia

Featured FAQs

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, and Reading Rockets gets lots of questions about it, including what it is, warning signs, what to do, and how to help.

Click below for answers to the following dyslexia questions:

Question 1: What is dyslexia?
Question 2: I suspect my child might have dyslexia. What should I do?
Question 3: How should I teach beginning reading to primary students with special needs?
Question 4: How common are language-based learning disabilities?
Question 5: My child has a learning disability and I'm concerned that the reading program her school uses is ineffective. Can you recommend a reading program?
Question 6: How do I find a tutor for my child with dyslexia?
Question 7: My child was tested in kindergarten for dyslexia but they didn't find anything. What should I do now that he is in 3rd grade and still struggling with reading and writing?
Question 8: My daughter just started preschool and I have noticed that sometimes she writes letters backwards. Should I be concerned?
Question 9: Is there anything I can do at home to help my dyslexic child learn to read and spell?
Question 10: If my husband is dyslexic, is there a possibility that my children will be dyslexic too?
Question 11: We scan materials for students to use on Kurzweil 3000 at school. Could you recommend an efficient way to scan and email a textbook page home to a student with dyslexia? He has Natural Reader on his home computer, but he does not have Kurzweil.
Question 12: When I'm reading, it is helpful for me to both see and hear the word. Where can I find software that can read text to me when I'm online? I need something that can read websites and other text aloud to me.
Question 13: Some of our students read very slowly. We are wondering about providing recorded books. We would like to give them access to print as they learn to read. Can you tell us where we can get recorded books? Any advice on how to make the textbooks and other st
Question 14: My son is going into 11th grade. He has a learning disability with a very "hands on" learning style. However, he cannot write to save his life, take notes, etc. What computer programs do you recommend? What laptops would you recommend?
Question 15: I work in a public library and want to be sure that our resources are accessible to all our patrons, including those with disabilities. What resources should we make available and where can we find additional information about making libraries accessible
Question 16: My son is going into high school. He has a learning disability with a very "hands on" learning style. However, he cannot write to save his life, take notes, etc. What computer programs do you recommend? What laptops would you recommend?
Question 17: How can a parent, who is dyslexic themselves and was never taught phonics, help their dyslexic child?
Question 18: Does early remediation reduce the need for accommodations? And if so, how much?
Question 19: I know that it is common for students to reverse letters (b, d, j, g, c) and some numbers (5, 2, 4) in first grade. Is this ever considered a sign for dyslexia, and at what age? This same child has some difficulty reading. What are your thoughts on this?
Question 20: Do individuals with dyslexia show different MRI brain images when reading? If so, could MRIs be used to diagnose individuals with dyslexia?
Question 21: What characteristics should we look for in preschool children who would be at risk for dyslexia?
Question 22: What’s the best plan for a preschooler with dyslexia entering kindergarten? What should I ask the school to do right from the start?
Question 23: What is the difference between a learning disability and a reading disability?
Question 24: What do you advise if a parent is in denial that their child has dyslexia, and even if diagnosed, they don’t necessarily do anything about it?
Question 25: My 11-year-old daughter was tested for dyslexia but was not diagnosed as being dyslexic. However, her ability to decode unfamiliar words, effectively use blending, and reading speed continue to be below her grade level and peers. What tests can we have a
Question 26: I am a special education teacher and work with a number of dyslexic students whose accuracy is improving faster than their fluency. Will some dyslexic students always have poor fluency? Are we expecting them to be as fluent as the non-dyslexic?
Question 27: Do all dyslexic children have a weakness in the phonological area?
Question 28: What can we all do to make sure that students with dyslexia get the accommodations they need to demonstrate what they know and to continue their learning?
Question 29: I’m a special education teacher in primary school. How do you temper some parents’ desire to attempt “everything” at once at home? Some parents are over-doing the work at home and ultimately hurting their child’s self-esteem and progress.
Question 30: I have an 8-year old boy who is in second grade. He is really struggling with reading. He gets extra help at school and we have had him privately tutored, but we are not seeing any progress. Should a child with dyslexia should be held back in school?
Question 31: Can you recommend a reading routine for parents with dyslexic children?

Question:

What is dyslexia?

Answer:

Dyslexia is a language-based disability derived from differences in brain structure and brain function. Common areas of difficulty include reading, writing, and spelling, information processing, short-term memory, planning, and organization.

Although dyslexia presents itself somewhat differently in each person, some salient characteristics can be determined through evaluation. The following articles can help you learn more:

For more information, browse our dyslexia resources or contact the International Dyslexia Association.


Question:

I suspect my child might have dyslexia. What should I do?

Answer:

It is important to address reading problems early so you can begin getting your child the appropriate help. You can use our Target the Problem activity to get a general idea of your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. More comprehensive information can be found on the article page.

The following articles describe specific characteristics common to students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. You may find it helpful to read these articles to determine whether you see similar characteristics in your child:

If, after reading these articles, you still suspect your child is showing signs of having a learning disability, it is within your rights as a parent to request a free educational evaluation through your public school. Whether or not he is found eligible for special services, the evaluation will help determine your child's academic strengths and weaknesses and how best he learns. The following articles describe the steps involved in the evaluation process, including your rights as a parent:

After this process is complete, you can use the information from the evaluation to help you make a decision about the next step in your child's educational path.


Question:

How should I teach beginning reading to primary students with special needs?

Answer:

Reading Rockets has a wealth of information about teaching children to read. Here are some articles that provide basic knowledge on this topic:

Reading Rockets offers strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn to read. Its resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in working with struggling readers who need some additional help developing these reading and comprehension skills. Our sister site, Colorín Colorado, which is designed for Spanish-speaking parents and educators of English language learners, also has excellent information for anyone interested in early reading instruction. You can also try TeachingLD, a site for Special Education teachers.


Question:

How common are language-based learning disabilities?

Answer:

According to the International Dyslexia Association, about 13-14% of the students in the United States qualify for special education. Roughly half of these students have a learning disability, or LD. Of those with LD, 85% experience primary deficits in reading and language. Overall, between 15-20% of the general population display symptoms of dyslexia, the most common language-based learning disability.

Fortunately, there is plenty of information on how to address the needs of these children. Strategies and resources to help children with learning disabilities are available on Reading Rockets and our sister site, LD OnLine.


Question:

My child has a learning disability and I'm concerned that the reading program her school uses is ineffective. Can you recommend a reading program?

Answer:

Although we don't review specific reading programs, the following articles outline the elements that all effective reading instruction contains. From these articles, you can see how your child’s reading program compares:

This next article also lists characteristics of effective reading programs for students with learning disabilities and includes information and worksheets to help determine the quality of a specific reading program:

Also, we recommend a report from the American Federation of Teachers called Building on the Best, Learning from What Works: Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs.

Have a meeting with your child's teachers so that you can share your concerns. Any reading remediation that she receives should be individualized to her specific needs, because no pre-packaged programs are able to address every child’s areas of weakness, strengths, and the instructional methods with which they learn best. You and your child's teachers should work together to ensure that her specific needs are being met. This may require an IEP meeting to develop a new IEP with more skill-specific educational goals and objectives. If you are concerned that the school is not interpreting your child’s IEP correctly, here are some steps to take.

You may also be interested to know about Learning Ally and WordTalk, two programs designed for students with LD, ADHD, or visual impairments. Providing accommodations in the form of read aloud or dictation software can lessen some of the burden experienced by struggling readers.


Question:

How do I find a tutor for my child with dyslexia?

Answer:

There are several national organizations that may be able help you through this process and give local professional referrals. For instance, you can contact the International Dyslexia Association, or the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA). In addition, you may wish to contact your local school district to learn of any free tutoring services offered, or a local university that may have a list of teachers who also tutor.

Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy has a useful nationwide search tool. Use it to locate tutors and other professionals in your area. You can also contact the Parent Educational Advocacy Resource Center in your state for more options.

Also, LD OnLine’s Yellow Pages service and LD Resources section have a great deal of helpful information. Search by state for organizations, or find a parent advocacy group near you.

Lastly, you may be interested in Eye to Eye, a national LD/ADHD movement that pairs students with LD and caring, knowledgeable mentors with similar experiences. The mentorship program provides a fun and safe environment for children to realize their potential as learners.

You may also want to ask the teachers and guidance counselor at your child’s school for suggestions for a tutor, since they will be familiar with his/her specific strengths and weaknesses. Local schools often know of great tutors located in the school’s neighborhood.

Remember to ask potential tutors about their experiences and what they specialize in before you choose a provider. You want to make sure that the person you choose will be a good match for your child.


Question:

My child was tested in kindergarten for dyslexia but they didn't find anything. What should I do now that he is in 3rd grade and still struggling with reading and writing?

Answer:

It is often challenging to detect learning difficulties in very young children. When your child was tested in kindergarten, he may have been able to compensate for his learning challenges to the point where there was little discrepancy between his ability and achievement. In order to be diagnosed with a learning disability and receive special education services, a child must exhibit both a processing deficit and a discrepancy between what he is capable of doing and what he is actually achieving in school.

As your child gets older, it may become increasingly difficult for him to compensate, and the gap between his ability and potential achievement may widen. If your child does have a learning disability, it will be easier to detect now than when he was in kindergarten. The following articles describe characteristics common to children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Look through them to see if you recognize any of your child’s challenges in these descriptions:

If you see some of these characteristics in your child, you may want to request that his school give him an educational evaluation. It is within your rights as a parent to request a free evaluation and to have a vote throughout the evaluation process.

The educational evaluation will help you and the school better understand your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and how he learns best. The following articles will give you a clearer understanding of the evaluation process:

Please be sure to share any of the interventions that you have been trying at home and the concerns you have. The following articles may give you some insight as to how you can make the most of the local screening meeting and subsequent meetings in this process:

Your willingness to help your child at home will go a long way in giving him academic and emotional support, as well as the comfort of knowing that he is not alone in his struggles. The articles below suggest ways you and your child can work together at home:

Remember that you are the strongest and most knowledgeable advocate for your son, so trust your instincts and don’t give up! The sooner your son receives the assistance he needs and the quicker you and his teachers work together to develop a plan for home and school, the closer he will be to fully realizing his academic potential.


Question:

My daughter just started preschool and I have noticed that sometimes she writes letters backwards. Should I be concerned?

Answer:

Writing letters backwards is a normal part of developing writing skills in preschool. If you have other reasons to suspect dyslexia (like parents or relatives with dyslexia, or problems identifying sounds or learning to say the alphabet), you should continue to monitor her progress and document your observations in case you see signs of a bigger problem.

Keep practicing with her by doing fun writing activities at home, like writing a shopping list, or writing a letter to a relative. Most of her early mistakes will be part of the process of learning to write, so model the right way, but don't hold her to it too early! She is in an experimentation phase with this skill.

The Reading Rockets website has articles that may be of interest to you as you help your child learn to read, including sections on writing and developmental milestones.



Question:

Is there anything I can do at home to help my dyslexic child learn to read and spell?

Answer:

Even though the English language is complex, dyslexic children CAN learn phonics! They need the support of a sequential, multisensory, structured reading program, and solid reading support at home (including reading together, playing games that isolate sounds or build words, etc.).

The Reading Rockets website focuses entirely on reading and how to help kids who struggle. See, for example, the section on strategies to help kids who struggle. Also check out this page for parents, which gives you tips on what you can do at home.

And here is a link to LD Online's collection of articles on dyslexia.


Question:

If my husband is dyslexic, is there a possibility that my children will be dyslexic too?

Answer:

Dyslexia is a hereditary condition, so if you have a history of dyslexia in your family, it's a good idea to get information now so that you can catch early warning signs in your own children. However, children today do not have to struggle as much with their dyslexia as the generations before them. We have a greater understanding of what it means to be dyslexic and we know which educational interventions are most effective in helping these children learn to read.

The Reading Rockets website is all about reading. Here are some articles on dyslexia that will help you identify signs and find help, so that even if your children are born with dyslexia, they will grow up to be readers!

Also, it is helpful to keep in mind the many overlooked strengths of people with dyslexia. Current research is focused on understanding how to interpret and foster these strengths. You can find out more in this article from the International Dyslexia Association.


Question:

We scan materials for students to use on Kurzweil 3000 at school. Could you recommend an efficient way to scan and email a textbook page home to a student with dyslexia? He has Natural Reader on his home computer, but he does not have Kurzweil.

Answer:

There are several options that might be appropriate for this student or for others in a similar situation. Some scanners come with software enabling the user to scan directly into a PDF document; however, it is more likely that you will have to purchase either Adobe Acrobat or third-party software that will allow you to convert scanned documents into PDF.

Converting the scanned image would enable you to maintain the original layout of the document and still work with Natural Reader since it is capable of reading PDFs as well as MS Word documents. Having the capability to convert documents to PDF could also be beneficial for other students, as the newer versions of Adobe Reader have improved read out loud capabilities. This could be helpful for students who don't have access to a screen reader at home. You could convert any text to a PDF and students could hear it read aloud using the free Reader program.

If purchasing additional software is not a feasible option, you may also try searching for a digital version of the text online. Learning Ally has audio versions of many textbooks, and websites such as BookShare and Project Gutenberg have electronic books freely available for download (BookShare provides books free for users with documented print disabilities).


Question:

When I'm reading, it is helpful for me to both see and hear the word. Where can I find software that can read text to me when I'm online? I need something that can read websites and other text aloud to me.

Answer:

If you are regularly downloading articles or documents to read that are in PDF, you can use the built in screen reader in Adobe Acrobat Reader called Read Out Loud to hear any text in the document read aloud.

If you need assistance with reading MS Word documents, or to have the text of your writing read back to you for editing purposes, one good option might be WordTalk, a free program text-to-speech program for Microsoft Word. You can also use the built-in screen reader/text-to-speech features on your computer.

Both Microsoft and Apple have simple text-to-speech programs built into their operating systems. Microsoft's Narrator is relatively limited in features, and is intended for users with visual impairments. However, some of the features may be helpful for you. Apple's VoiceOver has similar capabilities and can assist users with reading typed text, windows, menus and controls.

If you are mostly concerned with being able to hear text on websites read aloud, you might consider ROKTalk. ROKTalk is a web-based application that allows you to hear any web text read out loud. Because it is web-based, you don't have to install software, which may be useful if you are using different computers (at the library, in the classroom, etc.). ROKTalk is free for a few websites (Google, Wikipedia, the BBC) and charges a monthly fee for unlimited access to any website. Browser-based apps such as Google Chrome's text-to-speech tool, SpeakIt! and Read&Write for Google Docs are also effective tools for online reading. Similarly, Natural Reader has free text-to-speech programs with limited functionality that may be sufficient for your needs. Several options are available from a basic copy for free download, to a more full-featured version for purchase.

If these free tools don't provide you with the level of functionality you need, you can also try searching the TechMatrix to find other text-to-speech products and compare features by selecting the Subject Area of Reading and the Learning Support of Access to multiple formats of text, notation, and symbols.


Question:

Some of our students read very slowly. We are wondering about providing recorded books. We would like to give them access to print as they learn to read. Can you tell us where we can get recorded books? Any advice on how to make the textbooks and other st

Answer:

Fortunately, there are now a number of fairly inexpensive ways to provide struggling readers with access to printed materials by providing text digitally, see An Educator's Guide to Making Textbooks Accessible and Usable for Students with Learning Disabilities. Once you have digital text, you have many options.

Many publishers now offer their textbooks on CD and teachers can easily scan print materials into their computer to create digital versions of texts. One of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to provide students with recorded text is use text-to-speech features built into your computer's operating system to read digitized text. These simple programs can read text files aloud for students and are freely available with all Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Although they lack more sophisticated control options and choices for speaking voices, they may be an appropriate solution for helping students read short pieces of text.

Another free option for helping students access text is to download books from a website such as Project Gutenberg or LibriVox. The books available from these sites are in the public domain, so you will not be able to find newer books here. However, they are freely available to all and may be a good solution for providing electronic versions of popular classics (Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, etc.). Files are usually available in HTML, PDF or Text format, which can then be read aloud using any text-to-speech program. The Adobe Reader has a built in Read Out Loud feature which allows the user to have any part of a PDF file read aloud. You could also use this feature with any hard copy text that you scan and save as a PDF.

A third option is to obtain audio books from Learning Ally. Membership is required in order to access audio books and a special player or software is necessary to play the books. Another site, Bookshare, provides digital talking books for students of any age with disabilities. Students with qualifying print disabilities can now access the entire Bookshare collection free of charge. Additionally, audio books can be ordered from websites such as Amazon, Audible, or Barnes & Noble. However, this option will likely be more expensive than the cost of a Learning Ally membership.

The most flexible option (and also the most expensive) would be to purchase software capable of converting text files into audio files. A quick internet search will reveal several downloadable programs for running text to audio conversions. However, for a school purchase, it might make sense to investigate programs that can be used for a variety of reading and writing tasks such as Kurzweil 3000, Proloquo, TextAloud and WYNN. With these tools, you can convert any text file to a sound file; students can then listen to text using an MP3 player, their computer or CD player. Using a scanner, you can easily scan any print material and create recorded text for your students for any book, textbook, handout, or article you use in your teaching.


Question:

My son is going into 11th grade. He has a learning disability with a very "hands on" learning style. However, he cannot write to save his life, take notes, etc. What computer programs do you recommend? What laptops would you recommend?

Answer:

An expanding array of technological devices provides new options for minimizing the writing difficulties experienced by students with learning disabilities. Programs and devices, such as talking word processors, word prediction programs, child-friendly voice recognition, and portable note-taking devices may assist your son with his writing.

Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities: Infusion into Inclusive Classrooms will provide you with detailed information on each of these options.

Using Assistive Technology to Support Writing is another valuable resource that can assist you in selecting the best technologies to meet the needs of your son and may be worth sharing with his teachers to ensure that he has the support he needs in the classroom.

In October, check out the Tech Matrix, which will launch a new free online resource on writing products, reviewed for accessibility and instructional features. Related research on the use of technology for students with special needs will also be included with this tool to inform your decision on the best programs to provide support to meet your son's needs.


Question:

I work in a public library and want to be sure that our resources are accessible to all our patrons, including those with disabilities. What resources should we make available and where can we find additional information about making libraries accessible

Answer:

Many public libraries have grappled with the same issues, so looking at how other librarians have worked to make their libraries accessible is a good start. Many libraries provide their patrons with online resource lists (on accessible websites), in addition to offering a wide variety of accessibility options within the library building. It may be helpful to get in touch with other librarians, either online or in person to ask how they met their patrons' accessibility needs. The American Library Association has a number of excellent resources available to assist librarians in thinking about and respecting the needs of their patrons with disabilities. The ALA also has several options for connecting with other librarians, from online forums to an island in Second Life.

Some accessibility options for your patrons may include providing helpful links on your library website, pointing users to both local and national disability groups. Within the library, it is important to make sure that media is accessible — books on tape, audio books, captioned videos, descriptive videos, magnifiers and large print books can all help ensure that a variety of media is accessible to many of your patrons. Many librarians also provide patrons with assistive software and hardware where needed. This may include reading and writing software, software capable of reading text aloud (text-to-speech), software that can enlarge text on the screen or Braille embossers for blind patrons. Check out the Montgomery County Public Library website for a good example of the types of tools you might offer. For further ideas, check out the ALA's disability-specific Tip Sheets on Learning Disabilities, Children with Disabilities, Autism & Spectrum Disorders, and many others.


Question:

My son is going into high school. He has a learning disability with a very "hands on" learning style. However, he cannot write to save his life, take notes, etc. What computer programs do you recommend? What laptops would you recommend?

Answer:

An expanding array of technological devices provides new options for minimizing the writing difficulties experienced by students with learning disabilities. Programs and devices, such as talking word processors, word prediction programs, child-friendly voice recognition, and portable note-taking devices may assist your son with his writing.

Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities: Infusion into Inclusive Classrooms will provide you with detailed information on each of these options.

Using Assistive Technology to Support Writing is another valuable resource that can assist you in selecting the best technologies to meet the needs of your son and may be worth sharing with his teachers to ensure that he has the support he needs in the classroom.

Check out the Tech Matrix, which will launch a free online resource on writing products, reviewed for accessibility and instructional features. Related research on the use of technology for students with special needs will also be included with this tool to inform your decision on the best programs to provide support to meet your son's needs.


Question:

How can a parent, who is dyslexic themselves and was never taught phonics, help their dyslexic child?

Answer:

You have already taken a very important step — understanding that your child has a reading problem. Help must come from the school — that is where your child spends his prime learning hours and this is where adults — teachers who have the knowledge skills — are.

Your job is to make sure that your child is taught with methods and programs they are proven to be effective, that is, that show evidence that they actually work. You can directly ask his teacher, Is there evidence this program is effective? Has this evidence been published in a scientific journal? Was it reviewed by the National Reading Panel?

You can also ask about the kinds of strategy taught to help your child read a new or unfamiliar word — most effective are strategies that teach your child to sound out the word, and not just guess it from the context.

It also important to make sure that your child's progress is frequently measured — weekly or monthly — to ensure there is progress and if not, that the program can be quickly modified. Monitoring progress throughout the year — by actual measurement — is preferable to finding out the last day of the school year that your child has not made progress during the year.

In the book Overcoming Dyslexia, there is much more information on how to monitor progress and what constitutes good progress.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

Does early remediation reduce the need for accommodations? And if so, how much?

Answer:

There is some early indications that a highly effective intervention provided early on can result in the ability to read not only accurately but fluently (rapidly) as well. There are no follow-up data on these children, nor are there, to my knowledge, data indicating that later remediations are producing fluent readers.

So, while the hope is there that early remediation will produce fluent readers, the evidence is still coming in. At this time, children who are dyslexic will generally require extra time and other accommodations as they go through school, including postsecondary. Accommodations such as extra time are vital to allowing a bright dyslexic child demonstrate their knowledge and not be penalized by slow reading.

In the future, children who are receiving new, scientifically-based effective, reading interventions, may become fluent readers and not require additional time and other accommodations. That is the hope —but we are still gathering the evidence.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

I know that it is common for students to reverse letters (b, d, j, g, c) and some numbers (5, 2, 4) in first grade. Is this ever considered a sign for dyslexia, and at what age? This same child has some difficulty reading. What are your thoughts on this?

Answer:

You are asking two very important — and relatent — questions. There are many myths about dyslexia; one is that reversing letters and numbers is a sure sign of dyslexia. Reversing letters and numbers often occurs in young children and is not a sure sign of dyslexia. School systems and others often also think that if a child does not show reversals that child is not dyslexia. This is clearly not true. As I note in my book, Overcoming Dyslexia, "There is no evidence that dyslexic children actually see letters and words backwards." So, to answer your first question, reversals are not a sign of dyslexia.

On the other hand, speech and language difficulties are often found in children and adults who are dyslexic. The primary difficulty in dyslexia is in getting to the basic sounds of spoken words; that is, for example, in appreciating that the spoken word mat has three sounds — /m/ /a/ /t/ or that if you take the /t/ sound away from the spoken work steak, the word sake remains.

So, a fundamental difficulty in children and adults who are dyslexic is a great difficulty in appreciating and in noticing or manipulating the basic sounds of spoken language. A child needs to be able to isolate these individual sounds if he or she is to take the next important step in reading — learning to attach specific sounds to each letter or letter group. Once a child has developed the appreciation that the written word has the same number and sequence of sounds as the spoken word, that child has mastered what is referred to as the alphabetic principle and is ready to read.

Knowledge that spoken language problems also characterize struggling readers is very important because it can help identify potential reading problems in children even before they are expected to read and can help identify struggling readers at any age. See this excerpted article from the book Overcoming Dyslexia: Clues to Dyslexia in Early Childhood

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

Do individuals with dyslexia show different MRI brain images when reading? If so, could MRIs be used to diagnose individuals with dyslexia?

Answer:

Extraordinary progress in imaging technology now allow scientists to image a child's brain as he or she is actually reading. The technology, referred to as functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, uses the same scanner as a typical MRI used to scan, for example, your knee if you have a torn ligament. The difference is that the fMRI uses special software and some adaptive hardware as well so that small changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain can be detected as a child reads. Using this technology, our research group (and others) has learned that there are three systems for reading on the left side of the brain, one in the front and two in the back of the brain.

We have also learned that in struggling readers, there appears to be less activation or a glitch in the two systems in the back of the brain. Our studies have also indicated what happens in the brain in children who compensated, to some degree, for their reading problems, and also identified the specific region called the "word form area" located in the back of the left of the brain that seems to be related to skilled or fluent reading.

Most excitedly, our recent studies, supported by the results of other investigators as well, demonstrate that the brain is highly malleable and under the influence of effective reading instruction — can change and resemble that of a good reader. Basically, this means that teaching matters — making it all the more important to ensure that each child receives reading instruction that has been proven to wor — referred to as "evidence-based" reading instruction. Parents, teachers and we as a nation, should settle for no less. For anyone interested in more information and brain images, I refer you to chapters 6 & 7 of Overcoming Dyslexia. Similarly, the notion of evidence-based education is discussed in detail in my book.

At this time, the use of functional imaging, fMRI, is limited to research. Clincial judgments about reading and reading disability are made on the basis of a child's history, observations of how he or she reads and test results. To be explicit, MRI's or any other imaging modality, is not currently recommended for use in the diagnosis of a reading problem.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

What characteristics should we look for in preschool children who would be at risk for dyslexia?

Answer:

The most important clues in a preschool child are:

  • A family history of reading problems
  • Delayed speech
  • Lack of appreciation and enjoyment of rhymes — e.g., not appreciating the rhymes in a Dr. Seuss book
  • Not being able to recite rhymes by age 3
  • Continuation of baby talk
  • Trouble pronouncing words
  • Trouble learning the alphabet — (not the alphabet song, but knowing the individual names of the letters of the alphabet)

It is important to keep in mind that you are looking for a pattern of these clues — ones that keeping occurring often. Not knowing a rhyme or a the name of a letter once or twice is not what we are looking for. A pattern that occurs over and over again is what to look for.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

What’s the best plan for a preschooler with dyslexia entering kindergarten? What should I ask the school to do right from the start?

Answer:

Beginning kindergarten is an important to ensure that an at-risk child receives the right help. The critical areas are: assessment, instruction and monitoring. The child's language and phonological and readiness skills should be assessed. Next, there are now available several evidence-based, developmentally appropriate reading readiness programs available; they generally stress teaching child about the sounds of spoken language, how letters represent these sounds and introduce a child to early reading skills.

Vocabulary and listening to stories as well as early writing are introduced. The elements should be provided in a systematic and explicit fashion; dyslexic children do not learn by osmosis. Simply surrounding a child with books is insufficient, he or she must be taught explicitly.

Finally, they should be continuously monitored; there are instruments now available that all up-to-the-minute frequent monitoring of reading progress. And you, as a parent, should continuously ask to ensure that the reading instruction is based on evidence of efficacy and that your child's progress is being carefully monitored and that if she or he is not making progress, modifications are quickly made. Catching a reading problem early and doing the right things can ensure a bright future for your child. Good luck!

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

What is the difference between a learning disability and a reading disability?

Answer:

Learning disability is a much broader term; reading disability is one form of a learning disability, there are, for example, also math disability and other types of disabilities. It is important to appreciate that of all the learning disabilities, reading disability is by far and away the most common, accounting for about 80%+ of all learning disabilities.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

What do you advise if a parent is in denial that their child has dyslexia, and even if diagnosed, they don’t necessarily do anything about it?

Answer:

All parents want the best for their child. Some parents become so frightened and they panic and deny the problem. I wrote Overcoming Dyslexia to empower such parents to understand the nature of the problem and that there is now good help available. Once parents appreciate this, they feel empowered to become “champion” for their children and make a difference in ensuring that they receive effective help. Once parents understand what to do and why and know that they can make a difference, they will do anything to improve their child’s life.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

My 11-year-old daughter was tested for dyslexia but was not diagnosed as being dyslexic. However, her ability to decode unfamiliar words, effectively use blending, and reading speed continue to be below her grade level and peers. What tests can we have a

Answer:

Very often bright children are penalized and fall between the cracks; that is, although they do not learn the necessary strategies for reading, they are able to memorize enough words to avoid detection. Your daughter appears to fit into this category. The problem is that as your daughter progresses in school, she will be faced with many, many more new words, many long, technical or unfamiliar words and with many rare words — the bottom line is that memory no longer is adequate to know all of these words.

Your daughter should be tested. In my book, Overcoming Dyslexia, I describe in some detail the types of testing and rationale for testing. Basically, her ability to read words accurately and fluently and to comprehend words are essential components of a test battery. You should ensure that her fluency — ability to read rapidly as well as accurately — are tested (this is often overlooked). Tests of her ability to get to the sounds of spoken words are also important as are measures of her vocabulary. This could serve as the core of a test battery, other tests can be added, depending on her individual history and pattern.

She should be tested. If on the basis of her testing, in addition to her history and observations of how she reads aloud, she is not a fluent reader, she should get help soon. She can be helped and the help should not be delayed.

You should also keep in mind that your daughter may be helped by the accommodation of extra time if she is a slow reader.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

I am a special education teacher and work with a number of dyslexic students whose accuracy is improving faster than their fluency. Will some dyslexic students always have poor fluency? Are we expecting them to be as fluent as the non-dyslexic?

Answer:

Teachers are commonly finding that they are able to remediate a child's accuracy, but that the child continues to lack fluency. There are specific strategies to help improve fluency; for example, as reported by the National Reading Panel, repeated oral reading with feedback and guidance, is an effective strategy.

However, we still do not have the answers to your last questions. A few studies of young children have shown improvements in fluency — but we not yet know if this will be lasting. Fluency is a critical issue and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is devoting much effort to better understanding the nature of fluency and how to improve fluency for all children.

Finally, we do know that children who are not fluent fail to show activation of an area in the back of the left side of the brain called the word form area. Recently, we have been able to demonstrate that effective reading instructions brings about some improvement in fluency and in increasing brain activation in the word form area. A very hopeful finding, but an early one. We still need to learn much more and we are.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

Do all dyslexic children have a weakness in the phonological area?

Answer:

Our work with other researchers, especially Robin Morris and Jack Fletcher, on examining subtypes of reading problems has demonstrated that a phonological weakness is present in 90% of all struggling readers. Phonological problems may be associated with problems in other areas such as memory as well. A small group of children may demonstrate problems in rate alone and not in phonology. These results are for young children; we are now working on an adolescent study to see if the same is true for this group of older children.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

What can we all do to make sure that students with dyslexia get the accommodations they need to demonstrate what they know and to continue their learning?

Answer:

Accommodations are essential for a dyslexic reader. Brain imaging studies demonstrate that the fast pathways for fluent reading do not develop in dyslexic readers. As a result, such a reader must rely on slower pathways that allow him or her to read accurately, but not rapidly.

Unfortunately, accommodations are greatly misunderstood. We must all work to ensure that the nature and rationale and the necessity for accommodations are understand. We should not accept the flawed logic that if a person is doing relatively well in school he does not require accommodations. Dyslexics may do very well in school as a result of accommodations and this should not be used as an excuse to deny accommodations.

In Chapter 2 of Overcoming Dyslexia, you'll find information about and answers to the most common questions asked about accommodations. We should all work hard to ensure that this critical information is disseminated and that schools and testing agencies decisions reflect scientific knowledge about dyslexia and not outdated myths.

I cannot emphasize how important accommodations are virtually a life line for dyslexics. Now that we understand the scientific necessity for accommodations, we must ensure that each student receives the accommodations he or she needs.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

I’m a special education teacher in primary school. How do you temper some parents’ desire to attempt “everything” at once at home? Some parents are over-doing the work at home and ultimately hurting their child’s self-esteem and progress.

Answer:

An important question. At times, parents who care so much worry that they must fill in every moment of a child's day and evening fixing the problem. While this laudable, my experience with highly successful adults who are dyslexic indicates that a recurring theme is that these folks were greatly benefited from finding and pursuing an activity in which they could find success and a sense of mastery. It doesn't matter what the acclivity is — basketball, piano playing, skateboarding, drawing, rock collecting, soccer, doll collection — as long it brings a sense of satisfaction to the child.

In my book, Overcoming Dyslexia, I included a very important chapter, Protecting and Nourishing Your Chid's Soul, to help parents find ways of supporting and developing their child's self-esteem. I thought this issue so important that I also included an epilogue, giving examples of well-respected, highly successful people who were dyslexic and how they succeeded. Invariably, they had an interest that helped sustain their self-esteem: for the writer, John Irving, it was a love of, and success in, wrestling; for writer Stephen Cannell, it was football; for financier Charles Schwab, it was golf — each had something that they enjoyed and in which they could experience success.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

I have an 8-year old boy who is in second grade. He is really struggling with reading. He gets extra help at school and we have had him privately tutored, but we are not seeing any progress. Should a child with dyslexia should be held back in school?

Answer:

The evidence suggests that simply holding a child back is not helpful. If a child is falling behind, he needs hel — he requires reading instruction that is proven to be effective and it needs to be delivered to him intensely (small group) and frequently (60-90 minutes/daily). Of course, progress should be frequently and consistently monitored.

Repetition of the same program that failed him in one year will not likely do any better a second time around. You must ensure that he is tested and receives reading intervention that is proven to be effective and he receives it intensively and frequently.

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz


Question:

Can you recommend a reading routine for parents with dyslexic children?

Answer:

Parents of a dyslexic child can be their child's biggest helper. I think the best way to help is to work with your child to improve his or her ability to read fluently — rapidly, as well as accurately.

To do this means sitting down with your child, selecting a book to read together that is easy and interesting to the child and for you to read aloud (a passage or a page) to your child and then have your child read the same passage back to you. If he or she has made errors, correct them gently, and have the reread the passage. The practice of repeated oral reading with feedback and guidance allows the brain to practice and build and re-enforce the circuits necessary for fluent reading. You can also use poems or pretend you are acting out a play – plays require reading aloud and rereading, an excellent vehicle to practice fluency.

There are also commercial programs beginning to become available.

Parents are also have a critical role in ensuring that their child maintains his sense of self-esteem. 

— Dr. Sally Shaywitz

"Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world." —

Malala Yousafzei