What is Dyslexia?

Educators have not been able to agree on what dyslexia really is.  Some authorities believe that it is strictly a language-processing problem, involving the distinguishing   of sounds of letters.   Others believe that it is a visual/perceptual problem, since these children also reverse words laterally (b/d) and vertically (m/w) as well as scrambling letters (the=het) when they read and write.

We believe that they are both correct.  It is an auditory/language problem, a visual/perceptual problem, and often also a visual/motor (eye/hand) problem.  I have worked with many teenagers who had been through years of tutoring in a good “phonemic awareness” program. Why were they still in my special education class?   While they now were able to decode very long, difficult words, because their inadequate eye tracking had not been addressed, they could not read with any fluency.   Words continued to “move” as they read, or reverse, or they had to use so much energy to keep their eyes tracking correctly that they forgot what they had just read.   Therefore, in my classroom, I also addressed the eye tracking issue, so that they could read fluently, and with comprehension on grade level by the end of the year.

Through study and observation, I realized that many of the learning “processes” had not become automatic for these students. For example, their eye tracking should have transferred to their Automatic Brain Hemisphere six months after they practiced it.    If it isn’t automatic, the child has to “think” about the eye movement so he/she doesn’t read “no” for “on.”  Auditory processing, such as the process of remembering phonemes, or phonics also has not transferred to the automatic hemisphere. In 1981Dr. Roger Sperry, a Nobel Prize winning neurologist found that the name of a word, letter, phoneme, or person, is located in the left, auditory brain hemisphere.  The picture of the word (what it looks like) is located in the visual brain hemisphere.  The reading problem that a child experiences when he cannot remember the name of a phoneme or Sight Word  is that the left brain name does not connect with the right brain word picture.  This learning process can be likened to the driving process.  If you had to think about how to turn the signals, and when to brake and accelerate while you were driving, it would be a very difficult procedure indeed, and you definitely wouldn’t drive for pleasure

Does my child have Dyslexia?

You can suspect dyslexia in your child when all three of the following information processing areas are impacted, andyour child is about 2 years behind in reading. (Download free Quick Word Recognition Testto see what level your child is reading at right now).  Remember that not all reading problems are Dyslexia.  Again, there are many opinions, but many special education teachers consider that a child is considered to have a “true” (not just auditory) dyslexia when he/she scrambles words and letters visually, auditorally and in writing and tests two years behind level.  We, of course, would like to intervene before that child is two years behind, by treating the scrambling symptoms.  I have found that this can be done quite easily in the home setting.

Some symptoms to consider:  (a child does not need all the symptoms to have Dyslexia)

Auditory Processing

  1. Difficulty learning the names of alphabet letters when in kindergarten
  2. Spelling has no phonetic pattern to it (Tuesday=Tunday)
  3. Sounds out all words, including sight words (many, could, these)
  4. Poor memory of words just read in a previous sentence in reading
  5. Sounds out the letters in a word, but can’t put it into a whole (b-a-t)
  6. Memorizes stories, but can’t remember same words in another story
  7. Two years behind in reading

Visual Processing 

  1. Visually reverses whole words (on=no, was=saw)
  2. Regularly reads “big” for “dig”
  3. Very slow, labored reading (often takes a deep breath)
  4. Reading a year and a half or more below grade level
  5. Says words wiggle when he reads
  6. Reads a word from the line above, and adds to present line, often


What is the difference between Dyslexia and Dysgraphia?

This is often confusing for parents.  Simply put, Dyslexia involves much difficulty reading and spelling.  Dysgraphia involves much difficulty writing.  Many children/teenagers with Dyslexia often have an accompanying Dysgraphia. They write almost no sentences from memory, since their right, visual hemisphere is not storing words efficiently.  They have to think about the directionality of the letters, rather than the content of the writing.  Kids with Dyslexia almost always also have Dysgraphia also.  However, many kids who do not have Dyslexia, and in fact, may read way above grade level have just the Dysgraphia.  See my article, “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write” on my website to see this subject described in depth.  Be assured, this issue is also easy to correct at home.



How can I work with my child at home?

The approach we have taken to get children past the learning “block” of dyslexia, is two-fold:

  • Do some type of “midline” brain therapy. While NILD, NACD are some other midline therapies to explore, I use Brain Integration Therapy, a very inexpensive, 20 minute a day home therapy program designed to eliminate the midline as a problem and restore proper eye tracking, remembering letter sounds, writing reversals, and enable the child to store words in his/her right brain, long term memory.
  • In addition to this therapy, I use an, intensive Phonemic Awareness and Decoding program daily. For my classroom use, I created the Right Brain Reading Program, which is an Orton Gillingham-based Phonics and Spelling method.   This can be purchased, or can be easily made at home by the parent.

If your child has symptoms of dyslexia, you have found that just having him read to you more isn’t helping.  You’ve also found that regular phonics programs don’t work, because no matter how much practice, they can’t remember the sounds of letters.  Many times they sound out the pieces of a word “f-a-t”, but cannot put it into a whole (“fat”). Sight words are their enemy, as they try to sound out each sight word (“what” becomes a laborious, “w-h-a-t).   Curiously, their comprehension is great, once they’ve struggled through a passage.  By the time I see parents in my consultation practice, they have given up on spelling, and the only writing the child does, is copying sentences.

To help a child read, who is facing this massive struggle, brain integration therapy exercises and once a week “Brain Trainings”, using physical movements to re-connectthe two hemispheres is the first step I show the parents.   Then, I show them the Right Brain Reading approach.  This is the most fun.  I regularly can get a Dyslexic ten year old who is a non-reader (can’t even spell his last name), reading eight Sight Words (many, they, city, what) and spelling them from memory in just a half hour, using their strong Photographic Memory.   The child’s eyes light up, because he suddenly feels so smart…and it didn’t feel like work at all.  The mom usually has tears in her eyes, by this time, as she sees her child write a whole sentence from memory after just one session, using words that he couldn’t even read when he first came in!  Of course, we still need to work on the phonics and phonemic awareness (also using right brain strategies to make it easier), but now the child has faith in himself that he can become a reader!

This method of intensive phonemic training, and Right Brain teaching strategies using their photographic memory, plus specific midline exercises takes about forty-five minutes to  an hour a day of one-on-one tutoring, but pays off handsomely in its’ results. This replaces their other reading work.  And the great thing is that parents do not have to spend much money, or have someone else tutor their child.   Just teach using different teaching strategies, and use the Quick Score Reading Recognition test every four months, to make sure that your child is making progress.  You will be surprised how easy it is to get a two year growth in a year by investing just one hour a day on reading this new way.  In my teaching experience, this method works with first graders to eighth graders who have Dyslexia.  Are there other proven intensive phonics programs that work with Dyslexia?  Yes. This is just the least expensive, effective method I found with my students.

So, go wild and invest in some colored markers, pictures, and have fun teaching your child how to use his/her powerful right brain to make the learning process easier.

It doesn’t have to be so hard for the child, nor expensive for the parent, to teach a child with dyslexia to be a good reader or writer, in my experience.

To read further about the “Chemistry of Dyslexia” (why it seems to run in families, and the role of the child’s immune system), see the article: “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain” on my website.  The research is powerful!

For the step-by-step teaching method that I used in my special education class of bright, struggling readers in the classroom, download my Free Daily Lesson Plan for a Struggling Reader.  Be your child’s own Resource Room teacher. No special training necessary!


Don’t forget download our Identifying Blocked Learning Gates Informal Assessment and Checklist!