by on March 15, 2011

in Monthly

Diagnose dyslexia early

 Q: I am concerned that my six-year-old son does not read well.

My neighbour, a teacher, suggested he may have dyslexia. What can I do next?

A: Dyslexia is a condition in which a child struggles to read, and as a result, finds it difficult to learn.

It is the most common type of learning disability and if undiagnosed dyslexia can cause a number of future challenges for the child.

All learning disabilities must be diagnosed as early as possible (ideally before the age of eight) to help the child reach his or her full potential.

Unfortunately, there are cases where adults hope that a child’s struggles at school are only temporary -resulting in delayed treatment and, with that, anxieties and poor self-esteem.

Dyslexia is more common in boys than girls, and it’s estimated that 15 per cent of the population have what some call “word blindness” or “reading disorders.” This has a very strong genetic component -as high as 40 per cent of family members may have this diagnosis.

Diagnosing the condition

It is important to diagnose this condition as soon as possible and to rule out other medical causes for struggling to read. Many individuals with dyslexia are actually very smart and creative -they have no issues with their IQ.

Examples of famous people who dealt with dyslexia include Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, John Lennon, Picasso, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Leonardo daVinci.

The ability to read is a complex process where the brain has to decode words and letters; fluency is required together with comprehension, memory and attention. All of these activities must take place consistently and at the same time.

Dyslexic patients struggle with their phonetic awareness, word recognition, decoding and fluency.

Some children may reverse their letters. For example, “was” becomes “saw.” When this happens, a parent may raise an issue of dyslexia. Letter reversal is common and normal up to Grade 1 or 2.

Dyslexic myth

There is a myth that dyslexic patients reverse their letters. According to the Learning Disability Society, dyslexia is more complicated than simple letter reversals.

The cause of dyslexia is not clearly known. However, researching the brain, using functional MRIs or PET scans reveals abnormalities in the left side of the brain.

Normally, an area known as Brocca’s area is involved in articulation and coding. Scanning the brain of a dyslexic patient shows that other areas of the brain become active and that this differs from individuals who have no difficulties with reading. There may also be some unexplained white matter abnormalities in the brain of a dyslexic child.

When a child finds it hard to read it can lead to frustration, poor self esteem, anxiety and emotional problems.

These kids may find reading exhausting and since there is no joy in reading they may avoid books as much as possible.

Evaluation necessary

Although teachers, family doctors or pediatricians often suspect this condition, it is best to get an in-depth evaluation done by a psychologist or developmental clinician who can spend more time with the family.

An expert can also make sure the problem is not confused or associated with other learning disabilities which will require additional education and resources.

Once the diagnosis is made, patients benefit from intense training and tutoring. For more information on the history of this training and the current recommendations, see interdys.org (and in Calgary, educationmatters. ca).

There are some clinicians who believe that dyslexia is caused by visual problems. Visual therapies such as visual training, training glasses, prisms, coloured lenses and filters have been suggested as a cure for dyslexia.

However, the evidence that this works remains extremely controversial and has caused other experts to respond with great concern.

These concerns are well expressed in the March 2011 issue of Pediatrics, where the American Academy of Pediatrics, together with learning disability societies and optometric associations, denounced the use of vision therapy, based on numerous scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Importance of reading

Reading is important for children, starting as early as six months.

The Canadian Paediatric Society offers some ideas on how to make reading pleasant and interesting to young children (caringforkids.cps.ca).

One reason the society followed the lead of American pediatricians in telling families that children under age two should not watch any television is that reading and face-to-face time has been shown to prepare a child’s brain the best.

The take-home message is that an early diagnosis may save a family from numerous future challenges and that there is hope -not just because famous people succeeded to deal with their dyslexia, but if the correct resources are put to use, children may grow up learning to their full potential.

Dr. Nieman is a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society and the President of the Alberta Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He hosts two websites: healthychildren.ca and lifebyexample.ca

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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