Every year in October, people around the world recognize, honor, and celebrate the dyslexia spectrum with Dyslexia Awareness Month. In this article, we touched on the reasons for observing this month, looked at some official definitions of dyslexia, and highlighted the science of reading-based instruction that best supports students with dyslexia. So here, we’d like to focus on six helpful tips for improving your dyslexia awareness, in October and throughout the year.
1. Remember the complexity of seeing life through the lens of dyslexia.
Around 20% of the population lives with dyslexia, a neurobiological condition that impairs reading abilities. With respect to reading, dyslexia could be referred to as a learning disability, but with respect to many other things in life, dyslexia could be considered an advantage. Sometimes called a disorder or disability, other times called a gift or simply a difference, and existing on a spectrum, dyslexia is part of the brain’s visual, phonological, and language processing capabilities. Individuals with dyslexia often exhibit strengths like high intelligence, creative problem-solving, and spatial awareness skills, while they may struggle with identifying speech sounds (phonological awareness); connecting sounds to letters and words (spelling and decoding); and reading comprehension, accuracy, and fluency.
More than half of all NASA employees are people with dyslexia. NASA seeks out these individuals for their excellent problem-solving and spatial awareness skills.
2. Be sure you’re not making incorrect assumptions about dyslexia.
Let’s set the record straight by debunking four of the major myths surrounding dyslexia:
Dyslexia isn’t a sign of low intelligence. NASA goes out of their way to hire people with dyslexia, who are often highly intelligent and effective problem-solvers. People with dyslexia process visual information differently than non-dyslexics, enabling them to be especially skillful when working with 3D and spatial information, which is why they make up more than 50% of NASA’s workforce. Children with dyslexia also tend to excel with understanding patterns, applying logical reasoning, and performing as critical thinkers when asked to solve problems or conduct analysis.
Students with dyslexia aren’t lazy or unmotivated. In fact, they often have to work even harder than their peers, since their brains function in a different way than non-dyslexics. Children with dyslexia may sometimes struggle to adjust to the typical classroom, but they tend to channel their curiosity and interest wherever they can and seek out ways to use their talents elsewhere, from music, art, or dance to science experiments, engineering projects, or inventing new tech. Many brilliant, famous, successful, and accomplished people have dyslexia.
Dyslexia isn’t rare. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people have some level of dyslexia, and that number may be higher, since testing and assessment for dyslexia remain the exception rather than the norm. It’s also the #1 cause of reading difficulties and struggles.
Dyslexia doesn’t predict failure. While there may be no way to “cure” dyslexia (which is actually not a disease that needs curing but a different way of learning, perceiving, and interacting with the world that needs appropriate support), all students with dyslexia can learn to read successfully with time, encouragement, and the right reading instruction. Early assessment and intervention lead to the best outcomes, but it’s never too late for anyone with dyslexia to get the support they need. In fact, students with dyslexia are more likely to come up with innovative solutions, and there are many cognitive benefits to having dyslexia that can lead to great success if allowed to flourish.
3. Don’t minimize the importance of explicit phonics instruction—it’s essential for all readers, and especially necessary for students with dyslexia.
Scientists are still learning new things about dyslexia and about the human brain, but dyslexia’s effect on reading difficulties seems to be due to differences in sound processing. Reading is a complex skill that doesn’t come naturally and must be learned; children with dyslexia function with brain circuitry that processes sound differently, and therefore requires methodical phonics instruction. When teachers skip phonics with the assumption that students will just pick it up naturally, they set students up for failure, dragging students with dyslexia far behind their peers and potentially leading to major problems in life. Children with dyslexia often suffer from depression and anxiety, as a result. This suffering is unnecessary: early interventions with Structured Literacy can help enormously, giving students with dyslexia what they need to succeed. With the proper instruction, most children with dyslexia can learn how to read at the level of their peers.