'Groundbreaking' Research Offers Clues to Cause of Dyslexia

To help schools and families better identify and help students with dyslexia, the Arizona Department of Education has released a handbook of guidelines and resources. 

In addition, a bill headed to Gov. Doug Ducey's office is redefining dyslexia in a way that more accurately reflects the condition. This should help students get identified earlier so schools can give them the help they need before they fall behind, said Rep. Jill Norgaard, R-Phoenix. 

Norgaard hopes this will lead to "focused intervention" that will keep kids from falling behind in third or fourth grade and hating school. 

What is dyslexia

"Dyslexia is a reading disability that affects reading at the single-word level; reading fluency and rate; and spelling," said Nancy Mather, a University of Arizona professor in the College of Education who specializes in learning disabilities. "In turn, these deficits cause difficulties with reading comprehension and written expression."

Mather said people with dyslexia have issues with reading and writing but skills like oral language, reasoning, math and general knowledge are often unimpaired. In other words, the reading and spelling difficulties are often unexpected because the student could be very bright in every other area. 

Characteristics of dyslexia

Five to eight percent of the population has dyslexia, according to Mather. 

It occurs in people of all backgrounds and all intellectual levels. It also runs in families. 

Some signs of dyslexia are: difficulty learning rhyming words, confusion of letters and words with similar visual appearance, confusion of letters with similar sounds, reversal and transpositions of letters and words that persist past the age of 7, spelling the same word in different ways on the same page, spelling words the way they sound rather than the way they look, difficulty pronouncing some multi-syllable words correctly and slow word perception that affects reading rate and fluency. 

What is the average age dyslexia is detected? 

It is often detected in first and second grade, Mather said. 

"Early indicators can be seen in children as young as 3 and 4," Mather said.

Examples are early speech and language difficulties and not wanting to look at the print in books, Mather added.

What if I think my child is dyslexic?

Mather says you should ask your child's school for a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the problem is dyslexia. 

Who diagnoses dyslexia?

"This varies," Mather said. "Generally someone with knowledge of the condition. It could be a psychologist, speech/language therapist, learning specialist. Someone with explicit training in dyslexia."

"Get help as early as possible," Mather said. "Spend a lot of time reading to their children, pointing out letters and sounds. Don't fall for quick fixes or cures."

What if my third grader is dyslexic and doesn't pass AzMERIT?

Third grade students who are diagnosed with dyslexia or are in the process of a referral or evaluation for dyslexia and don't meet the competency requirements of the AzMERIT assessment test may be promoted to fourth grade.


Click here for the new handbook

Click here for info on assistive technology through the Arizona Department of Education.

Parents can find helpful information on the American Dyslexia Association website, from educational approaches to information on support.

For reading help, Mathers recommends Mindplay, a reading software that helps teach children to read well with virtual reading teachers. The program is adaptive and modifies instruction based on the child's need. 

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson