Dyslexia is common — and misunderstood

Five to 17 percent of the population is dyslexic, reports NPR in a series on the “common and misunderstood” disability in its Unlocking Dyslexia series.

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Scientists are studying what makes dyslexic brains different.

At some schools, “dyslexia” is the learning disability that must not be named, writes Gabrielle Emanuel, who coped with her own dyslexia by memorizing words.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide services to help dyslexic students, such as reading tutors and books on tape, Emanuel writes. That’s expensive.

Megan Lordos, a middle school teacher, says she was told not to say “dyslexia” in a conference with parents. An administrator told her: ” ‘We’re not allowed to say it because we don’t have the capabilities to support that particular learning difference,’ ” she recalls.

As the mother, Lordos learned strategies for raising a dyslexic child. She and her husband decided to “invest in the child that we have now” by paying for reading tutors rather than saving for college tuition. “College won’t be an option” for a child who hates school and rejects reading, they reasoned.

Here are stories of frustration and success.

Christian Boer, a Dutch graphic designer, stresses the differences between letters in his new font, “Dyslexie.” Boer is dyslexic.

Moonshot Moment

Moonshot Moment

Driven by her son’s struggles with dyslexia, Liz Woody set out to transform reading instruction in Vero Beach, Florida.  In Moonshot Moment, PBS NewsHour reports tonight on what became a movement.

Underdog power: Dyslexic entrepreneurs

A weakness can be a hidden strength, author Malcolm Gladwell tells Anderson Cooper.

Underdogs’ limitations force them to be creative, says Gladwell, whose new book is called David and Goliath.

One of his examples is Gary Cohn, a dyslexic who “couldn’t do school” and was “kicked out” for acting up. He learned to work around his disability. He’s still a poor reader. He’s also president of Goldman Sachs.

Malcolm Gladwell: An incredibly high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. That’s one of the little-known facts. So many of them, in fact, it’s like a joke among dyslexic researchers that you go into a room of very successful businesspeople, and you—you have a show of hands on who has a learning disability, it’s like half the hands in the room go up. It’s fascinating…

Gary Cohn: People that can’t read well, we tend to build a great sense of listening. We also tend to build a great sense of being able to deal and cope with failure.

Gladwell grew up in rural Ontario, the son of a Jamaican-born family therapist and a British math professor. He was not a strong student, but since his family had no TV and never went to movies, he read lots of books. If he got bored, his mother would say, “It’s important to be bored. You’re giving your brain a rest.”

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at The Homeschool Post. Reaping what you sow is the theme.

Coming to Grips with My Homeschool Reality (The Holistic Homeschooler) and 10 Reasons to Homeschool an ADHD Child (Harrington Harmonies) deal with homeschooling children with dyslexia, mood disorders and/or hyperactivity.


Dyslexia is a “learning difference” rather than a disability argues Dislecksia: The Movie, which premieres Oct. 11.

Dyslexia is linked to voice recognition

Dyslexics have trouble recognizing voices, say MIT researchers in a study published in last week’s Science. That suggests the reading problem also is a “problem with how the brain processes speech and puts together words from smaller units of sound,” reports the New York Times.

Adults listened to recorded voices speaking English or an unfamiliar language, Mandarin.  Non-dyslexics matched voices to English-speaking avatars 70 percent of the time and to Mandarian-speaking avatars half the time.  Dyslexics matched voices half the time in both English and Mandarin.

(Cogntive scientist John) Gabrieli said the findings underscored a critical problem for dyslexic children learning to read: the ability of a child hearing, say, a parent or teacher speak to connect the auditory bits that make up words, called phonemes, with the sight of written words.

If a child has trouble grasping the sounds that make up language, he said, acquiring reading skills will be harder.

The research shows that spoken language deficiencies persist even when dyslexics learn to read well. The study subjects were mostly “high-functioning, high-I.Q. young adults who had overcome their reading difficulty,” Dr. Gabrieli said. “And yet when they had to distinguish voices, they were not one iota better with the English-language voices that they’ve heard all their life.”

Reading involves a “circuit, the ability to have all of those components integrated absolutely automatically,” said Maryanne Wolf, a dyslexia expert at Tufts University. “One of the great weaknesses in dyslexia is that the system is not able to integrate these phoneme-driven systems” with other aspects of language comprehension.



Many cubs, many tigers

In response to Amy Chua’s declaration of Chinese maternal superiority (now partially retracted), author Ayelet Waldman speaks up for Nerf-spined Western mothers:

Here are some of the things that my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do:

• Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people’s precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.

• Sleep over at their friends’ houses, especially on New Year’s Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.

• Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.

• Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.

• Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.

Waldman admires Chua’s ability to pressure her children without guilt or regret. But her own mildly dyslexic child didn’t learn to read through maternal coercion.

For years I forced her to spell words in the bathtub with foam letters, to do worksheets, to memorize phonemes and take practice tests. My hectoring succeeded only in making her miserable.

Rosie insisted on trying a four-hour-a-day reading program that drilled in letters, sight words and phonics.  It was exhausting.

We begged her to quit. Neither her father nor I could stand the sight of her misery, her despair, the pain, psychic and physical, she seemed far too young to bear. But every day she refused.

. . . At the end of a grim and brutal month, Rosie learned to read.

She came out of the ordeal with confidence in her strength and tenacity.  Her parents were “stunned with pride.” It was Rosie’s victory, not theirs.

Roaring like a tiger works for some children, but others need a different sort of tiger mom, Waldman writes.

There’s an inherent flaw in the insanely perfect parenting styles of the educated classes: You drive yourself crazy or you drive your kids crazy. Or both. It’s not worth it.

Update: In a letter to the New York Post, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, the elder cub, writes about growing up with a tiger mom.

Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.

For Sophia, living life to the fullest is “about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential,” she writes. Her mother taught her to go all out.