Some dyslexia myths debunked

  1. Dyslexia doesn’t exist:

Also known as “Dyslexia is a load of rubbish; invented so middle class parents have an excuse when their kids fail their exams.”

Thankfully few people actually believe this now, although I do unfortunately know some, even teachers. They’re usually the old-school kind of teachers that say this kind of thing;

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers”

This quote was falsely credited to Socrates, who died  in 399BC), but even so, you know what I mean!

It would probably be more helpful to talk of a dyslexic spectrum as not all dyslexics have all the symptoms associated with dyslexia, which means things can be a bit vague, and a report I read recently (sorry can’t remember where!) suggested we shouldn’t talk about “dyslexia” as one size does not fit all and it’s not necessarily helpful to pigeon hole students.

  1. Dyslexia affects more boys than girls.

Yes, and No!

The American dyslexia association claims that approximately 8-13% of girls have been diagnosed, whereas 18-22% of boys have been. However we should remember that boys in trouble make trouble, whereas girls often quietly drown, or work extremely hard to get by.

  1. 1 child in 10 has some form of dyslexia.

This is about the figure given by most associations, Schneider talks about 2-5 children being dyslexic in a typical class of 20-25 pupils.

  1. Dyslexia is genetic.

If a boy has a dyslexic father he has about 40% chance of being dyslexic himself (Gilger 1991), and this figure can rise to 100% if both parents are concerned. However the nuture vs nature debate is present here, in a house with dyslexic parents a child is probably not going to be presented with the image of his parents constantly with their noses in books (as I was) or necessarily be read regular bedtime stories for example.

It is interesting to note that the “dyslexic” gene has been discovered in chromosome 6, also home to genes responsible for autoimmune diseases.

  1. Dyslexia is a visual problem.

Some dyslexic people are affected by Meares-Irlen syndrome, this is where sufferers are affected by the glare of the contrast between black ink and white paper, this results in eye strain and eventually loss of concentration and reduced focus.

  1. Dyslexia is a neural problem – you can see if someone is dyslexic by looking at an MRI scan of their brains.

Cells found in the neural tract between the retina and the visual cortex, one – the magnocells are found to be damaged in the case of dyslexic children tested. These cells send information relative to contrast and movement, when we read our eyes don’t smoothly follow the words along the page from left to right, they jump back and forth at great speed – these jumps are known as saccades, and the magnocells are responsible for seeing “round” these jumps and for our vision of contrast. This would explain why some dyslexic children complain about letters moving around the page.

The cerebellar deficit hypothesis: this suggests that the lack of automacity seen in many dyslexic people is caused by damage to the cerebellum.

The hemispheric symmetry hypothesis : less activity in the left hemisphere has been seen when dyslexic students have had brain scans preformed while reading, as you know the left side is the area that is responsible for language.

  1. If you are dyslexic then you probably suffer from ADHD or dyspraxia.

Yes, according to the U.S. dyslexia association approximately 40% of dyslexic pupils also have another SEN, or specific educational need, for example ADHD (logical really if you think that it requires five times more effort and energy for a dyslexic students to perform the same standard of work as his classmates), dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and especially dysorthography.

  1. Some languages have more dyslexic speakers than others.

No, dyslexia exists in every language and in every alphabet, including Mandarin and Cyrillic languages. However some languages, such as Italian are more orthographically and phonetically consistent so dyslexia is not necessarily spotted, or considered a problem until later on, when reading speed becomes an issue. English is very orthographically inconsistent and therefore difficult, not only as a mother tongue, but especially as a foreign language.

  1. Dyslexia is simply bad spelling and slow reading.

No!! While it is characterized by difficulties in phonological processing, which meands sufferers can’t easily recognize sounds in words or quickly represent those sounds with letters, it is in fact much more than this;

  • many dyslexics have working memory difficulties, this makes activities such as copying notes from the board very challenging, or remembering instructions.
  • Some have auditory difficulties such as glue ear, and find it hard to discriminate between separate words ( one of the reasons that young dyslexics have trouble learning nursery rhymes).
  • A discrepancy between IQ/general intelligence and reading level is often one of the signs of dyslexia.
  • Sequencing can be difficult, so activities such as putting the pictures in the order that they occur in a text will be challenging.
  • The speed of processing information can be affected, which is why dyslexics need more time to do the same tasks as classmates.
  • Reading comprehension, even after the text has been deciphered, is not necessarily a simple task.
  • Low self-esteem is one of the most common, and in my opinion, serious symptoms of dyslexia, these kids are constantly failing to achieve what is expected of them at school, and eventually they will give up without the support that they need.

10. People with are creative genius

Yes, and no!  As mentioned earlier, dyslexic people often use the right hemisphere of the brain more than the rest of us, this side of the brain is responsible for creativity, and lateral thinking. They tend to be more holistic than linear thinkers, and at a time when thinking outside the box is what employers are looking for, this is great! Books such as “The Dyslexic advantage” mention this and many other good things about being dyslexic.

However, as is ever the case with dyslexia, these are not “one size fits all” boxes, someone may be considered dyslexic but not have any visual problems, or genetic links, or not be particularly creative, and as has been recently pointed out to me, if you say that all dyslexic people are particularly creative, then a dyslexic student who is not will feel doubly hard done by.

I hope these comments have helped you form your own opinions, and made you curious enough to look for the answers elsewhere, I am by no means an expert, and studying dyslexia and other learning difficulties from the edge of Switzerland and France sometimes feels like an uphill struggle, in a school system that has only recently recognised many specific educational needs and where SENcos don’t exist, this is a far cry from places like the UK, which have so many wonderful things in place for learners.

I realise that some people consider “dyslexic” as a negative, or at least overly simplistic term, as it does very little to actually define how to help a particular student, however in my experience students are fine with being described as dyslexic, for them it explains why they think and learn differently to their classmates, they are relieved to discover why they find somethings so difficult, and that is a first step to finding solutions for their learning needs.

Please don’t hesitate to inform me of any useful articles or texts that can help me improve my view on dyslexia, or indeed any other learning difficulties, like you, my main objective is to become a better teacher – to all of my students.

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About fabenglishteacher

I've been teaching English for a few years now and this blog is part of my never-ending quest to make learning English more fun, and easier for my students.
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