‘I’m Not Stupid, Just Dyslexic’ — And How Brain Science Can Help

Sixth-grader Josh Thibeau has been struggling to read for as long as he can remember. He has yet to complete a single Harry Potter book, his personal goal.

Growing up with dyslexia: Josh Thibeau, 12, imagines his brain as an ever-changing maze with turns he must learn to navigate. Here he is with his mother, Janet. (George Hicks/WBUR)

Growing up with dyslexia: Josh Thibeau, 12, thinks of his brain as an ever-changing maze with turns he must learn to navigate. Here he is with his mom, Janet. (George Hicks/WBUR)

When he was in first grade, Josh’s parents enrolled him in a research study at Boston Children’s Hospital investigating the genetics of dyslexia. Since then, Josh has completed regular MRI scans of his brain. Initially, it seemed daunting.

“When we first started, I’m like, ‘Oh no, you’re sending me to like some strange, like, science lab where I’m going to be injected with needles and it’s going to hurt,’ I’m like, ‘I’m never going to see my family again,’ ” says Josh, who lives in West Newbury, Mass.

Josh and his three biological siblings all have dyslexia to varying degrees. Pretty much every day he confronts the reality that his brain works differently than his peers’. He’s even shared scans of his brain with classmates to try to show those differences. Some kids still don’t get it.

“There was a student that said, ‘Are you stupid?’ Because my brain was working in a different way,” Josh says. “And I’m just like, ‘No, I am not stupid…I’m just dyslexic.’ ”

The Pre-Reading Brain 

On average, one or two kids in every U.S. classroom has dyslexia, a brain-based learning disability that often runs in families and makes reading difficult, sometimes painfully so.

Compared to other neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD or autism, research into dyslexia has advanced further, experts say. That’s partly because dyslexia presents itself around a specific behavior: reading — which, as they say, is fundamental.

Now, new research shows it’s possible to pick up some of the signs of dyslexia in the brain even before kids learn to read. And this earlier identification may start to substantially influence how parents, educators and clinicians tackle the disorder.

Until recently (and sometimes even today) kids who struggled to read were thought to lack motivation or smarts. Now it’s clear that’s not true: Dyslexia stems from physiological differences in the brain circuitry. Those differences can make it harder, and less efficient, for children to process the tiny components of language, called phonemes.

And it’s much more complicated than just flipping your “b’s and “d’s.” To read, children need to learn to map the sounds of spoken language — the “KUH”, the “AH”, the “TUH” — to their corresponding letters. And then they must grasp how those letter symbols, the “C” “A” and “T”, create words with meaning. Kids with dyslexia have far more trouble mastering these steps automatically.

For these children, the path toward reading is often marked by struggle, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. In general, a diagnosis of dyslexia usually means that a child has experienced multiple failures at school.

But collaborations currently underway between neuroscientists at MIT and Children’s Hospital may mark a fundamental shift in addressing dyslexia, and might someday eliminate the anguish of repeated failure. In preliminary findings, researchers report that brain measures taken in kindergartners — even before the kids can read — can “significantly” improve predictions of how well, or poorly, the children can master reading later on.

Implicated in dyslexia: The arcuate fasciculus is an arch-shaped bundle of fibers that connects the frontal language areas of the brain to the areas in the temporal lobe that are important for language (left). Researchers found that kindergarten children with strong pre-reading scores have a bigger, more robust and well-organized arcuate fasciculus (bottom right) while children with very low scores have a small and not particularly well-organized arcuate fasciculus (top right). (Zeynep Saygin/MIT)

Implicated in dyslexia: The arcuate fasciculus is an arch-shaped bundle of fibers that connects the frontal language areas of the brain to the areas in the temporal lobe that are important for language (left). Researchers found that kindergarten children with strong pre-reading scores have a bigger, more robust and well-organized arcuate fasciculus (bottom right) while children with very low scores have a small and not particularly well-organized arcuate fasciculus (top right). (Zeynep Saygin/MIT)

Pinpointing The White Matter Culprit

Using cutting-edge MRI technology, the researchers are able to pinpoint a specific neural pathway, a white matter tract in the brain’s left hemisphere that appears to be related to dyslexia: It’s called the arcuate fasciculus.

“Maybe the most surprising aspect of the research so far is how clear a signal we see in the brains of children who are likely to go on to be poor readers.”
– MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli

“It’s an arch-shaped bundle of fibers that connects the frontal language areas of the brain to the areas in the temporal lobe that are important for language,” Elizabeth Norton, a neuroscientist at MIT’s McGovern Institute of Brain Research, explains.

In her lab, Norton shows me brain images from the NIH-funded kindergartner study, called READ (for Researching Early Attributes of Dyslexia).

“We see that in children who in kindergarten already have strong pre-reading scores, their arcuate fasciculus is both bigger and more well organized,” she says. On the other hand: “A child with a score of zero has a very small and not particularly organized arcuate fasciculus.”

She says we’re not quite ready to simply take a picture of your child’s brain and say “Aha, this kid is going to have dyslexia,” but we’re getting closer to that point.

Norton’s colleague, neuroscientist and assistant professor of pediatrics Nadine Gaab of Children’s Hospital, studies the brains of infants as young as 4 months old. She theorizes that even at birth, or shortly after, children’s brain structures can show signs of developing the disorder. Her hope is that, ultimately, the current research will trickle down to classrooms and help eliminate what she calls “the dyslexia paradox.”

“Several studies have suggested that intervention is most effective in kindergarten or first grade,” she says. “However, you have to have several years of reading failure before you can get a diagnosis of dyslexia — end of second grade, beginning of third grade. So we have this paradox.”

A Year To Learn The Word ‘The’

Meghan Estrada, of Watertown, Mass., enrolled her son Tomas in the MIT study at age 6, after seeing him struggle with the basics of reading.

“When he was in kindergarten, you know, he was having some serious trouble,” she says. “It took him about a year to learn the word ‘the.’ I could see that he needed more help.”

Tomas, now 8, continues to experience difficulty with reading at the end of second grade. He requires more individualized support and intervention both at home and in the classroom. Now he’s being evaluated to determine if he does, indeed, have dyslexia.

MIT neuroscientist Professor John Gabrieli is one of the lead investigators of the study Tomas is participating in. “Maybe the most surprising aspect of the research so far is how clear a signal we see in the brains of children who are likely to go on to be poor readers,” Gabrieli says.

As part of the READ study, the kids wear colorful electrode caps to measure electrical activity in their brains; they complete a slew of cognitive, behavioral, memory and language tests; and get MRIs to evaluate both the structure and function of their brains. Researchers published findings based on the first 40 kids last summer in the Journal of Neuroscience; the plan is to follow all 186 kids in the study from kindergarten through second grade.

Gabrieli says if these early brain scans and other metrics prove to be predictive, new questions will arise.

“The bigger challenges for us now soon will be…to figure out what kind of interventions can be done in a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old that might put her or him on a different pathway altogether,” he says. “You know, can we have a child arrive at school who will be ready to read and not wait for failure at all but have intervened so early that the child never experiences that failure?”

One of the key goals of early identification, Gabrieli says, is to help kids avoid the stigma of dyslexia.

“The social downsides to late identification are quite severe,” he says. “These children who struggle to read are very aware of where they stand relative to their peers and this is their first major experience in school.”

Kelly Lowery, a Cambridge, Mass., pediatric neuropsychologist, treats kids who have anxiety related to their learning problems, mostly dyslexia. “I have students, you ask them to read and they start to cry — it’s a trauma experience,” she says.

‘Best Years Of Your Life’? ‘Not Really’

At the Carroll School in Lincoln, Mass., which specializes in language-based learning disabilities, eighth-graders Katelyn, Lily, Sarah and Aysha (their parents asked that their last names not be used) no longer have to keep their dyslexia a secret. But they recently told me about some of the strategies they used to employ — like pretending they couldn’t see words without their glasses, or asking friends to read for them.

Here’s what they said:

“Oh, I used to just like mumble over the word or say it really quietly — and pretend like I said it.”

“I would be chased down the hallway… it was mostly just one boy, and he’d be yelling at me, chasing me, and the teachers would just watch, and he’s like ‘You can’t read, like you should know how to read by now, you’re in seventh grade,’ but so, yeah, it was not very fun to go to school.”

“I remember that I used to pretend to be sick every day…and it was like most people say, ‘Oh, eighth grade, seventh grade, sixth grade, best years of your life.’ Not really. Like for some — a lot of dyslexic kids…it was torture.”

Dr. Eric Falke, director of cognitive interventions and research at the Carroll School, says children with dyslexia typically find alternate strategies to develop language skills. “Workarounds,” he says. “What they do is they use a lot of their intelligence to compensate for little bottlenecks, little quirky things about the way their brain processes information.”

But these workarounds aren’t always efficient.

“When you talk to an eighth-grader who struggled for nine years in a general educational environment…trying to figure out how to do something that was really difficult for her, [it] isn’t actually a good use of her time…” He adds: “If you could intervene earlier…a small intervention earlier on could potentially have a huge impact on a person’s life.”

So, he says, the Carroll School is ready to act on the new brain science now: “Here’s the bottom line: It’s like we’ve wanted to do this for many years, and we are ready to start a kindergarten if there’s enough interest from the community.”

Not All Schools On Board

So wouldn’t it be great if all kids — not just those lucky enough to attend a special private school — could get a diagnosis, and targeted intervention like one-on-one, daily tutoring and language-based reading support in small classes, much earlier? It seems like a no-brainer.

“We also had districts who said, ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t want you…because if MIT and Harvard diagnoses or identifies children at risk in kindergarten and we don’t have the resources to do anything about this, then parents will get really upset with us…”
– Children's Hospital neuroscientist Nadine Gaab

But Nadine Gaab, the other lead investigator on the kindergartner study, told me she was surprised to discover that not all schools were on board.

“Some of these schools were really open and happy that we want to come and test every incoming kindergartener,” Gaab says. “However we also had districts who said, ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t want you…because if MIT and Harvard diagnoses or identifies children at risk in kindergarten and we don’t have the resources to do anything about this, then parents will get really upset with us, and we would feel very guilty as well.’ ”

When this research becomes more definitive, it remains an open question whether more schools will take advantage of the brain science to test and offer intervention to kids much earlier. The researchers aren’t suggesting MRIs for every single kindergartner. But they say someday, if a child has a family history of dyslexia, and is showing early signs of reading trouble, a diagnostic brain scan may prove less costly than playing catch up after years of academic failure.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa — Upside Down

Researchers already know early intervention can help many kids with dyslexia overcome some of their reading challenges. (Of course there’s a huge range of “dyslexia” and severity varies widely.)

One effective approach, called RAVE-O, was developed by Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. In her office, Wolf picks up a plastic model of a brain and explains that many children with dyslexia appear to be processing reading information in the right hemisphere, which may be less effective for language tasks, whereas typical readers rely on brain circuitry in the left hemisphere for these functions.

RAVE-O seeks to work around this, and help kids gain “automaticity” in all aspects of language. It’s a toolkit of strategies to make explicit the critical connections between sounds, symbols, syntax and meaning while also infusing some levity in the process. Kids learn about the “am” family, for instance, with pictures of jelly “jam,” a guitarist “jamming” and a traffic “jam.”

But for Wolf, this topic isn’t just academic, it’s personal: Her first son has dyslexia. She recalls a moment, when, as a junior high-schooler, he returned from a trip to Italy. “[A]nd he said, ‘Mom, I just want you to see what I just drew from memory.’ I looked. It was a perfect picture of the leaning tower of Pisa — upside down. And I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ And he said, ‘It’s just easier for me to draw that way.’ ”

Wolf’s son is now a successful artist and sometimes she wonders whether that’s despite his dyslexia — or because of it. Indeed, a national movement has emerged to spotlight the unique attributes of the dyslexic brain. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell and others have explored the “upside of dyslexia”, which can be marked by unusual problem-solving skills and outside-the-box thinking.

A few years back, for example, a widely reported study found that 35 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs identified themselves as dyslexic. Lists of celebrities with dyslexia, like Whoopi Goldberg and Henry Winkler, are becoming ubiquitous. And researchers, notably Sally and Bennett Shaywitz at the Yale Center For Dyslexia and Creativity, seek to emphasize the “sea of strengths” around dyslexia. (But even they write about the importance of accurate, precise diagnosis and early, evidence-based intervention.)

A Mother’s View

Indeed, as a research subject — and a kid who’s changed schools many times to find teachers who “get” how he learns — Josh Thibeau, now at the Landmark School in Pride’s Crossing, Mass., has a unique appreciation of his own brain.

“It’s been described to me as a library, and now I think of it as a maze that’s like constantly changing,” he says, “and hopefully, it’ll be just one straight line, that’s where I need to go, that’s the place I need, that’s the information that I need to extract.”

Still, for Josh’s mother, Janet Thibeau, there remains a sadness knowing her kids will never share her love of reading, and there’s no getting around the severe challenges that come with a learning disability.

“You see kids struggle and not get their needs met and you see them turning into teenagers who make bad or unsafe choices,” she says.

Thibeau says she certainly appreciates the resilience that can come from overcoming adversity. But, she says, the prospect of earlier intervention for far more children with dyslexia is also encouraging.

“It gives the entire community… parents, schools, an opportunity to just keep kids away from seeing themselves as not smart or worthless, and seeing them really reaching amazing potential,” she says. “These are really bright kids who are capable of a lot once those underlying weaknesses are met.”

A note on terminology:

One problem that arises in talking about dyslexia is that not everyone uses the term “dyslexia,” and there is no one, standard definition. For instance, Elizabeth Norton of MIT explains: “The terms used to define reading difficulties are inconsistent. The state of Massachusetts and even federal education laws don’t use the term ‘dyslexia;’ instead, they use terms such as ‘specific learning disability in reading’ or ‘specific learning impairment.’ Some students may receive a more specific diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ or “language-based learning disability” from an independent clinician. Further, the DSM 5 doesn’t include a definition of “dyslexia.”

The Carroll School uses “language-based reading disability” and also dyslexia. The NIH refers to “developmental reading disorder” and “dyslexia” interchangeably.

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  • Karen Kourafas

    My 8 y old daughter has been diagnosed with a specific learning disabling in reading. How is this diagnosis different from dyslexic diagnosis? I have a family history of dyslexia, two of my uncles would be considered severe and I was in special ed. If there is no difference how do I get her diagnosis changed? She is entering 3rd grade two grades behind in reading, worst part she thinks she is dumb.

  • http://www.themorriscenter.com Dr. Tim Conway

    There is a lot of good discussion on dyslexia and lots of strong opinions. However, what keeps happening is that “new” research is somehow viewed as being more important that existing research. Scientific evidence already exists for early diagnosis or identification of “at-risk” status in children 4-5 years old. Scientific evidence already exists on how to best treat dyslexia for the majority of children AND adults. For example, studies were published in the 1980′s that documented the neurobiological basis of dyslexia, early identification studies were published in the 1990′s that found three simple language measures given to 5-year old children which could predict the likelihood of their reading problems and yet even further research published in 1991, 1997, 1998 and 2000 showed how we could substantially prevent and even remediate dyslexia for children; similarly, papers published in 1998, 2003, 2006 and 2008 showed how we could even dramatically improve reading skills in adults after a stroke. The problem is not a lack of evidence on what dyslexia is, how to diagnose it and how to treat it, but rather it is a problem of infusing research based practices into educational settings and helping teachers and parents fully understand the research on the neurobiology, early identification and prevention or treatment of dyslexia. Further details are provided below:

    Research shows that if a neurodevelopmental approach is used, then dyslexia CAN be prevented for over 97.6% of children who are in the bottom 12th percentile. Also, reading can be dramatically improved for older children and adults. Read the peer-reviewed studies, look at the improvements in performance on standardized testing from before to after a research-based treatment (grade-levels of gain are possible for most children with dyslexia in a matter of a few months of treatment), watch videos of personal testimonies of parents and children who no longer struggle with dyslexia (even when these methods are used in a free, public charter school for children with dyslexia):

    http://themorriscenter.com/com
    (More extensive explanation of the challenges facing children and adults with dyslexia and how a transdisciplinary team can make substantial improvements in these skills for many children and adults)

    https://www.facebook.com/The.M
    (Video clips from past clients)

    https://www.linkedin.com/profi
    (Resume, research, articles, additional professional background information)

    http://www.einsteinschool.us
    (a 501(c)3 charter school, only for children with dyslexia and learning difficulties that uses research based methods to provide large gains in reading and written language skills for children in grades 2 through 8; learn about 15 years of successful improvement of reading skills for this school’s students)

    We are in the 21st century of scientific exploration. It truly is time for this science to dramatically impact the success rates for further empowering children and adults with dyslexia to have even more strengths than they already do. With this science, we CAN remove the barriers that poor reading, spelling, writing, and speaking skills cause for 5 to 20% of all children and adults in the USA and abroad. We have the scientific evidence that tells us how to make this happen.

  • Marcia Comoletti

    John, There is actually a way to “re-wire” the brain to correct learning difficulties like dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, etc. It is a method developed by Susan McCrossin and is called Brain Integration Technique. Dyslexia is NOT a lifelong handicap, and it can be corrected via the above noted therapy method. The web site with the information about BIT is as follows: http://www.crossinology.com . This is totally non-medicinal and does work.

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  • Julie N Phil Melas

    My Daughter was put on ritlen at age 7, not because she was a active child but to help her concentrate, the Pead called it passive adhd. she was a normal, creative colourful child who loved everything from music to bugs in the garden. She had a few problems writing her name, and concentrating… we found she was like a robot on ritlan so we took her off the medication as we found she was nolonger creative or adventurous, it was like she had no personality, as time went on we found she had a few more issues with reading and writing, so we had her tested for Dyslexia, as I was always dam sure she had no ear, eye sight problems, we found out 2 years later she was not passive adhd —SHE WAS DYSLEXIC… and then the learning started for all of us… she is 14 now and my god its been a hard road for all of us, as its just not looked at in the right way, the education system is not for our children, our children learn in a wonderful way, lots of creativity, and passion, Ritlen may work for some but I will never give it to my kids again…..it was like watching a butterfly loose her wings….

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  • Rosemarie Benintend

    If I hadn’t been a “genius”, I PROBABLY would have been deemed mildly retarded when I was a child in the fifties.

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  • Felicianomiko

    As someone who is dyslexic, I don’t want a ‘cure’, I don’t feel there is anything wrong with me. My brain works the way it works and I like how it works. I can do things most people can’t, I have a creativity and ability to leap to conclusions and a way of looking at the world that most don’t share. So what if I’m slow at doing simple math in my head, if I struggle with spelling, if I have to keep written lists around to keep myself organized or read slowly. Everyone has things they are good at and things they aren’t good at, the only reason this seems to be a problem is that some dyslexic people can’t read. So what, they can work around it, we have the technology. No on things that people who can’t draw or sing on key have a learning disability that needs to be fixed.

    This is a soar spot with me, so yes, I’m a bit ranty here, but we aren’t stupid, we are often very bright people, we just sound dumb because our brains give us words in the wrong order, or the wrong word entirely. I don’t want everyone to think the same way, how boring the world would be! No thank you, I like my dyslexia and I wear it as a badge of honor.

  • http://selfsynthesis.blogspot.gr/ xristiana sophia

    As long as we’re viewing “dyslexia” through the brain and science, we will not be understanding what it is, AT ALL. I will start reading, with concentration and devotion, anything that dares to go beyond!

  • http://www.rieglermedia.net Heidi

    I am a 50-year-old woman with Dyslexia. I never got special help in my school or during later education. I studied very hard, I loved to learn, but some teachers considered me lazy and my grades were average.

    I grow up in Austria where I went to school. My mother, who is an undiagnosed Dyslexic herself, suspected that I had similar problems when I could not read or copy text in first grade. She did not know what to do, but to switch
    schools and look for a different teacher. I was lucky, I got a great teacher
    who did not only teach in a traditional way, but used visual and acoustic
    methods as well. This helped. I also took piano lesson and learned how to type which was supposed to help to “organize” my brain. I was told that my
    brain’s neurons transmitted information reversed, and that in some way my brain had to reverse the transmitted information again, making my brainwork
    twice as hard as “regular” brains. I am not sure if this explanation is
    correct, but it made a lot of sense to me. It explained where I had to work so
    hard to get better grades.

    But I could cope with all of the difficulties, at the end of my education I graduated with honors at the Vienna State University. And studying in the United States, where I received a second degree, felt fairly easy to me. (I do want to note, that
    learning a second language seamed easier than learning my first language. I
    believe it had to do with how I was taught English. Instead of adding letters
    to “make a word” like I would in German, in English we would be taught entire
    words. This method made it easier for me not to mix up letters, as I would do in German). Maybe something to consider when teaching children Dyslexia how to read…).

    Overall I think I coped well with my disability. What I do have more troubles
    with since I am getting older is orientation and direction, especially when
    driving and I am afraid of driving to new places and finding my way around.

    I also noticed that there is a far greater intolerance to people with dyslexia and very little knowledge about the disability in the United States than in Austria where today’s school system is much better equipped to support children with Dyslexia. I wonder why many Americans are so uneducated and even in denial about Dyslexia
    as it does seam to impact so many people.

  • 98198

    the language used to describe dyslexia is variable because the diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ is a medical diagnosis that qualifies a student to be considered legally disabled and that leads to financial responsibility for school districts because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So….schools call it anything else so they don’t have to pay to educate the 10% of the population who learn differently! There are ways to fix this, but not the collective will to so so.

  • Maureen Cronin

    I noticed our son’s difficulties at around 5 years old. We adopted him, and there was no mention of dyslexia in his records, but the conversations I had with his birth mum are enlightening, in retrospect. Leo loved to be read to, but was struggling to read himself. By 6, we’d read 4 of the Harry Potter books with him in quick succession. When it became clear phonics were a struggle for him. We mad up a ‘Jedi learning programme’ for him, which appealed to his desire to become a Jedi, and gave us the language we needed to change his attitude about reading. We worked every day for only 10 minutes or so, on sight words using Jedi skills of concentration. This coupled with our ritual of reading great books to him every night has helped (I think?) turn him into a book junkie. He is been diagnosed as an orthographic dyslexic who reads very well but spells at a 6 year old level (he’s 11). His struggles with expressing his ideas in writing. The interventions given him are almost entirely confined to spelling, which I would argue, is like trying to get a blind person to see. He just can’t spell. He learns a list of words and then forgets them a week later.
    Does this sound familiar to anyone?

    • Maureen Cronin

      I should say that I am a teacher, and because of Leo’s interesting ways, I started an MSc in Educational neuroscience because I see this as the most interesting and helpful avenue in terms of early detection of learning difficulties like dyslexia. We have a daughter who is incredible, but struggles in a different way. All so interesting. Certainly has made me a better teacher, but unfortunately I just left the profession because I couldn’t tend to children in the way I wanted to within the system…

    • Nancy Duggan
    • Cynthia Mann

      Language therapy fixes that. Language therapy based on Orton-Gillingham methods are very effective. In particular, Lindamood Bell. It is essential.

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  • Kate

    I want to assure Janet and all the other parents that someone with Dyslexia can develop a love of reading. I am an avid reader and avid writer. I’m Carroll School alum. I now have two masters (one special education and one in creative writing). I work to teach children like me who struggle to learn to read. I’m am very excited about the possibility of identifying these children early, as early intervention is clearly the most effective tool in our arsenal.

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  • KCava

    I think this is a great article coming from someone that struggled with Dyslexia and other learning disabilities. I’m now 31 and was diagnosed in 2nd grade, I hated school. I was taken out and put in resource room, I struggled to read and write for years. My “workaround” ways of learning and with the amazing help of my Special Ed teacher’s I I learned to cope and manage my disability. I was told I didn’t know english well enough to learn another language. I hated that but I also knew it was true… when I was 23 I moved to Italy and I was thrown into the language and I did learn it. I was there for 3.5 years and when I left I was fluent and man did that make me proud! I never used my disabilities as a crutch, I gave/give everything my all and I just keep on going.
    Too all those kids just learning how to cope with dyslexia and other learning disabilities; it will get easier and the frustration will continue but it gets better, I can promise you that!

  • Bill R

    It is one of the great injustices in our society today that schools and school districts typically do not diagnose, treat, or test for ( some don’t “believe in”} dyslexia.
    This article is an opportunity to show teachers and school administrators that dyslexia does in fact exist.

    A missing piece ffrom your story is that much is also known about how best to help these students learn to read. Interventions and changes to reading instruction can be done by teachersor parents or outside tutors and a formal diagnosis is not necessary to simply try a more effective way of teaching reading to individual students.

    A great web site to learn more as a parent about the warning signs of dyslexia, a working definition, and how to get help is

    http://www.askmeaboutdyslexia.com

  • pkgsf96

    you know what else helps? better typefaces. see http://opendyslexic.org/ and http://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/dyslexia-font/

  • Susan

    Dyslexic children should have technical accommodations such as an iPad, audio books etc., so they can keep up with their peers in school. A helpful book is “The dyslexia empowerment plan” by Ben Foss who is dyslexic himself and his website is http://www.headstrongnation.org

  • idler

    the inference of: ‘ I’m Not Stupid, Just Dyslexic’ is that stupid people are inferior and fair game for derision … hey, half the population qualifies as stupid – and most of them are perfectly fine people .

  • Emily Healy

    Seriously have you not heard of cellfield. My daughter did itm she could not blend or begin to remeber the word the at 6. She is now reading at age level after doing the program. It rewored her neural pathways for more efficient reading. Working memory improved as did her visual processing and her auditory processing. She now wears irlen lenses as she still has some visual distortions but is working really well and receives very little support at school. Deal woth the underlying causes and look to brain plasticity as part of the answer. I am a teacher ans she had amazing phonics at school and home. It certainly wasn’t enough. Cellfield people… Cellfield.

  • orourke72

    I was part of “Project Win” in the late 1970s, an early intervention
    program for preschool children that they suspected might have difficulty
    with language. The program was part of the Winchester public school
    system.

    In elementary school I had a special education teacher
    who taught me to read using phonetics. Sometime in third grade, reading
    clicked and I became a girl who devoured books.

    Despite being a
    strong reader, I can see in myself traits common among dyslexics. I have
    strong spatial and visual skills. I have a hard time distinguishing
    certain sounds (‘f’ and ‘th’), grammar and spelling are not my
    strengths.

    My larger point with my personal story is that I
    suspect it isn’t difficult to identify children who are likely to have
    reading difficulties at an early age and to intervene early. What is
    holding us back is mostly a matter of will and resources and educating
    the public.

  • Ray Ham

    Raymond

    Dyslexia is a perplexing learning problem and too many children are diagnosed too late or grow up as adults never knowing why they cannot learn like others. Early diagnosis is a must and more states are accepting that dyslexia is a true problem. They require teachers to receive training and some states even provide
    interventions. Texas is one of the first states to create a regular education initiative, requiring school districts to identify and teach children with dyslexia and related disorders. That was in the mid 80′s. Still, many schools under-identify and under- serve. One major problem is that there is no state funding for dyslexia assistance.

    You would think after 100+ years of study, a better understanding of dyslexia would help us to get our act together and assist these young learners who struggle with reading, writing, and spelling. These little minds and emotions deserve our best effort.

    Many dyslexics have more problems than learning how to read. They often
    suffer from phobias, nausea, dizziness, lack of coordination, attention problems,
    reversals, and directional disturbances. The work of Dr. Harold N. Levinson, M.D.
    has shed new light on the world of dyslexia. While Dr. Levinson is controversial in the entrenched dyslexia community, his results speak for themselves-no, his patients speak for themselves. He does not claim to cure dyslexia but he does claim to improve their life and ability to learn. And yes, he does use some medications; but for those skeptics, read about his successes in Smart but Feeling Dumb. What I like about him is his sincerity because unlike most specialists, he has two dyslexic daughters that made him search for answers. If you approach his work with an open mind, you will find helpful insights.

  • Lawrence

    HOLD ON: We all know drugging the kids are not the answer to this condition.
    BUT getting more kids to be tested, results in more diagnosis. And more drugging of the children approved by anxiety ridden and fearful parents who want their kid to succeed.

    READ ON what they are proposing about drugs:

    Apart from such remedial education treatments, medical
    approaches include using anti-anxiety medicines and anti-motion sickness
    drugs that could have some benefits for the treatment of dysmetric dyslexicindividuals. These drugs include:

    1.Cyclizine [Marezine]

    2. Meclizine [Antivert]

    3.Dimenhydrinate [Dramamine]

    4. Methylphenidate [Ritalin]

    5. Piracetam is a dyslexia drug that has been
    observed to have positive effects on dyslexia symptoms, improving verbal
    ability, speed and accuracy of reading, and short term memory in
    dyslexic patients.

  • Nancy Duggan

    As a parent of a dyslexic student and the Co Founder of a support group, Decoding Dyslexia MA, to raise awareness about dyslexia and the scientific and evidence ways to assist these students, I am grateful for the research that the Gabrieli and Gaab Labs are doing. Their work provides valid scientific insights that can help these children learn to read with less stress and anxiety, less failure. They also work to share the information with schools and parents and policy makers. Thank you WBUR for covering this story. Dyslexia is listed under IDEA as a specific learning disability, but awareness is needed because some schools do not use the term. But with research like this focus can be on how to identify the students as early as possible and provide the instruction that works. https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaMA?ref_type=bookmark

    • Jalene

      Thank you for your post Nancy. In the early ’90s I was earning my bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I can vividly remember a woman in the field coming in to my Psych 101 class and emphatically declaring dyslexia was not real. The term was not real, the condition was not real and the symptoms were not real.
      Anyone who has worked with kids who not only flip letters, but actually change letter position within a word knows the pain kids feel when they desperately want to read but their brains cannot make sense of the symbols and sounds.

  • Dyslexia Today

    What the article touches on is that not every child with dyslexia, (severity), will respond effectively enough to reading interventions no matter how early they are provided various methods to learn to read. Yet specific interventions and methods are still vital regardless so that dyslexics can develop reading skills as best they can, some very successfully! Some not so!! Other studies verify that a Dyslexics ability to read is not tied to their intelligence, which this study clearly explains with the imaging of parts of a dyslexics brain that are clearly not as efficient, while other areas are equally so.

    We must foster other methods for Dyslexics to gain information if they struggle with print. Equally important early on when we clearly recognize that the brain is not wired for traditional reading is making sure Dyslexics have the opportunity and are encouraged to use other methods to interact with text. Ear Reading, Reading from Accessible Digital Books thru Bookshare.org and Learning Ally allows Dyslexics equally effective reading experiences with the Audio support. These accessible libraries provide access to critical information and help dyslexics remain and excel in the general educational environment and increase their vocabulary and foster a love of literature. The article does not go into these readily available resources.

  • Mark Halpert

    There are three ways to deal with dyslexia. Accept it, which is unacceptable. Drill on phonics and phonemic awareness for 1 to 3 years. Or recognize what the MRIs show — these kids have very strong right-brains. They are visual-experiential learners who often learn best when they see and experience information. The visual tracking and attention issues often impact these same students. If one focuses on building vocabulary for frequently use words, teaching these kids to recognize patterns and then improve their visual tracking and attention skills, the foundation will be far stronger and phonics can work quicker and more effectively.
    At 3D Learner, that is exactly what we do

  • john

    Lawrence you are incorrect as a lifelong Dyslexic
    with 2 children who are dyslexic there are no drugs that can rewire the hard
    wiring of our brains. It is a lifelong handicap that can be mastered. Parents
    do not think a pill is the answer. It is a learning process handicap with
    letters. We as family members can joke saying we are having a dyslexic day and
    it is true, some days are bad but we have learned to cope. Dyslexic people are
    very intelligent people who get letters jumbled and we must use all our mental
    abilities to unscramble letters and put them in correct logical order.

    PS I am an engineer and both my children are VP in their companies. Overcoming dyslexia by early diagnosis is the key to success.

    • Lawrence

      Yes. You know that I know that, but it does not stop Big Pharm from inventing reasons to keep drugging kids for any reason.

      This website explains how drugs are needed and prescribed for the side effects of this condition. Again the more kids diagnosed with Dyslexia, the more drugs they can push on the kids. THAT’S the reason they want EVERY kid tested.

      READ ON:

      Apart from such remedial education treatments, medical
      approaches include using anti-anxiety medicines and anti-motion sickness
      drugs that could have some benefits for the treatment of dysmetric dyslexicindividuals. These drugs include:

      1.Cyclizine [Marezine]

      2. Meclizine [Antivert]

      3.Dimenhydrinate [Dramamine]

      4. Methylphenidate [Ritalin]

      5. Piracetam is a dyslexia drug that has been
      observed to have positive effects on dyslexia symptoms, improving verbal
      ability, speed and accuracy of reading, and short term memory in
      dyslexic patients.

      • Nadine Gaab

        Dear Lawrence! Thank you for this discussion. I would like to explain why some children with dyslexia are on anti-anxiety drugs and how early identification and intervention will most likely reduce this number and not increase this number. The earliest children with dyslexia currently are getting diagnosed is at the end of second grade/third grade. However, there problems begin long before that. These children are often perceived by others as being ‘lazy’ or as those who ‘do not try enough’. Teachers, parents and peers often misinterpret the child’s struggle to learn as negative attitude or poor behavior and decreased self-esteem is often a result. These negative experiences leave these children vulnerable to feelings of shame, failure, inadequacy, helplessness, depression and anxiety (as documented above). Most of the children are taking these medications for the problem that develop because of their late diagnosis but because of their dyslexia. This is an important distinction. Early identification/intervention will therefore most likely reduce the number of children who will need these medications.

        • Lawrence

          Let’s all recognize that it’s Big Pharma’s push to get as many children on as many harmful drugs as possible, that is behind getting every kid tested.

          Does anyone remember Teen Screen? Big Pharma’s push to have every kid fill out a questionnaire to see if they may feel sad a few days of the month? Just to get them on drugs? It was deemed illegal and was terminated.

          Who doesn’t feel some anxiety, helplessness, failure as a child?

        • Gwen MacCaughey

          Nadine, I see your point, but as the article itself points out, public schools are not looking for ways to treat children as individuals with unique learning styles. Schools are currently in the business of standardizing learning and assessment and weeding out children who learn differently – or, worse, pushing them to be medicated. How many boys do we all know who are sent home to get a diagnosis and some Ritalin because they are acting like boys? So, while I understand your compassion as a researcher and applaud your positive expectation that kids will be prescribed *fewer* drugs because of your work, I think that Lawrence has a really good point. The very schools you spoke to were not willing to have to devote resources to individualized learning for dyslexic children. How long do you really think it would be before parents were sent home with a list of the drugs Lawrence has cited and a referral to a district-friendly doctor who will ‘help’ their child focus better on reading?
          We are homeschoolers and we dabble in Waldorf methods of education (which is inherently therapeutic. A lot of kids with learning disabilities find their way to Waldorf education). I can’t tell you how many kids we know in our homeschooling community who have diagnoses of one kind or another and whose parents chose to homeschool after some truly horrific stories about how their child was treated in school. As long as schools are trending away from treating each and every child as a unique learner, the experiences of those who have the most difficult time ‘faking normal’ will be increasingly traumatic.

          • Jalene

            “Schools are currently in the business of standardizing learning and assessment and weeding out children who learn differently – or, worse, pushing them to be medicated.”

            Wow, what a insanely general and grossly inaccurate statement. “Schools” aren’t in the business of standardized learning and assessment. I’ve taught for 21 years and I have yet to find a single teacher shaking pom poms for standardized testing. Teachers now have two, often incompatible, jobs: teach for meaning and teach for testing. You can thank you state and federal politicians, and that would be starting with Bush W., for that little gem of No Child Left Behind. THEY are weeding out children. Children who are disadvantaged, children who are different, children who don’t test well.
            We IN THE CLASSROOM don’t weed out children who learn differently. We identify them as early as possible as to get IEPs and additional support in place. Homeschoolers who are afforded the luxury of staying home can’t possibly comprehend the complexity of teaching a 26-student classroom of children with different learning styles, reading levels, socioeconomic statuses, temperaments and home lives.
            Get off your pedestal.

            “The very schools you spoke to were not willing to have to devote resources to individualized learning for dyslexic children.”
            Again,

          • Gwen MacCaughey

            You will notice that I did not mention teachers. I mentioned schools. I agree wholeheartedly with you that NCLB (and Common Core) are the main culprits, along with our terrible approach to school funding tied to local taxes.

            In my opinion, teachers should be educated and excellently at the expense of the state. They should be paid a top wage in accordance with their tough, professional job. They should be given excellent resources and *left alone* to use their expertise and education to guide classes as they see fit. Let’s limit class size. Let’s throw money at the system. Let’s equalize funding for schools and bus the *teachers* not the students. Let’s let the professionals doing the teaching set policy and decide if, when, and how to assess their students. And for the love of everything holy, let us follow our Scandinavian colleagues and skip the academics until children are 7 or so! Kindergarten work is hard work, and it is PLAY. And then let’s make sure horrible policies like the Third Grade Reading Guarantee are left on the rubbish heap of failed policy. And STOP with the labeling of kids who have different learning styles (but yes, let us assess children for the purpose of helping teachers, students and parents tailor an education).

            I disagree with you about charter schools, but I think the disagreement is an academic one. I feel that private companies have no place in public schools, but I like the idea of specialized public schools like they have in Sweden and other places. I myself went to an Open Alternative School for a time in the 80s – having alternative schools open to anyone who chooses to attend as an alternative to ‘regular’ school is a great idea and can help kids and families to tailor education to specific personalities or skills. So, it’d be great if, alongside excellent public schools in each district, there were Waldorf-inspired schools, art-focused schools, trade schools, Sudbury-style schools, and the like – all open to anyone who may want that experience.

            I’m not sure why you take issue with my phrase ‘not willing’. That’s exactly what the article says – the schools the authors talked to expressed an unwillingness to test early for dyslexia because they would then have to provide more resources – and they are unwilling to do that. The answer, in my opinion, is to give the schools more resources so that they do not feel overwhlemed by in increase in special needs students.

            You make some sweeping generalizations about homeschoolers. Staying home to teach my children is certainly not a ‘luxury’. I am a single mother of three living on a very tiny child-support payment. I cobble together extra income where I can (I run a homeschool resource center from my home). I grow a lot of our food, barter for classes for my kids, and take hand-me-downs whenever they are offered, with gratitude. Offering my children an education that is free of testing, free of too-early academic stress, and free of pressure to be ‘labled’ or ‘diagnosed’ is worth the sacrifices I make in my opinion.

            Also, for the record, I have taught in a school setting as well as at home.

            I am absolutely politically active and when I can I work (and vote) for robust public schools. When we have them, I’d be glad to send my boys to one.

        • Amber Tapper

          Nadine – I have two children – a boy diagnosed with dyslexia, and a girl who displays so many signs of dyslexia but seemed to overcome her struggles with reading overnight. There are many stories of dyslexics, girls especially, who have a moment or period of time when reading just clicks. For my daughter, it was the end of first grade. She went from lowest to highest reading scores in her class in a matter of a couple months. My son never had that moment where it just “clicked” and reading continues to be a struggle for him. As far as your study goes, I think it would be interesting to study the brain patterns of dyslexic children who then suddenly make sense of reading and language. If we could understand that “click” and relate it to a behavior, then perhaps it could be recreated to help other dyslexics overcome their struggles with reading and language.

          • lshindel@aol.com

            A male I had the experience of ‘just clicked’. Brain damage from birth anoxia (nurse: Shall we tell the father it’s a boy? Dr:: My God! No!) I didn’t look like much of a keeper. Bright enough in general but couldn’t begin to count, recognize faces, or read, well into third grade. Mom took it upon herself to grill me night and day any time anywhere. I can remember the page when it just gelled (Veterinary delivered calf being toweled dry). Held back from letting Mom know since I didn’t like the grilling; but not for long. Within a week I’d moved from the ‘special ed’ card table at the back of the room to the gold star kids. My understanding is, that is about when the corpus callosum which connects the hemispheres mylenates allowing alternate wiring.
            Engineers learn more from the bridges that fail then those that succeed, Physiological psychology became an avocation, That experience of there ‘being something in there to be cracked’ with persistence helped me to an eureka moment, publication and patent on a method to analyze exponentially decaying
            sinusoidal brainwaves. A Dr Weinberg’s rhetorical question “When do birds fly?:
            When they’re ready!”. (If ever) has been the best wisdom I can pass along.
            Being read to a lot before I could read for myself and as a family habit back
            and forth ever since allowed for ‘otherwise bright’ before I could begin to
            count, recognize faces or read.

      • Danielle Creedon Aston

        As the mother of a dyslexic child and the wife of a pharmacist I can tell you that there is absolutely no medication approved by the FDA or suggested by anyone of merrit for the treatment of dyslexia. Piracetam is a supplement not a medication. It is only approved to help calm involuntary twitches. The Dramamine is just for motion sickness. If you had any understanding at all of dyslexia or read this article you would know that that just doesn’t make sense. ADHD, anxiety and depression are comorbid conditions as in commonly seen in conjunction with dyslexia. That is the reason for treatment not to treat dyslexia itself. The business end of the pharmaceutical industry are a pretty nasty group I agree. They will say just about anything to sell their product. That is their job. If you look at the numbers they’re quite good at it too. The men and women who dedicate sometimes their entire careers researching and testing a chemical compound to determine it’s use, safety and effectiveness are not those people. The information is out there in reliable forms from competent, highly educated people. Salesmen make money off of fools who will just nod their heads and agree. The fact that they are so successful says a lot about people.

  • Lawrence

    Your kid may be at risk parents! Are you listening!? You need this test or else you kid will live a life of misery!

    Your kid must take this test so we can get him/her on as many drugs as it will take to correct his horrible disease.

    Only drugs can cure this problem, and we won’t stop until we get every kid to take these tests. The more tests, the more kids on these drugs.

    • tomschmit

      I don’t read and don’t hear a single word about drugs in this piece. What are you talking about?
      Tom

      • Lawrence

        Tom, what I am talking about is the hidden agenda of Big Pharma to test as many kids for as many conditions as possible. They do so, in a very covert way, just like the Teen Screen program in our schools where kids were manipulated into taking drugs for silly conditions such as being sad a few times a month.

        Autism rates skyrocketed in the past few years due to “better detection” which was a billion dollar boon to Big Pharma.

        More tests, more positive results and more drugs pushed on kids.
        Of course you did not read anything about drugs in the article. Do you think that Big Pharma wants to advertise they want to get every kid on these dangerous drugs?

        Follow the money and you will see who is behind this big push to test EVERY kid for everything.

    • Nadine Gaab

      Lawrence, thanks for your post. There are no dyslexia drugs available. Children are treated with behavioral intervention that try to tackle their unique problems. We do know that the earlier these underlying problems are addressed the better their outcome is so that every child can enjoy learning to read and enjoy reading to learn.

      • Dyslexia Today

        Nadine, correct there are no drugs for dyslexia. Lawrence, this is not about another way to push drugs as the answer. What the article touches on is that not every child with dyslexia, (severity), will respond effectively enough to reading interventions no matter how early they are provided various methods to learn to read. Yet specific interventions and methods are still vital regardless so that dyslexics can develop reading skills as best they can, some very successfully! Some not so!! Other studies verify that a Dyslexics ability to read is not tied to their intelligence so we must foster other methods for Dyslexics to gain information if they struggle with print. Equally important early on when we clearly recognize that the brain is not wired for traditional reading is making sure Dyslexics have the opportunity and are encouraged to use other methods to interact with text. Ear Reading, Reading from Accessible Digital Books thru Bookshare.org and Learning Ally allows Dyslexics equally effective reading experiences with the Audio support. These accessible libraries provide access to critical information and help dyslexics remain and excel in the general educational environment and increase their vocabulary and foster a love of literature. The article does not go into these readily available resources.

        • Lawrence

          You seem to be very well informed and offer valuable information. And your statement, there are no drugs for dyslexia is consistent with all of the known research.

          However how can you be sure what the motivation is for ALL kids to be tested? Big Pharma is looking and pushing drugs on kids for the secondary effects of this condition. I wonder if you took the following information into consideration, taken from a dyslexia website:

          Apart from such remedial education treatments, medical
          approaches include using anti-anxiety medicines and anti-motion sickness
          drugs that could have some benefits for the treatment of dysmetric dyslexicindividuals. These drugs include:

          1.Cyclizine [Marezine]

          2. Meclizine [Antivert]

          3.Dimenhydrinate [Dramamine]

          4. Methylphenidate [Ritalin]

          5. Piracetam is a dyslexia drug that has been
          observed to have positive effects on dyslexia symptoms, improving verbal
          ability, speed and accuracy of reading, and short term memory in
          dyslexic patients.

          • Dyslexia Today

            The screening movement stems from the lack of screening now in early education. So much so that many times kids are left to fail, unacceptable to those that live in the advocacy world. 1 in 5 have some level of reading disability and only 2% are identified, leaving unacceptable numbers of students and later adults never knowing why they struggled so hard to learn to read. It is far easier for schools to assign failure to lack of motivation, lack of effort and worse yet lack of intelligence. NOT identifying and NOT screening is an easy way out, no additional educational funding or teacher training needs to be spent if Dyslexia is not identified.

            There will always be fringe issues with identification. From the news we have gathered and followed, screening for dyslexia is for early reading interventions and giving students the necessary technology tools like digital books with audio support as early as possible so that they can live to their fullest academic potential. In the current non screening environment their academic outcomes are unacceptably low.

            In a nut shell, this is not about drugs!

          • risse

            My dyslexic son got tremendous help with Susan Barton’s reading program http://www.bartonreading.com. The program is specifically formulated for the dyslexic brain, and has been approved by the California board of education. I’m astounded that more school districts across the nation do not know of this. Since 1 in 3 children have some degree of dyslexia, it would be an extremely amazing resource to have at every school.

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    • HHGeek

      I’m guessing you don’t know any dyslexics, or have no understanding of what they go through. I’m almost certain that with an attitude like yours, any dyslexic friend of yours would avoid disclosing their status to you.

      Dyslexia affects a good %age of the population, and the effects last a lifetime. Any improved understanding of its mechanisms, and improvements in support / ‘treatment’, have to be a good thing.

      • Lawrence

        I am all for science. It can be used for good or evil as anything else.

        But it’s good to be aware of the influences by Big Pharma who may be behind these tests for their own greedy needs.

        As you have read by many of the experts on this thread, there is no drugs treating this condition. Yes, as you read from my posts, there are many prescribed ( pushed) , for so-called secondary reasons.

        Since the schools have no money for the appropriate treatment, drugs will be the first “treatment” of choice for many. ( Just like ADHD which is best controlled by a special environment and schooling as many aware and informed parents have discovered and as many more parents have conveniently ignored.)