By David Mallory, M.D.

    Dyslexia is difficulty learning to read, despite the required intelligence and opportunity for learning and proper instruction. Usually dyslexics can comprehend material that is read to them but have difficulty understanding what they read themselves.

    The dyslexic child is too often the misunderstood child who is alert and intelligent, but doesn't do well in school.

    Parents and teachers assume that because the child is obviously bright, that he isn't trying hard enough. As he falls behind in reading, the dyslexic child becomes frustrated, rebels and falls further behind.

    Growing inadequacy leads to withdrawal, anxiety, depression, delinquency and other anti-social behavior.

    Reading with understanding is of tremendous critical importance in our society today. Almost without exception, problem and delinquent children have below average levels in reading ability.
During the later school years almost 90 percent of the student's studies depend directly upon his reading ability.

    The dyslexic child has not mastered the language skills to make him or her "reading ready" at age 6. The child is two to three times more likely to be male and is usually of normal or superior intelligence.

    There is a persistence of the normal childhood tendency to reverse letters such as "p" for "q" and "u" for "n" and also a tendency to reverse words such as "stop" for "pots" or "was" for "saw." Skipping words and the substitution of words is common. The dyslexic child may show a tendency to read from right to left, and in rare cases display actual mirror writing, a reversed writing intelligible only when viewed in the mirror. There may be a history of others in the family who have difficulty reading.

    The successful treatment of dyslexia depends upon the age at which the diagnosis is made. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the results.

    The earliest stages of learning disabilities can often be detected at age 3. It is important that all children have a thorough eye examination to rule out and treat any eye problems. It is most unlikely, however, that the eyes would be the sole cause. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves educational and psychological evaluation.

    If parents suspect their child has a learning disability, they should contact their child's teacher or principal, and if necessary the local Director of Special Education. Federal law requires schools to evaluate and properly educate any child who is thought to have a learning disability.

    Treatment consists first and foremost of concerned parents, who read aloud to and read with their child on a daily basis. A knowledgeable, skilled teacher to provide instruction is necessary.
One study showed that if dyslexia is identified by the second grade, 82 percent could be brought up to grade level in a 2-year period.

    If, however, the learning-disabled child was not identified until the fourth grade, only 15 percent could be brought back.

David Mallory, M.D. is a cataract, intraocular lens and laser surgery specialist in practice at the Southwest Eye Clinic.


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