Research Trends in Dyslexia

Dyslexia is identified as a learning disability that is often undetected or when detected, it labels the individual with a disability that affects his self-esteem. The dyslexic may see himself as slow and disabled, and his peers may quickly recognize this as well. Methods of intervention which pull students out of their peer groups for specialized tutoring is usually necessary, but comes with the price of lowering a student’s self-esteem. Perhaps successful intervention can include recognizing dyslexia as a different form of learning, with pros and cons (Tafti, Hameedy, & Baghal, 2009). 

Many dyslexics feel discouraged and lack confidence, which needs to be addressed as part of the solution (Culbertson, 2012). In fact, the theory that dyslexia is never outgrown may not be accurate, as the stigma that is associated with it may interfere with a student’s success. It would be valuable to compare students that are homeschooled or privately tutored before being introduced into the classroom setting. In this way, students with dyslexia are not singled out or led to believe that they have a disability. When they enter the mainstream classroom, they will already be reading and on schedule with their classmates.

The term dyslexia has come to be associated with signs of lower intelligence, or the underachiever (Ness & Southall, 2010).  Initially called “wordblindness,” and defined as a genetic anomaly, dyslexia has been associated with visual disabilities and a low cognitive aptitude (Smythe, 2011). This has impacted research until more recently (Smythe, 2011).  However, there still seems to be a discrepancy in defining dyslexia that equally impacts the course of research, and there is no common definition that is used by all (Smythe, 2011).  

The Health Council of the Netherlands, British Psychological Society has recommended a “symptoms-based” definition:  “Dyslexia is present when the automatization of word identification (reading) and/or spelling does not develop or does or very incompletely or with great difficulty.” (Smythe, 2011).  Dyslexia has become a catchall term to describe anyone with a reading and spelling difficulty and modes of selecting those individuals who need attention is variable at best (Ness & Southall, 2010). 

The underlying cause of dyslexia is still debatable and ranges from biological, behavioral, environmental, and cognitive (Smythe, 2011). Some have tried to identify biological differences using brain scans but evidence is not conclusive, as after intervention, dyslexic students’ brain mapping was similar to the controls (Smythe, 2011). Other researchers have looked at genetic factors and results suggest an inheritable influence in acquiring the phenotype of dyslexia (Smythe, 2011). Some students are not identified early enough and it is not until parents or teachers become aware of a secondary condition -- such as anxiety or anti-social behavior -- that the actual problem of not being able to read is discovered (Smythe, 2011).  

I would disagree with Smythe that the biggest obstacle to progress is the cottage industry which suggests methods of intervention. Collaboration and technological advances in disseminating information via the Internet can be a benefit and not a hindrance. We need to get away from a one fits all solution and look at the needs of the individual student. Although there may be a desire to categorize the meaning of dyslexia and find a reason for the learning differences, an approach that identifies students while young and teaching them one-on-one will benefit the whole person and may prevent scientists, doctors and educators from believing that dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability with social consequences. The positive aspects of dyslexia is becoming more accepted, such as Yale University's Center of Dyslexia and Creativity where the creative component is explored (Yale center for dyslexia and creativity. 2013).

I believe that children can be identified as young as 4 and 5 years of age and tutored without drawing attention to the problem. The biggest obstacle may be that parents of dyslexic children are unaware and teachers too busy to work one-on-one with students. My experience with a dyslexic child (who was homeschooled) has proven that careful and early intervention precludes reading, spelling and social problems or feelings of inadequacy.

Review of Research:

1.  The Annals of Dyslexia, published in 2011 presents a study about using computer-based learning in children with dyslexia and without dyslexia. Using software that coded words for a multisensory experience, students used both visual and auditory prompts to understand phonics when reading and spelling. Verbal memory skills and attention functions were analyzed in both groups. Researchers found that dyslexic children as well as those without dyslexia improved their spelling abilities to the same extent. This supports my hypothesis that early intervention can bring dyslexic children up to the level of those without dyslexia. The software was developed to take advantage of the need of early readers to read letters of the alphabet with the verbal sound of the letters.  They called this grapheme –phoneme knowledge and provided extensive practice in learning these. Phonics-based memory is necessary for success in reading and spelling. This study found that students with dyslexia were just as successful as non-dyslexics in visual coding when given a strategy of a nonverbal code. In fact, long-term memory had a strong influence in reading skills (Kast, Baschera, Gross, Jäncke, & Meyer, 2011)

2.  The second paper compares children in families with a history of dyslexia.  Children with a familial risk (FR) of dyslexia are those with at least one dyslexic parent and chances of becoming dyslexic are 33% to 66%. (Compared to 6% to 16% with non-dyslexic parents.) Since this is a good indication of dyslexia, children may be identified sooner than later. Researchers studied the rapid automatic naming (RAN) as a measure of reading ability and indication of dyslexia (van Bergen, de Jong, Plakas, Maassen, & van, 2012)

3. This paper investigated the claim that children with dyslexia have speech perception deficit. The researchers compared 62 dyslexic children with 51 average readers of the same age group. They used eight tasks of identifying complex natural and synthetic sounds. They used methods that included a quiet background as well as a noisy background. Dyslexics did not perform worse than average readers in the noise background tasks. Some dyslexics did not perform as well in the quiet background, but this was not significant, leading the researchers to conclude that these dyslexic children did not appear to have a deficit in speech perception. This study points out the variability in children with dyslexia (Messaoud-Galusi, Hazan, & Rosen, 2011).

4. Early Reading Assesment by Natalie Rathvon is book that describes various classroom examples of testing students for reading and spelling ability. The Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN) was one of the tests used to evaluate students. Other methods of determining reading problems that were discussed include the Auditory Analysis Test (AAT), the Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST), Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS),  Oral and Written Language Scales (OWLS), CATTS Deletion test (CDT), Concepts About Print (CAP), and others.
In my opinion, these tests should be administered to all students in a classroom, individually or as a group, but not in any way that would identify or single-out slower students with potential dyslexia in front of peers. However, identifying the problems early and intervening are the best way to meet the needs of all students. This book offers methods of testing (Rathvon, 2004).

5.  The Institute for Human Adjustment, University of Michigan has a website for the development of language and literacy. As part of the program, the University has access to dyslexia help for professionals, parents, research, and success stories. They also give a good example of what a person with dyslexia experiences upon trying to read and likens that to driving in England, on the opposite side of the rode, in a car with the steering wheel on the opposite side and a manual shift, driving on an unfamiliar road. The anxiety and concentration needed to navigate would be similar to speaking, reading and writing for many dyslexics. One aspect of interest that this site brought up is the use of games for meta-cognitive tasks that are fun. Also the fact that students who struggle need to know that it is because of a trouble with RAN and not because heor she is “dumb” (University of Michigan, 2013).

6.  The CEDER Yearbook has valuable information about dyslexia and intervention for schools. Of note is the need to define dyslexia, yet the obvious problem that dyslexia has many variables that do not affect all dyslexics or research is inconsistent. Referring to the state of Texas that has implemented dyslexic identification and teaching within the public school, the definition used was that of the International Dyslexia Association:
        "Dyslexia is one of several distinct learning disabilities. It is a specific language-based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single-word decoding and often unexpected in relation to age and other cognitive and academic abilities; it is not the result of generalized developmental disability or sensory impairment. Dyslexia is manifested by variable difficulty with different forms of language, often including, in addition to problems with reading, a conspicuous problem with acquiring proficiency in writing and spelling."
The Texas school system noted that students with dyslexia have normal or above average IQs, and thus they keep them on task with the regular classroom, adding an additional class for dyslexia intervention. They also have accommodation methods within the classroom, such as books on tape, buddy-readers or books that have highlighted text. Teachers can modify assignments for dyslexic students, using mind-mapping instead of essays. Some also use recordings for test questions and answers, allowing these students to send in answers on a recording. The Texas school system is aware of the embarrasement and depression that can accompany students that cannot read at their grade level. An excerpt from an essay written by a 17-year old is such an example, titled On Being Seventeen, Bright, and Unable to Read (Culbertson, 2012).

7.  This study investigated the theory that balance and dyslexia are somehow interrelated. Researchers controlled the study for attention, hyperactivity, cognitive and motor functioning. The study examined whether there was a connection between reading problems five different balance tasks in children with and without a familial risk of dyslexia. Though they found no connection and the skills were not related, the control group did perform better in reading and balance than the FR group. However, dyslexia and balance problems were not coexistent in the FR students. They did find that attention and IQ were connected with reading speed. They did not preclude the possibility of behavioral genetics where one gene affects many traits, where balance and reading may have a shared outcome (Viholainen et al., 2011).

8.  This 2010 study looked at preservice teachers’ knowledge of and bliefs about dyslexia. It took samples from 287 preservice teachers in Alabama, New York, and Virginia, asking them to define dyslexia and how to identify students with it. Researchers found that there was confusion and even mis-information about phonological processing in students with dyslexia. The most common characteristic identified by teachers, was letter reversals (including switching, transposing, flipping, inverting, and jumbling) – 74% of the respondents reported this. Only 4% of the preservice teachers noted that dyslexic students have normal or above normal intelligence. This is significant when considering how teachers perceive their students. Also, only 1% associated messy handwriting with dyslexia. Whereas 30% said they had a reading disorder and disability, l8% and less knew that dsylexics can have issues with writing, not being able to keep up with classmates, not interested in reading, issues with comprehension, spelling, decoding and phonics sounds, and pronunciation. Only 10% of preservice teachers recognized that dyslexics have difficulty learning to read and write. Six percent knew that this can affect math. Teachers had completed coursework in literacy and special education, but graduate schools had failed to teach accurate and in-depth information about dyslexia (Ness & Southall, 2010)

9.  A study in 2009, at the University of Tehran looked at dyslexia from the standpoint of “differences” rather than “deficits,” measuring creativity and memory skills in dyslexic and nondyslexic students. The results are significant, as they could impact placing students with dyslexia in a group that includes positive attributes and not just the label of “learning disabled.” The stigma attached to being a disabled learner could be replaced with positive perspectives, fitting into a constructivist learning theory. The researchers include three studies supporting this concept. Dyslexics can be seen as different and sometimes superior to dyslexics because of their perceptual talent which often results in creativity, and the ability to think intuitively, visually, and multidimensionally. Though they have difficulty in reading symbols and words, and will need alternative methods of becoming proficient readers, dyslexics could begin to improve their self concept (not to mention how others may then perceive them.)  The study looked at 26 students, in grades two through five and measured their dyslexia with a reading test, the Diagnositc Farsi Reading Test. Creativity and Memory were tested in the two groups – those identified with dyslexia and without, from the previous reading test. Dyslexics scored lower in reading and verbal-visual memory for words and concrete objects. They did not differ in verbal-auditory memory but there was a significant difference in verbal-auditory memory for words referring to abstract concepts. Dyslexics performed better in pictorial (nonverbal) memory, auditory and visual memory tasks using words referring to concrete objects over abstract concepts. In creativity tests, dyslexics scored higher than nondyslexics in originality and synthesis. Further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis and build upon a framework that will show dyslexia as a different learning ability with some advantages and some disadvantages (Tafti, Hameedy, & Baghal, 2009).

10.  The British Journal of Hospital Medicine reviewed dyslexia in their January 2011 issue. Their focus was on how the research continues but dyslexia and it’s diagnosis and treatment remains controversial. Although most researchers define dyslexia as developmental, and some have looked at genetic mapping of the disorder, there are still questions about why children get dyslexia. It tends to have hereditary threads, yet finalizing a definition in hopes of defining a better understanding and method of learning with dyslexics is still scrutinized. Some schools and states have adopted a course of study, and still others have little knowledge of dyslexia. There is even disagreements over the prevalence of dyslexia and if environment has any influence (Smythe, 2011).
Culbertson, D. (2012). Uncovering the many misconceptions of dyslexia. CEDER Yearbook, , 51-65. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67714829&site=eds-live
Kast, M., Baschera, G., Gross, M., Jäncke, L., & Meyer, M. (2011). Computer-based learning of spelling skills in children with and without dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 61(2), 177-200. doi: 10.1007/s11881-011-0052-2
Messaoud-Galusi, S., Hazan, V., & Rosen, S. (2011). Investigating speech perception in children with dyslexia: Is there evidence of a consistent deficit in individuals? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research: JSLHR, 54(6), 1682-1701. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2011/09-0261)
Ness, M. K., & Southall, G. (2010). Preservice teachers' knowledge of and beliefs about dyslexia. Journal of Reading Education, 36(1), 36-43. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=57311383&site=eds-live
Rathvon, N. (2004). Early reading assesment. New York, NY: Guuilford Press.
Schneps, M. (2013). Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysicis, Laboratory for Visual Learning. Retrieved January/2013, 2013, from http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/dyslexia/LVL/
Smythe, I. (2011). Dyslexia. British Journal of Hospital Medicine (London, England: 2005), 72(1), 39-43. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mnh&AN=21240117&site=eds-live
Tafti, M. A., Hameedy, M. A., & Baghal, N. (2009). Dyslexia, a deficit or a difference: Comparing the creativity and memory skills of dyslexic and nondyslexic students in iran. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 37(8), 1009-1016. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=44894817&site=eds-live
University of Michigan. (2013). University of michigan development of language and literacy, dyslexia help starts here. Retrieved January/18, 2013, from http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/
van Bergen, E., de Jong, P.,F., Plakas, A., Maassen, B., & van, d. L. (2012). Child and parental literacy levels within families with a history of dyslexia. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 53(1), 28-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02418.x
Viholainen, H., Aro, M., Ahonen, T., Crawford, S., Cantell, M., & Kooistra, L. (2011). Are balance problems connected to reading speed or the familial risk of dyslexia? Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 53(4), 350-353. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2010.03856.x
Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. (2013). Retrieved January/2013, 2013, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

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