Background: Unscrambling Dyslexia
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PHIL PONCE: Ten million Americans have a neurological disorder known as dyslexia. It’s believed to affect as many as 80 percent of all those diagnosed with learning disabilities. People with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read, even though they have normal intelligence. While many people may think of dyslexia as reversing letters, scientists say the basic problem is a person’s inability to link words and parts of words with distinct sounds.
For example, the word “cat” is made up of “kuh,” “aah,” and “tuh.” A person with dyslexia may recognize the sound “kuh,” but may not necessarily connect the written letter “c” with that sound. Because there are no outward physical signs of dyslexia, early detection is often elusive. According to some estimates, as many as one in five American children may have dyslexia. Yet most are not identified until the third grade and beyond. Many are never diagnosed, and for those who are, programs that would help are frequently unavailable in public schools.
TEACHER: You need to read your biography with your partner.
PHIL PONCE: Janney Elementary in Washington, D.C., is one school that does provide special instruction for dyslexic children. Its inclusion program allows kids with special needs to attend regular classes. Four children in this second and third grade class have dyslexia and other learning disabilities. A student teacher is on hand to help them when necessary. Other options sometimes offered in public schools are private classes and tutoring. There are also less traditional methods of teaching. The Lab School of Washington is one of more than one thousand private schools nationwide geared to the learning disabled. Although tuition here runs $16,000 a year, 85 percent of the students are fully subsidized by public funds. Sally Smith is founder and director.
SALLY SMITH: Ninety-five percent of our kids are dyslexic. And so we have to do with the way this research is showing, that we have to work with them on their phonemic awareness, on sounds and linkage. But, you don’t stop educating them because they can’t read.
PHIL PONCE: At the Lab School, the arts are used to develop academic and social skills. In the dance class students develop motor skills and coordination. Learning precision and building are part of the woodwork class. Budding film makers learn the trade in video classes. Students created and produced an animation of what it’s like to be learning disabled. There are also special so-called clubs where kids, appropriately costumed, study history.
SALLY SMITH: They’re going to have to spend a lot of their lives problem solving because learning disabilities don’t totally go away.
PHIL PONCE: And although dyslexia persists throughout life, reading skills can improve consistently with practice.