What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects approximately 10 percent of children. Those diagnosed with dyslexia have trouble connecting sounds to letter symbols. This affects the way children with dyslexia learn to read and spell. Fortunately, major strides have been made in understanding the language-based disorder.

What is Dyslexia? Great video to explain the dyslexic brain.

The following article is a good explanation of the way dyslexia affects the brain.

Dyslexia linked to ‘word form’ brain area
By Mark Roth
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It’s one of Marcel Just’s favorite cartoons.

A man has just finished painting a sign on the door of a building. It reads: “Institute for the Study of Daily Sex.”

A man standing next to him says, “Maybe you’d better let me spell dyslexia.”

Just, a brain researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, appreciates the humor, even though he knows it’s based on a common misconception – that dyslexia is a visual scrambling of letters and words.

The work done by Just and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon, as well as brain imaging carried out at Georgetown University, Yale University and other centers, has now proven that seeing letters in reverse or out of order is not the cause of dyslexia.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can measure blood flow to parts of the brain in real time, researchers now know that the reading disability involves a weakness in the part of the brain that decodes the sounds of written language.

That region sits above the left ear, at the junction of the brain’s temporal and parietal lobes.

The area lights up brightly on brain scans as normal readers sound out words, said Ann Meyler, a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon. In poor readers, it is much less active.

As readers become more skilled, an area farther back in the brain, next to the visual processing area, starts to show greater activity.

Sally Shaywitz, a dyslexia expert at Yale University, says that is the “word form” area. As readers learn more and more words on sight, without having to sound them out, this area takes on an ever-greater share of the reading task, she says.

“When we first learn how to read,” she said, “it’s effortful. But after you’ve read a word a certain number of times, those nerve endings come together and then it’s stored in the word-form area.”

In many adults with dyslexia, however, the word-form area stays largely dormant. For them, every word remains a puzzle that needs to be unraveled.

It might seem that the new brain studies amount to a grim prognosis for an ingrained disability.

But they have also shown that the right kind of intensive instruction can start to rewire the brain and help overcome reading deficits, even if it can’t eliminate them.

When Carnegie Mellon scanned the brains of youngsters who had received a year percent more activity in the area of concentrated reading instruction, they showed 40 word-decoding areas of their brains, Just said.

A similar study at Yale showed that a year after receiving such instruction, boys and girls continued to show increased activity in both the word-decoding and word-form areas of their brains.

A study at Georgetown University in Washington showed that intensive intervention helped adults with dyslexia as well, said Guinevere Eden, a dyslexia expert there. But in their case, she noted, some areas on the right side of their brains showed more activity after the instruction, suggesting they may have been compensating for problems on the left side.

Despite these hopeful results, it’s important not to be too optimistic, the experts said.

Even though dyslexic children and adults can often improve their accuracy and understanding of individual words after remedial instruction, they rarely can read as quickly as an average reader.

And reading slowly can hamper someone’s ability to understand longer passages.

“Once you teach (dyslexic) people these (reading) codes, they use them very deliberately and slowly, and until they are able to make them more fluent, they are not going to do very well on comprehension,” Eden said.

That is one reason why Shaywitz has pushed hard for granting accommodations to people with dyslexia in school and on the job, especially by providing extra time on reading, writing and even speaking tasks.

Largely through her efforts and those of her husband and fellow researcher, Bennett Shaywitz, 115 undergraduate and graduate students with serious reading disabilities are now enrolled at Yale, she said.

To meet the rigors of an Ivy League education, the students not only get extra time, but they also can have people help them take notes, and can get some of their class material on CDs and tapes, she said.

Shaywitz believes many people with dyslexia have strengths that other students lack.

“So many people in our society take reading as a proxy for intelligence. If you’re a very good reader you must be very smart and if you’re a slow reader you must not be very smart.

“But many people with dyslexia are excellent at thinking outside the box, simplifying and problem solving. They can’t memorize material and regurgitate it the way others can. They have to really understand it.”

As a group, Shaywitz says, the dyslexic population includes a “disproportionate representation of people who think differently.” The epilogue of her 2003 book, “Overcoming Dyslexia,” is filled with examples of high-achievers with dyslexia, from novelist John Irving to the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein to former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton.

For more information

•The International Dyslexia Association, www.interdys.org

•Learning Disabilities Association of America, www.ldaamerica.org

•“Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level,” by Sally Shaywitz, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.