ERIC Identifier: ED262500
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Harrie, Roger P. - Weller, Carol
Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
What Is Dyslexia: 1984 Digest.
Dyslexia is a term that has been loosely applied to reading disabilities.
Specific definitions for dyslexia vary with disciplines. Those in medicine
define dyslexia as a condition resulting from neurological, maturational, and
genetic causes, while those in psychology relate dyslexia on the basis of the
specific reading problems evidenced and give no reference to causation. All
disciplines would probably agree that dyslexia is evidenced by persons of
otherwise normal intellectual capacity who have not learned to read despite
exposure to adequate instruction.
HOW IS DYSLEXIA DIAGNOSED?
The diagnosis of dyslexia usually begins with an awareness by parents or
teachers that a problem in reading exists. A physician is often the first
diagnostician to explore the nature of the difficulty. The medical practitioner
should investigate the cause of the reading problem by conducting a complete
physical examination and obtaining a comprehensive health history. If indicated,
the child should be referred for a neurological examination. If dyslexia is
suspected, the physician should refer the child for further evaluation and
treatment by a specialist in psychoeducational diagnosis.
The major purpose of the diagnostic process is to isolate the specific
difficulties associated with dyslexia and to suggest appropriate educational
intervention. Usually the diagnostician will employ a battery of assessment
instruments that explore the relationship of specific reading problems to the
intellectual, achievement, perceptual, motoric, linguistic, and adaptive
capabilities of the individual. Based on the results, an intervention plan can
be implemented by a special educator or remedial reading teacher trained in
specialized reading techniques. No one remedial reading method works for all
reading disabled students. Therefore it is important that the teacher have
mastery of many different techniques.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF DYSLEXIA?
An individual is identified as dyslexic when a significant discrepancy exists
between intellectual ability and reading performance without an apparent
physical, emotional, or cultural cause. Common findings in the history include,
but are not limited to: (1) family history of reading problems; (2) a
predominant occurrence in males (males to females 8:1); (3) an average or above
average IQ and, not uncommonly, a proficiency in math: (4) no enjoyment of
reading as a leisure activity; (5) problems of letter and word reversal; (6)
developmental history of problems in coordination and left/right dominance; (7)
poor visual memory for language symobols; (8) auditory language difficulties in
word finding, fluency, meaning, or sequence; (9) difficulty transferring
information from what is heard to what is seen and vice versa.
Specific reading problems associated with dyslexia include difficulty in
pronouncing new words, difficulty distinguishing similarities and differences in
words (no for on), and difficulty discriminating differences in letter sound
(pin, pen). Other problems may include reversal of words and letters,
disorganization of word order, poor reading comprehension, and difficulty
applying what has been read to social or learning situations.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO DYSLEXIA?
Several reliable studies (Helveston 1969; Blika 1982; Keys 1982; Hiatt 1984)
have found that dyslexic individuals have no greater incidence of eye problems
than do individuals with normal reading ability. Such parameters as visual
acuity, stereo acuity, ocular alignment and motility, fusion status (break point
amplitude), and refractive error have not been shown to be significantly
different in poor versus normal readers. Individuals with reading problems
should, however, have a careful eye examination as part of an overall medical
examination. There is no scientific evidence that visual training (including eye
muscle exercises, ocular tracking or pursuit exercises, or glasses with bifocals
or prisms) leads to significant improvement in the performance of dyslexic
According to Mattis (1978), the primary contributing factor to dyslexia is an
auditory language deficit. Approximately 86% of the individuals identified as
dyslexic evidence an auditory language disorder that prevents the individual
from linking the spoken form of a word with its written equivalent. In light of
this, any individual with reading problems should have a careful evaluation of
his or her language capabilities and where indicated, appropriate speech and
language intervention should be provided.
In contrast to language problems, visuo-spatial-motor factors of dyslexia
appear less frequently (Robinson and Schwartz 1973). Approximately 5% of the
individuals identified as dyslexic have a visuo-spatial-motor problem that
interferes with sequential organization, scanning, and the perception of
temporal and spatial cues. Although visuo-spatial-motor confusion is common in
young children who are just learning to read, these problems do not tend to
account for severe and persistent reading difficulties unless the child has
missed so much basic reading instruction that he cannot get caught up.
Assessment of visual, spatial, and motor capacities should be included in the
diagnosis of any coordination or orientation disorder; however, there is no
scientific evidence that interventions such as neurological and sensory
organizational training, laterality training, dominance training, balance beam,
or reflex inhibition will significantly accelerate reading performance.
The importance of general intelligence in learning to read has been examined
and shown to be a critical factor in both reading and language abilities.
Investigations of the role of dominance in handedness, eyedness, and mixed
laterality have produced no consistent conclusions. Studies investigating low
birth weight, EEG abnormalities, temperamental attributes, attention deficit
disorders, birth order, food additives, and chemical allergies have yielded
mixed results. What is clear is that a wide range of factors can be associated
with reading difficulties but that these factors work differently in different
children. There is no simple formula for diagnosing and treating a dyslexic
child. Each one requires his or her own individual program.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Benton, A. L., and D. Pearl. DYSLEXIA. New York: Oxford University Press,
Blika, S. "Opthalmological Findings in Pupils of a Primary School with
Particular Reference to Reading Difficulties." ACTA OPTHALMOLOGICA 60
Helveston, E. M. "Editorial." THE SIGHT SAVING REVIEW 39 (1969):1.
Hiatt, R. L. "Reading Problems and the Opthalmologist." ANNALS OF
OPTHALMOLOGY 16 (1984):116-122.
Keys, M. P. READING DISABILITIES. AMERICAN ACADEMY OF OPTHALMOLOGY
INSTRUCTION COURSE #117 (1982).
Mattis, S. "Dyslexia Syndromes: A Working Hypothesis." In DYSLEXIA, edited by
A. L. Benton and D. Pearl. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Robinson, M. E., and L. B. Schwartz. "Visuo-motor Skills and Reading Ability:
A Longitudinal Study." DEVELOPMENTAL MEDICINE AND CHILD NEUROLOGY 15
Rourke, B. P. "Neuropsychological Research in Reading Retardation, A Review.
In DYSLEXIA, edited by A.L. Benton and D. Pearl. New York: Oxford University