"> Does your child have dyslexia? - IsthmusParents, Madison, Wisconsin

Does your child have dyslexia?

Imagine that you're in second-grade reading class, scared to death and praying that the teacher, who is randomly asking students to read from the textbook aloud, doesn't call your name. But it's too late. Your turn.

As all eyes are on you, your eyes are glued to the page of the open book in front of you. This is what you see: "That dab cat run form the wam." This is what you should see: "The bad cat ran from the man." Panic ensues.

Now imagine that you're the parent of that child. Your child is intelligent, but seems to lack an awareness of word sounds and structures, frequently mispronounces words, has trouble with reading comprehension or struggles to express thoughts verbally or in writing. You've heard about dyslexia -- a neurologically based, often genetic disorder that affects the acquisition and processing of language, which leads to learning difficulties in reading, writing, spelling and sometimes mathematics -- but you're just not sure if your child has it.

Maybe your child needs tutoring. Or glasses. Or perhaps it's only a phase. Whatever the situation may be, it's not wise to ignore it.

"Educators traditionally have been told that it's okay to wait until fourth or fifth grade to get concerned, because some children may be late bloomers when it comes to reading," says Sandy Schultz, president of the Wisconsin branch of the Baltimore-based International Dyslexia Association (IDA). But over the last 20 years, government-funded research on how children learn to read has shown that reading difficulty is often an early sign of dyslexia. And the IDA estimates that 85% of all people with reading disabilities are dyslexic. "Remediation before age 9 will more than likely result in a child who is a proficient reader," says Schultz. "The longer you wait, the harder it will be."

But what should a parent's first steps be?

The simplest definition of the word "dyslexia" comes from looking at its Greek roots: "dys" means "difficulty" and "lexia" means "language." Thus, dyslexia means trouble with anything from rhyming words to reversing letters, words and numbers. For example, dyslexics commonly confuse such letters as "d," "b," "p" and "g" with each other. Anatomical and brain-imagery studies also reveal differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions.

Given its broad definition and symptoms, misperceptions abound about dyslexia, and the exact causes of the condition remain unclear. "This is a very controversial area," says Nira Scherz-Busch, director of the Child and Family Psychological Services Clinic on Madison's west side, one of the few facilities in Dane County that diagnose dyslexia. Many educators are not trained to detect dyslexia, says Scherz-Busch, and because the condition is treated as a learning disability, dyslexics are often either placed in special-education classes that may not address their specific needs or left to struggle in silence if the school fails to identify them. "Schools are not looking at whether or not that child has a disability," Scherz-Busch says. "They're looking at whether or not that child qualifies for their special education programs."

Jack Jorgensen, executive director of the Madison Metropolitan School District's educational services department, admits as much. "Dyslexia is not identified, per se, as a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," he says. But some problems identified as disabilities under the act may actually be caused by -- or at least related to -- dyslexia. (Even so, that doesn't mean that the schools' traditional special-ed programs will help the dyslexic.) The district does provide parents of suspected dyslexics with information about how to seek additional help, Jorgensen adds.

Experts suggest that a parent who thinks his or her child may have dyslexia call the school district's special education department and request to have that child tested for learning difficulties, which the school district is required to do by law if asked. If dyslexia is suspected, the next step should be to seek an official diagnosis and then, if necessary, remedial treatment.

A formal diagnosis of dyslexia can involve an expensive functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan, which is similar to the process used to evaluate everything from headaches to torn knee ligaments. This procedure, which costs several thousand dollars, records a patient's thinking processes, allowing researchers and doctors to determine which parts of the brain are most active during specific cognitive tasks. This provides a map of an individual's neural circuitry and a window into how language is interpreted by that person. One advantage of the fMRI is that it provides scientific proof that an individual is dyslexic; it does not, however, suggest any sort of treatment.

Human diagnosis, on the other hand, does -- and it's a lot cheaper. Dyslexia can also be identified through a battery of standardized language tests, IQ tests and other oral and written tests suggested by the Association on Higher Education and Disability -- the course of action espoused by Scherz-Busch in lieu of fMRI scans. Even so, "there is no single test for dyslexia," she says, adding that she bases her testing methods on knowledge she gains by working with an individual. The entire process, including waiting for results, can take up to a month.

Among the treatments Scherz-Busch prescribes for young dyslexics are programs that teachers can implement in the classroom, special software to be used at home or tutoring sessions at the Madison 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Center for Children. The downtown center opened in 2001 and offers free services to dyslexic students in kindergarten through high school by using the popular and time-tested Orton-Gillingham teaching method. Students are tutored one-on-one at the center for 50 minutes twice a week after school, and graduates usually read at or above grade level.

The highly structured and systematic Orton-Gillingham method dates back to the 1930s. It uses phonetics and emphasizes visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. Instruction begins by focusing on the structure of language, and then gradually moves toward reading. The program provides students with immediate feedback and a predictable sequence that integrates reading, writing and spelling.

While dyslexia may be the key reason why a child is struggling with reading, it may not be the only one. That's why some experts also recommend consulting a family doctor or pediatrician, who can refer patients to a credible optometrist. Ophthalmologists generally focus on the physical nature of the eye, but optometrists concentrate on the functional and mental processes involved in good vision. Some optometrists, while acknowledging that a patient might be dyslexic, may also diagnose an eyesight problem -- especially considering that the symptoms are similar -- and recommend vision therapy.

Vision therapy, a more controversial alternative to traditional dyslexia treatment, has a long history but has only recently begun to receive increased attention. It involves an individualized and supervised treatment program designed to correct visual-motor and perceptual-cognitive deficiencies. Vision therapy enhances the brain's ability to control eye alignment, eye focusing, eye movements and visual processing.

"For patients with problems with reading, it is important to understand that we are treating the vision problem with vision therapy, not teaching the child how to read," says Kellye Knueppel, an optometrist who runs the Vision Therapy Center in Brookfield and plans to open a new practice in Madison sometime this year. "We work to develop the visual skills that are necessary to read. Our job has little to do with reading; it has to do with getting eyes to work well." If vision is the only problem, the child will begin to be "very successful in school once the vision problem is out of the way," says Knueppel.

Even if it's overcome, dyslexia is never really out of the way. But the recurring condition is nothing to be ashamed of.

"Children, at a very young age, recognize how they're the same as their peers and how they're different," Sandy Schultz of IDA says. "Adults sometimes think that the less they talk about something or the more they hide something from a child, the better. But acknowledging dyslexia and saying, 'I realize this is hard for you,' comes as a relief to the child. It's never easy, but it's easier for the kids to cope knowing that they've got the support of someone who really believes in them."

Local Resources
Many professionals recommend the book Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, by Sally Shaywitz (Knopf, 2003).

Child & Family Psychological Services Clinic (also oversees the Dane County Dyslexia Support Group, which meets once a month at Meriter Hospital)

Madison 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Center for Children

UW-Oshkosh Project Success

The Vision Therapy Center

Walbridge School
Private day school with specialized and personalized instruction geared to children with learning disabilities including dyslexia.

Wisconsin Branch of the International Dyslexia Association

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Mama Madison: Lessons in dining out

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

Mama Madison: Natural vs. un-natural parenting

It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.

Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

Mama Madison: Race to shame

I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.

Hancock Center addresses bullying through body movement

It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.

Mama Madison: Get in the picture

Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.

Mama Madison: Welcome to the Parenting Olympics

Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.

Mama Madison: Facebook's instant nostalgia fix

Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.

Mama Madison: The kindness question

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Toddlers take to tablets

Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.

Mama Madison: Science or study hall?

This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.

Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.

Mama Madison: Planning for the MLK holiday

In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.

Mama Madison: The long vacation

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.

Mama Madison: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.

A mindful way to parent: Keep it in the moment, and take a deeeeep breath...

Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!