Dispelling Dyslexia Myths – a medical endeavor that should begin with Pediatricians?
Published by Tim Conway, Ph.D
Given that Developmental Dyslexia and a Specific Learning Disability with Impairment in Reading are now accurately classified as “Neurodevelopmental Disorders”, this helps highlight that they are of a medical origin and not caused by educational issues. Poor phonological awareness and the subsequent difficulty learning to read, despite adequate intelligence and opportunity, is most likely due to a genetic predisposition for learning difficulties. It is believed to most likely be due to inefficiently wired neurons in the left temporal, parietal, frontal and/or sensory motor strip of the brain – all of which are believed to have happened by the 6th month of gestation (before childbirth; see Galaburda, et al. 2006). Could Pediatricians be the first to explain these scientific dyslexia facts or #DyslexiaScience to families?
Since there is such a wide variation of estimates on how many children are affected by Developmental Dyslexia, ranging 1:5 to 1:20, let’s say it’s only 1 in 10 for the sake of a conservative argument. A typical pediatrician’s office that treats 100 patients per day would have the opportunity to inform 10 patients with dyslexia (or predisposition for dyslexia) each day of the medical, neurobiological facts about dyslexia. Even showing families a basic figure, like the one published by an eminent dyslexia researcher (see Ramus, et al., 2004 figure below), could help families begin to understand the true medical and neurodevelopmental nature of dyslexia. Could such clear and basic neurobiological information help parents be less likely to believe the rampant myths of dyslexia and the countless well-intentioned, but gravely misinformed opinions of friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and others who are not medically trained to know the clear differences between well-established, scientific facts and inaccurate myths?
What if pediatricians could provide basic risk factors or warning signs to watch for at each age of life? Would that help families know when and why to seek evidence-based assessment and treatment services? Could knowing even basic neurological soft signs empower parents to disregard woefully inaccurate information about dyslexia, such as the “Wait and see” myth? Or the “He might catch up later” myth? Or the myth that “boys always learn to read later than girls,” or the “Your just being overly concerned, he’ll read when he’s ready” myth, or the myth that “reading just has not clicked yet?” These myths go on and on, and are a sign that the teacher or individual has little to no idea how children really do learn to read, and instead think it only comes from imparting the correct knowledge, or it is some kind of magical event that occurs via some unknown method, event, or proper birthday. Could families benefit from knowing risk factors like these?
Would families even be receptive to knowing how reading skills are typically developed for children who do NOT struggle to learn to read? What if they knew that typical readers learn from a very specific set of multisensory experiences, and not from random or tangential multisensory experiences, such as shaping words with modeling clay, finger movements in the air, tapping arms or shaking legs, tracing sandpaper letters, or even walking and hopping on large chalk letters? What if parents really understood the science of how reading typically develops for children?
Would families then be more likely to seek services earlier? Would they be better equipped to identify which services are untested “guestimations” of how to teach reading, or are inefficient compensatory “strategy” approaches, rather than well-researched, highly effective, scientifically tested methods with known typical outcomes for any child with dyslexia? Could Pediatricians help families understand that prevention of reading difficulties via evidence-based methods truly provide the best outcomes for the child, family and school? Would families want to know the following NICHD research outcomes that showed that the reading difficulties associated with dyslexia or LD are highly preventable via early intervention at age 5-years old? The phonological awareness deficits that interfere with accurately learning to rhyme, perceiving all of the sounds or changes of sounds in a word and learning how to sound out words can be greatly improved in Kindergarten. Would such medical research help families avoid falling prey to the myriad of untested, unproven so-called “interventions” that truly do not work without 3-5 years of memorization and, even then, do not close the gap between a child’s intelligence and their language and academic skills?
Perhaps the challenges families face are much more complex than a Pediatrician has time to explain during a brief medical exam visit? Perhaps this information is just not that important enough to share in every Pediatrician’s office world wide (although there is scientific evidence that nearly all languages have a degree of dyslexia or learning disabilities in reading) in order to guide parents to accurate diagnosis, services and best possible outcomes?
Maybe it is critical and worthwhile to have Pediatricians share some of our best pediatric intervention research that helps more than 97% of 5-year-olds read on grade-level before the end of 2nd grade – no matter if these children enter Kindergarten in the bottom 10% on pre-literacy and language measures that have been shown to be highly and reliably predictive of who will be a struggling reader by age 9. Would such outcomes be worth the 2-5 minutes that it might take to have Pediatricians help inform the parents of the medical, neurobiological, genetic and almost completely preventable aspects of phonological weakness and reading difficulties inherent in developmental dyslexia?
It is an unfortunate fact that the US educational system has made little-to-no progress with implementing highly effective, evidence-based methods in schools. It is equally unfortunate that many families and teachers are still misinformed that any program with an “Orton-Gillingham” approach is highly effective and evidence-based (they are not). Woefully, our current educational system continues to support a “school to prison pipeline” that fails to help our children to fully develop phonological awareness, reading accuracy, reading fluency, and full comprehension/memory while reading. Perhaps it is time for Pediatricians to step up, play a larger role in the sharing of medical information about a disorder that is medical in origin and nature, and help empower parents to know the true scientific facts of dyslexia? Isn’t it time for one of the most common childhood medical disorders to receive first-line attention by the pediatricians, nurse-practitioners, nurses and other healthcare professionals who are some of the first to interact with families about the health and well-being of their children. IF Pediatricians and other healthcare professionals make an earnest effort to share scientific facts and not myths, then the following successful prevention of poor reading skills (see graph above and supporting PDF’s) results will be commonplace. Then,….
WE CAN BREAK THE “SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE.”
All children deserve this degree of assistance, education, and evidence-based intervention or prevention of dyslexia/LD in reading.