For kids with dyslexia, learning to read can be tough going. The disorder afflicts an estimated 15% of Americans. Dyslexics typically have trouble associating letters with sounds and words. Many learn to work around the challenge, but there’s an intriguing new twist: some who work with dyslexics believe that the disability may also confer certain advantages. Specifically, anecdotal evidence suggests that dyslexics have sharper peripheral and three dimensional vision. Please join us to talk about the special challenges and possible advantages for people with dyslexia.

Guests

  • Guinevere Eden director, Center for the Study of Learning professor, Department of Pediatrics Georgetown University Medical Center
  • Laura Kaloi National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • Dr. Brock Eide clinician and co-author with Dr. Fernette Eide of "The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain"
  • Jeffrey Gilger professor, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts University of California, Merced

Program Highlights

People with dyslexia often have trouble reading, spelling and other academic skills, challenges that can be clear disadvantages. But Doctors Brock and Fernette Eide argue dyslexics often have particular abilities as well. Their new book on the subject is titled “The Dyslexic Advantage.”

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects an individual’s ability to read, write, and spell, as well as other activities that require our brain to process information. It affects nearly 2 million school age children in public schools in the U.S. It’s estimated that up to 15 million people, including adults, are dyslexic. There are sometimes some very early warning signs that a child may be developing dyslexia, like when a toddler isn’t gaining early speaking skills at the appropriate rate, Kaloi said. Intensive early intervention could help a child gain the speaking skills they need.

Is Dyslexia Heritable?

There are micro differences in the brains of dyslexic people, Eden said, and it is now known it is a heritable disorder. This doesn’t mean that the environment isn’t also important, Gilger said. But in families where any one individual has dyslexia, the odds that it will appear again in that family go up anywhere from four to ten times over the base rate, Gilger said. Researchers are beginning to be able to identify some of the genes that might be involved.

Advantages To The Dyslexic Brain

Eide and colleagues found four basic advantages that dyslexic people have in common, and they use the acronym “MIND” to represent them. “M” is for material, or spatial, reasoning; “I” is for interconnected reasoning, which allows the ability to see connections between objects and concepts and to fit these into a big picture; “N” stands for “narrative reasoning,” the tendency to understand factual information as cases or examples rather than in the abstract; and “D” stands for “dynamic reasoning,” or the ability to use remembered information to make predictions about processes that change over time. Kaloi believes that teachers need more resources to help them harness some of these strengths in dyslexic students. The dropout rate among dyslexics, she said, is currently about 20 percent.

A Caller’s Perspective: “It’s Not That You Can’t Learn. You Just Learn Differently”

A caller named Ben talked about his own experiences as a dyslexic and said that people often think of dyslexia as a problem where people “reverse their letters.” “It’s not just about reversing letters. It’s really about the acquisition of reading, which is something we created,” he said. Kaloi responded by emphasizing again that teachers need to develop a better understanding of how dyslexic students learn. “You don’t do what we call ‘drill and kill’ with kids with dyslexia,” she said, “where they just get the worksheets and the same stuff over and over….we have to have a different approach for these students and how they learn,” she said.

You can read the full transcript here.

Transcript

  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. People with dyslexia often have trouble reading, spelling and other academic skills, challenges that can be clear disadvantages revealed in a new book. Co-authors Doctors Brock and Fernette Eide argue dyslexics often have particular abilities as well. Their book is titled, "The Dyslexic Advantage." Brock Eide joins me from a studio at KQED in San Francisco.

  • 11:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in studio with me, Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Guinevere Eden at the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University Medical Center. And by phone from Merced, CA, Jeffrey Gilger, he's professor at the University of California at Merced. We do invite your calls, comments, 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 11:08:16

    MS. LAURA KALOIGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:17

    DR. BROCK EIDEGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:17

    DR. GUINEVERE EDENGood morning.

  • 11:08:17

    DR. JEFFREY GILGERHello.

  • 11:08:19

    REHMGood to have you with us. Laura, if I could start with you. Talk about what the dyslexic brain does. What is dyslexia?

  • 11:08:31

    KALOISure. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects an individual's ability to read, write, spell and it can affect other things that we need to do in life that require our brain to process information. And it affects nearly 2 million school age children today in our public schools.

  • 11:08:53

    REHMSo it's not just children now. It's also adults?

  • 11:08:58

    KALOIIt is. And there's an estimation that it's up to 15 million people in society that have dyslexia.

  • 11:09:04

    REHMAnd how can we tell when a child has dyslexia? Certainly not in infancy, I would gather. It's when a child begins to read.

  • 11:09:18

    KALOIThere are some very early warning signs that actually can begin as soon as a child is learning to speak and will gain some very early learning skills. My son is 11 and has dyslexia, as does my husband. And we knew because of my husband's dyslexia to watch all of our children very closely from a very young age. And it began to become apparent when Ethan was about three that he wasn't gaining his early speaking skills. And that can be one of the very early warning signs that there is something happening and we need to pay attention and provide very intensive early intervention to help the child gain those speaking and early learning skills.

  • 11:10:01

    REHMAnd how is he now? He's 11.

  • 11:10:05

    KALOIHe is. He's in fifth grade and he is actually having a wonderful year in school.

  • 11:10:10

    REHMI'm glad to hear that. And turning to you now, Guinevere Eden. Are dyslexic brains really different from other brains?

  • 11:10:23

    EDENYes, they are. And I think it's also important to understand that the reading brain is a specific brain. You know, before we talk about the dyslexic brain, we should step back and think about what happens to our brains when we become skilled readers or in the case of dyslexia we're perhaps achieving skilled reading as such a challenge. The brain has been speaking for hundreds of thousands of years and we have areas in the brain that help us observe language.

  • 11:10:54

    EDENReading is a very recent cultural invention. And so, the reading brain has had to take areas to help it become a reading brain. It's often -- I sometimes say the brain is moonlighting when we teach children to learn to read because the structures that are engaged are not necessarily structures that were designed to become the reading brain. And that's important when we think about struggling readers, recognizing that this is an assembly of systems that comes together to help us sound out words and access meaning, and something that we all have to learn.

  • 11:11:30

    EDENWe learn it differently depending in the cultures that we're born into, the reading systems that we deal with. And brain research are showing that the brains of people who've had the opportunity to learn to read are different from those who haven't. And brain research has also shown that the brains of dyslexics are different from those that do not have dyslexia.

  • 11:11:47

    REHMIs the brain different all over or is there one area of the brain that you assign to reading?

  • 11:11:56

    EDENWell, what's interesting is that the earliest brain research which was rather unusual that it was done on people once they passed away and it was learned that they had dyslexia during their lifetime, this was done almost 30 years ago showed differences at the micro level in the brains of people who had dyslexia during their lifetime. And it was most prominent in areas that we know are involved in language, and particularly in the left hemisphere.

  • 11:12:19

    EDENAnd so, then it naturally followed as people were -- when tools became available that allowed us to study the brain in people with dyslexia, such as magnetic resonance imaging, where you can use that information to look at brain structure or also more recently in the last 10 or so years people use it to understand the brain function and track which brain areas are different -- are functioning in the brain when you're involved, say, in a task such as reading.

  • 11:12:47

    EDENAnd there people have shown differences. And those have been primarily in the language region, the left hemisphere. So, because it's a reading problem, people focus on the areas that are involved in reading. And those are in the left hemisphere, but we do see differences in several regions in the brain.

  • 11:13:03

    REHMAnd to you, Jeff Gilger, you heard Laura Kaloi talk about the fact that both her husband and her husband have dyslexia, how likely is dyslexia to be inherited?

  • 11:13:25

    GILGERYeah. It's a heritable disorder, as we say sometimes. But of course, that doesn't mean that environment's not important as well. You know, back when the genetic research started with dyslexia in a real heavy-duty fashion some 20-some years ago, it was real common to have a child that have the disorder come into your clinic or your lab and just do some discussions with the parents. You know, the mom would say, well, you know, to her husband, well, that's what's wrong with you.

  • 11:13:53

    GILGERAnd people didn't know that these things run in families quite as well as we know now. But, yes, so for instance, if your child or if you are a person with dyslexia, you know, roughly 40 to 50 percent of your first-degree relatives, those would be people that share roughly half of your genes in common, so your siblings and your parents are also (word?) to have dyslexia as well. And if fact, if one member of the family has it, the odds that you'll have it over the base rate and the population go up anywhere from four to ten times as frequent

  • 11:14:25

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:14:25

    GILGERSo it clearly runs in families. And in twin studies and in some other molecular genetic work, because you actually start to identify what those genes may be that are involved. And that's an important and successful part of the research that's been going on in the past couple of decades.

  • 11:14:41

    REHMAll right. And to you, Brock Eide, you and your wife together have written "The Dyslexic Advantage." Tell us why that title and what you believe those advantages to be.

  • 11:15:00

    EIDEWell, Diane, we wrote the book because we work primarily as clinicians with children and families that have learning challenges. And so we see kids with all kinds of learning disorders. But what was very interesting about our work with dyslexic individuals and their families is that we came to see over time that they didn't just have common features in the way they process language or the way that they process reading, but they had commonalities that extended across the board cognitively.

  • 11:15:32

    EIDEAnd these features often conferred important advantages as well as disadvantages. And we really wanted to focus a little more attention on the advantage side because we think that's been overlooked. It's interesting historically that if you go back and review the work of some of the really great researchers who've studied dyslexia from the very first W. Pringle Morgan description of dyslexia in 1896 on through people like Samuel Orton and Norman Geschwind and Margaret Rawson up to the present day.

  • 11:16:00

    EIDEYou find these echoes of people saying we notice these talents in these kids. These kids are not just learning disordered. There's something really interesting about them. We tried to define what those differences were from our perspective as physicians interested in cognition. And we found four basic talent strengths among the families and kids that we work with. And we call those in the book the MIND strengths. M stands for material reasoning, which is basically spatial reasoning.

  • 11:16:28

    EIDEI is for interconnected reasoning, which involves the ability to see similarities and connections and to view objects or concepts from different perspectives and to see the gist in the big picture. N stands for narrative reasoning, which is the tendency to store or understand factual information as cases are examples rather than abstract, de-contextualized, generalized information. And D stands for dynamic reasoning, which is the ability to use bits of remembered experience to make predictions about processes that change over time and to function well in situations where the information is changing or incomplete.

  • 11:17:05

    REHMBrock Eide is co-author with his wife, Fernette Eide. The new book is titled, "The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain." Here in the studio with me, Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Guinevere Eden, director the Center for the Study of Learning at the Georgetown University Department of Pediatrics Medical Center. And on the phone with us, Jeffrey Gilger.

  • 11:17:47

    REHMHe's professor of social sciences and arts at the University of California at Merced. I know there are a great number of you who'd like to join us. We'll try to take as many of your calls as we can. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twittter. We'll take just a short break. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your calls. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're going to open the phones very shortly because this is a subject that touches not only the heart, but the lives of so many people. Laura Kaloi, you've just Brock Eide talk about some of the material interconnected narrative and dynamic aspects. He calls them advantages of the dyslexic child. How do you see that in your own life?

  • 11:20:40

    KALOIWell, we should certainly celebrate the gifts and certain advantages that the dyslexic brain brings to our families and to the world. However, we must also remember that our children spend at least eight hours a day somewhere else being taught by other people who don't necessarily understand their strengths. And this can lead to when children struggle to read, to write, to spell for lowered expectations for them in many aspects in our school system.

  • 11:21:10

    KALOITeachers need more resources. They need to be provided the training to know how to provide the systematic direct instruction that these students need to be able to learn to read and write and spell. These are gateway skills to being able to become career ready or able to go to college. Our dropout rate is far too high. Our graduation rate is not high enough. Twenty percent of students with this type of disability drop out from high school. That's too many.

  • 11:21:42

    KALOIFor every millionaire with dyslexia there are thousands of kids who in longitudinal research will self report that they use drugs, they're underemployed, they drop out of high school and they can't gain work that will be able to allow them to support a family in this society.

  • 11:22:00

    REHMGuinevere, you I'm sure have seen many of these children up close. How do you see these advantages?

  • 11:22:11

    EDENWell, I think, you know, echoing what Laura just said, you know, in neuroscience research much of the interest has really followed what we know from behavioral studies which is trying to understand how the brains of people with dyslexia are different, how they compensate. You know, so for those dyslexics who are successful following an intervention what does their brain look like? Does it look like a child who's never had dyslexia, other areas that compensate? Why do those areas compensate.

  • 11:22:37

    EDENAnd these are all mechanisms that we hope where the kind of cutting edge brain research, which really is used for research I should say, not for kind of evaluations of children, can guide us in furthering our knowledge of how best to help these children become better at reading. But, you know, in my other work I have served just recently as the president of International Dyslexia Association which really is there to support families of children and adults with dyslexia.

  • 11:23:07

    EDENAnd here we have an organization that -- where we have members who are highly successful people with dyslexia, have been very successful and speak sometimes about their strengths that they believe are due to their dyslexia. And I think what we really need to do in research is find a better way to understand what those strengths may be so that we can take better advantage of them.

  • 11:23:29

    EDENBut at the same time we must make sure that the kinds of things that we -- that are important for teachers to know -- and at IDA, for example, we have a document that is the knowledge and practice standards for teachers of reading -- really to make sure that teachers have the tools that they need to become the best teachers they can...

  • 11:23:46

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:23:46

    EDEN...and provide the research knowledge that we do have with regards to teaching these students so that they have better reading skills.

  • 11:23:54

    REHMAnd Jeffrey Gilger, is there any research that proves or disproves the spatial abilities of people with dyslexia?

  • 11:24:07

    GILGERYeah, that's a real good question. Let me also echo what Laura said and just add to that for a second first, and that is that, you know, rarely do you see a child with a reading disorder that has nothing but a reading disorder. Often they have either secondary problems because of that or problems that seems to be associated with that in terms of the same cause. They often have multiple things going on when they come into your clinic or your laboratory. And those are things that are important for success in society.

  • 11:24:37

    GILGERBut that said, as far as the research on whether dyslexics have a tendency to be more talented in areas like spatial skills and things like that the empirical evidence for that is pretty weak. And it's not weak because it doesn't necessarily exist. It's because really good solid research hasn't been done. So we don't have good numbers that are reliable and apparently valid that we can say, you know, what proportion of the dyslexic population has gifts.

  • 11:25:08

    GILGERWe don't have that data that's really nothing -- we have some anecdotal reports. Those hit the press a lot. We hear commentaries about people being seen in clinics and so forth and they have spatial gifts but we don't have really good research on it.

  • 11:25:22

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:25:22

    GILGERAnd we don't have a lot of good neuroscience on it as well.

  • 11:25:24

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:25:25

    GILGERAnd some of that research is going on right now.

  • 11:25:27

    REHMBrock Eide, I wonder if what you are seeing and your wife is seeing as the so-called dyslexic advantage might be what others simply call compensation.

  • 11:25:44

    EIDEWell, that's one way that people have tended to look at this in the past, Diane Rehm. And I think, you know, it kind of is a play on Nietzsche's old statement that "that which does not kill us makes us strong." But what we have noticed and what others have noticed is that there do seem to be strengths -- indications of strengths that exist before kids are ever even exposed to reading.

  • 11:26:11

    EIDEThere's a very nice old statement by Norman Geschwind, who's one of the really most observant clinicians that worked with dyslexic individuals, where he described the spatial abilities of the children that would often come into his clinic at very young ages before ever encountering difficulties reading. And in the book we...

  • 11:26:29

    REHMGive me an example -- give me an example of that kind of spatial ability.

  • 11:26:37

    EIDEWe have lots of examples in our clinic of children who show tremendous directional finding ability when they're very young. We have kids that do really complex kinds of building, so they really reorganize the whole household sometimes or the yard at very young ages. You know, we have kids who are championship sailors with very little instruction and people that just seem to have a great sense for navigation and three-dimensional ability.

  • 11:27:05

    EIDEWe have a lot of kids that at very early ages teach themselves how to draw in perspective and to use other examples of three-dimensional strength. And, you know, I think Jeff is completely right when you're talking about population bases and you're talking about randomized trials and things like that, that there is a lack of evidence. We would love to see more evidence on these kinds of things. But what we're saying in the book is that there is so much suggestive evidence that these are areas that really cry out for close inspection.

  • 11:27:35

    EIDEAnd I can give you just on the spatial side an example of some of the things that have been found. There was a very well publicized study a number of years back that looked at the superior abilities of dyslexic individuals to identify rapidly impossible figures in drawing, so drawings that showed figures that couldn't be constructed in real life. There was a very nice study that we described in the book of the superior ability of dyslexic individuals to navigate in a virtual three-dimensional environment, sort of figure their way around a computer-generated three-dimensional environment.

  • 11:28:10

    EIDEThere are lots of studies looking at entrance figures for fields that involve spatial reasoning like engineering, design, photography and art. And the studies that have been done show very high, as much as two to three times overrepresentation of dyslexic individuals in the entering classes and fields in those subjects despite the fact that these are students that have been crippled with these other academic burdens that we've heard about.

  • 11:28:36

    EIDEThis is an overwhelming amount of evidence that calls for deeper investigation of these problems. And that's -- or these connections -- and that's really our point in the book.

  • 11:28:48

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:28:48

    EIDEWe're not making a final case.

  • 11:28:49

    REHMSure.

  • 11:28:49

    EIDEWe're saying this needs to be looked at.

  • 11:28:51

    REHMOf course. Guinevere.

  • 11:28:53

    EDENYou know, I think one of the things that is sort of attractive about this idea is that, you know, it's very hard for children who really become very demoralized when they go to school every day, who have been teased by their peers, who do not have access to the information that other children do, who have to spend their time being tutored while their friends are perhaps playing. I think it is important to speak of their strengths.

  • 11:29:19

    EDENAnd remember that when you diagnose dyslexia it is the fact that they have a weakness in their reading that is unexpected compared to the other skills. And so often these other skills are very good. I think what the book speaks to, which I like is the idea that we need to work with people who have dyslexia so that they inform us about some of their experiences. I'm always impressed when I speak to people -- just a few weeks ago, I spoke to an entrepreneur with dyslexia who is very successful and who talked about how he could come into a boardroom and didn't have to read all the documents. But just based on conversations could get the big picture.

  • 11:29:56

    EDENIt's interesting as a brain scientist. I think, what is that about? And, well, I think what we owe those individuals is to do the research. But I think it's important that we have the research so that...

  • 11:30:06

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:30:06

    EDEN...we can then make a statement that can then be considered in terms of what does this mean for practical purposes. And that we don't, I think, obscure the rich knowledge that we do have about how we can successfully help students with dyslexia. Where we do have significant knowledge and are still struggling to make sure that that knowledge is in the classroom and with the teachers so that they can apply it appropriately so those children do have a chance to improve on their reading skills.

  • 11:30:36

    REHMAll right. I want to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Ben, you're on the air.

  • 11:30:49

    BENGood morning, Diane. I want to thank you for taking my call. I love listening to your show, but above all that you've chosen the topic of dyslexia. Being dyslexic myself and also heading a school for children with dyslexia, everything that people are talking about today is absolutely right and right on. And the message I just want to leave with, as we say at Genesee, besides it being a gift it's not that you can't learn. You just learn differently. And it's not a disability. It's just that your brain processes language differently.

  • 11:31:19

    BENAnd I think that such a message needs to get out there because so many times I hear people say, oh you reverse your letters. And it's not just about reversing letters. It's really about the acquisition of reading, which is something we created. And another famous Genesee line is we're only dyslexic to the system we've created called school.

  • 11:31:37

    REHMLaura Kaloi.

  • 11:31:39

    KALOIYes, well, it's absolutely right what he says that these children and individuals do learn differently. However, what we need to reinforce is that teachers don't quite understand in many of our -- especially in our public schools how to provide that instruction. It is different than the garden variety poor reader.

  • 11:31:58

    REHMWhat would you have teachers understand and learn more specifically that they're not doing now?

  • 11:32:08

    KALOIWell, there are specific approaches that are research based. Dr. Eden has talked about efforts to provide this research into practical meaningful ways related to how to provide what's called systematic instruction. It needs to be very intensive. It needs to be consistent. It needs to be done in a very direct way. Not in a, you know, kind of throw it at the kids and have it stick. You don't do what we call drill and kill with kids with dyslexia, where they just get the worksheets and the same stuff over and over. That doesn't work. And we have to have a different approach for these students and how they learn.

  • 11:32:43

    REHMLaura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think clearly everybody on this program believes that these kids are special in how they learn. And the question is how to make sure that they get the special learning that they need. Let's take a call in Bluffton, Ind. Good morning, Bruce, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:25

    BRUCEGood morning, Diane. Hi, it's a thrill to be able to speak with you.

  • 11:33:28

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:29

    BRUCEI wondered if your guests could answer this question. I wondered if there was anything specific about the English language that lends itself to dyslexia. I wondered if studies had been done in other languages, specifically languages with other writing systems.

  • 11:33:48

    REHMGuinevere.

  • 11:33:50

    EDENYes, that's a very interesting question and I alluded to this earlier on. You know, with -- first of all, research has shown for some time that children in different languages acquire reading at different rates. So when you look at children from languages such as German where the languages are more transparent and the mapping is more direct that those children will be more skilled earlier than their peers in say, for example, English-speaking languages where the mapping is not as direct.

  • 11:34:19

    EDENBut then when you start looking at other orthographies it becomes very interesting because here, say, for example, if you're looking at a local graphic language such as students in China, they are looking at these very complex symbols that are made up in sort of a square formation. And whereas our children are learning the letters of the alphabet and how they map onto sounds, those children are learning 600 characters in the first grade and what they represent.

  • 11:34:43

    EDENAnd what's interesting is those studies have shown -- and they've been done in this country and in China -- is that some of the skills that Chinese children need to succeed at being good readers are the same as children in this country. But then there are some other skills that are unique to those writing systems. And then likewise it's interesting that when you look at the brain, the reading brain, some of the circuitry is similar, but some of it is also very distinct.

  • 11:35:10

    EDENAnd so, for example, in the Chinese reader, there are some frontal brain areas that scientists have observed that you don't typically see in the reading of the alphabet.

  • 11:35:20

    REHMI want to ask you, Brock Eide, you talked about the spatial advantages, the spatial skills that these children may develop. What kinds of jobs do you think that these skills can translate into if there is this deficit in basic reading skills?

  • 11:35:49

    EIDEWell, I think, you know Diane, that the kinds of jobs that dyslexic individuals with these different talents will gravitate toward can depend on a lot of other factors just besides whether they're dyslexic or non-dyslexic. And part of that has to do with general intelligence factors. So we'll see people that have very strong spatial reasoning abilities that are able to do well in school and go into, for example, engineering or, you know, things like physics or astrophysics, architecture, areas that involve the classic spatial reasoning.

  • 11:36:29

    EIDEPeople that don't stick as well in school and are getting out earlier often go into areas like construction or into transportation, so they may drive a truck or a cab. And you'll see in each of the mind strengths variations like that sort of depending on overall general ability and aptitude. So we're not trying to make the case in the book that everyone with dyslexia is going to become an Einstein or is going to become, you know, the new Richard Branson.

  • 11:36:59

    EIDEBut we are trying to make the case that individuals with dyslexia should examine their own inventory of talents and interests and abilities and try to look within these general patterns at the kinds of areas and activities that individuals like themselves tend to do well at. And in the book we do list a whole range of professions for each of the mind strengths that we commonly see individuals with these patterns going into.

  • 11:37:23

    REHMBrock Eide. He's co-author of "The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMWe have so many interesting emails, phone callers. Here's one from Debra in Oklahoma City. She says, "My father was plagued with an inability to spell all his life. He worked during World War II interpreting diagrams much like architectural plans to create photo quality pictures of weapons for Army catalogs. Teachers should learn how to teach children with dyslexia. The other kids will learn no matter what." What do you think of that, Laura Kaloi?

  • 11:40:50

    KALOIIt's a great statement by someone who's had experience in their own family. I think what we need to understand is the challenge that we have with resources in schools and trying to provide that professional development, and making sure we continue to bust this myth, this pervasive belief that people that are challenged with dyslexia and issues related to reading can do and achieve many things. But they do need to learn this gateway skill.

  • 11:41:22

    KALOIAnd parents are not alone in trying to understand this. We have a website LD.org with all kinds of information that can help parents and teachers understand what they can do.

  • 11:41:35

    REHMJeffrey Gilger, another tweet, "Where can I find a screening test for dyslexia online? Is there such a test?"

  • 11:41:49

    GILGERWell, yeah, there are tests that screen for dyslexia at certain ages. And they have some validity to them. There are a number of them and they're not as good as getting a full clinical diagnostic battery. You know, I can't tell you offhand what website to go to. I think I saw a posting on your website for an individual that has a website that has such a screening instrument on it. And they might go there as a start. Otherwise, what they should do is type in screening instrument for dyslexia and look at some of the research papers and documents that come up. But I can't tell you a website off the top of my head.

  • 11:42:25

    REHMOkay. Laura, does your website have a screening test?

  • 11:42:30

    KALOIWe have a checklist, Diane, that helps parents understand what are those very early warning signs. And then it also goes across the continuum for various ages of children to help you understand what are the basic skills that children should be accessing. And if they are not, what those early warning signs are to try and get extra help.

  • 11:42:49

    REHMAll right. To Sarasota, Fla. Good morning, Lisa.

  • 11:42:54

    LISAGood morning. I have sort of a unique situation where I have two children who are dyslexic and they share a very similar profile having almost the same scoring and the weakness and the phonemic awareness and rapid naming. One child is 13 years old and gonna be going into ninth grade. The other child is in first grade. We made the mistake or I guess the whole school system made the mistake of not really identifying my youngest one as dyslexic and he didn't start an intervention until he was in the second grade. And as a result of that, he's what I call a compensated reader. He's not really fluent.

  • 11:43:34

    LISALuckily he's a very smart boy with a very high visual, perceptual IQ, and so he has lots of compensatory skills. And my little one is gonna be discharged from her therapy, which has been going on for three years now. But I guess my point is that you can't really rely on the school district. Sometimes you can't even rely on the psychologist to administer and then interpret tests and the subtests correctly. It was through my research like with LD online and I'm a social worker, so I don't leave anything unturned when my children are having trouble, or anybody's having trouble.

  • 11:44:14

    LISAAnd it was through my own research that I figured out what was going on. And but the difference in achievement between my children are tremendous and their attitudes towards school are very, very different.

  • 11:44:25

    REHMAnd do you believe, I gather, it's because of the early intervention on the one hand and the late intervention on the other?

  • 11:44:36

    LISAAbsolutely. It made a huge world of difference. And, you know, I think in terms of what they're saying with identifying early, the more popular articles that could be in Parent magazine and some of the -- and also in the graduate programs for educators and speech and language therapists, more emphasis on this. And for the continuing ed. for teachers who are reading specialists. Because my experience is that they don't even know -- even sometimes speech and language therapists don't have a clear sense of how to identify classic dyslexia.

  • 11:45:12

    REHMAll right. Brock Eide, what do you have to say to the notion that even teachers simply do not identify correctly?

  • 11:45:25

    EIDEWell, I think there are two things really in response to the caller. One is that she brings up and touches on the area that we see very often, which is ability achievement discrepancy. The definition that the NIH and the IDA have used of dyslexia includes the notion of unexpected difficulties relative to other cognitive skills. And when you have a child who's very bright, in particular, it's often very difficult to diagnosis dyslexia if you rely specifically on early tests of phonemic awareness or even basic phonetic decoding skills. You really have to look at all levels of reading attainment, so reading fluency.

  • 11:46:07

    EIDEAnd looking at the gap between the child's general verbal abilities and their abilities specifically in reading is an invaluable tool in identifying kids who are dyslexic. The second important issue that she raises is one that I think can't be stressed enough, which is that there are many children in the school systems now who do reach later stages of education without early remediation. We don't in any way want to suggest that early remediation is not critical, because we really believe it is and we're total supporters of that. But there are many students that are making it through the early years without being identified.

  • 11:46:46

    EIDEAnd it's important that we don't send the message that it's just simply a hopeless circumstance for those kids. We're meeting later today out here in San Francisco with an attorney who got a JD/MBA from Stanford without being able to read and without being able to write in the normal way. Using technological interventions such as text to speech, readers and speech to text programs that help write down what you say. People with even persistent problems with literacy can still do well, so it's important to look at ways that you can help older students who have been poorly served at the (unintelligible) .

  • 11:47:23

    REHMThat's really interesting. Laura.

  • 11:47:27

    KALOIThat point that the caller made about the subtests and how we evaluate for this in schools is really important. And I think that one challenge we know through parents and the work that my organization at NCLD that we actually do with the International Dyslexia Association is unfortunately federal law actually calls out dyslexia as one of the specific learning disabilities under federal law, however, many states have decided not to acknowledge dyslexia and will not provide the subtests and that evaluation process that's paid for with public dollars to identify it correctly.

  • 11:48:02

    KALOIAnd then that also prevents parents when they have the team meetings with the school for asking and being able to have access to the specific interventions and instructional supports that these students need. And they wanna call it a reading disability and, again, treat it as, you know, giving the same interventions you would give to any poor reader. And because of the way dyslexia needs to be approached, that isn't working in our public system very well.

  • 11:48:29

    KALOIAnd so states -- parents are pushing back in certain states. In Ohio, for example, they've changed state law to say you have to acknowledge dyslexia, you have to give better literacy instruction and you have to acknowledge that these students need very specific help.

  • 11:48:42

    REHMGuinevere.

  • 11:48:43

    EDENI'd like to add another important point from, again, based on the call. Here you heard a mother who's advocating for her children. That is, I think, a very important aspect of this field. And, again, you know, we've spoken about the resources. You can go to organizations like NCLD and like IDA and pull up fact sheets. And I think it's very important for parents to -- even those parents who have experienced the dyslexia themselves, to try to really educate themselves as much as possible about what is known about dyslexia, about what the schools are doing about dyslexia so that they can have a very open dialogue with their children.

  • 11:49:19

    EDENI think often the children feel very isolated and so it's great when your parents understand the situation. And then just now we touch on the aspect of technology and recognizing that there's so much wonderful technology out there that is attractive to young learns and particularly to dyslexic learners that can also be used in addition to some of these more traditional methods.

  • 11:49:41

    REHMIs numerical dyslexia pretty much the same or a different disorder, Guinevere?

  • 11:49:51

    EDENWell, there are disorders in mathematics, the number processing. There are conditions -- there's a condition called dyscalculia. It's interesting there's been research to suggest that the incidents of kids with math problems is higher in the dyslexic population than the non-dyslexic population, so there is some overlap there too.

  • 11:50:10

    REHMInteresting. Guinevere Eden of Georgetown University Medical Center. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Elan in Silver Spring. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:50:31

    ELANGood morning, Diane. Can you hear me?

  • 11:50:33

    REHMSure can.

  • 11:50:35

    ELANYeah. Okay. I just wanted to say two things. One is that I want to kind of support what everybody else has been saying in terms of the parent being an advocate for their child because I have had four children, four sons through the Montgomery County School System. And one of them who I thought was extremely bright was diagnosed as being mentally retarded when he was in kindergarten. Well, he went through the Blaire High School magnet program and is now extremely successful. So had I not advocated for him very early on, he would've been labeled, which brings me to my second point.

  • 11:51:06

    ELANAnd that is that we have to be so careful not to allow people to label our children and to just -- it tends to close us off to the creative things that we can do for our children. So one other son of mine who couldn't read at all, couldn't spell at all, I'd ask him to spell a word like coffee and he'd put R's and S's in there. And I'd say, look, ca, ca, fa, fa, there's no R, there's no S. And I realize that he's gonna have to learn to read and spell just by sight, by memorizing all of these things. He's also extremely successful.

  • 11:51:36

    ELANBut one of the things that I did for him in fourth grade is I, you know, and pretty much all the way through school, just read his books for him. I mean, the whole idea was that he needed to be educated. He didn't mind listening, so I would read the novels and all these other things that needed to be done. And in fourth grade I actually ended up being his secretary. I said, look, you know, very successful people have secretaries.

  • 11:51:59

    ELANAnd I called the teacher. I said, you know, he -- I want him to separate his inability to write, to do handwriting, because he had very poor coordination with the actual act of writing, which is a mental capacity, intellectual capacity. And she said, fine, you can do all of his writing.

  • 11:52:13

    REHMWow. How about that, Guinevere?

  • 11:52:16

    EDENYou know, I think it's interesting. And we've already talked about the importance of parent advocacy.

  • 11:52:19

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:52:20

    EDENBut also understanding your limits, working with others to help you. And, you know, one of the things that's interesting and it pertains to this book is there was a study that caught a lot of attention a few years ago showing that there were more people with dyslexia who were successful entrepreneurs than those with -- that you'd expect based on the incidents of dyslexia in the general population.

  • 11:52:43

    EDENAnd what that -- that was a survey based study from the Cass Business School. And what that revealed is that people who are successful business people with dyslexia often would just take advantage of the resources, have other people read to them, have other people write to them and so on and so forth.

  • 11:53:00

    EDENAnd I think, you know, obviously our focus is on the early education and what we can do to support those kids through instructions and appropriate interventions. But we need to recognize that the majority of the dyslexic population of people are adults who need to now be functional in their jobs and often are very resourceful and successful if they know what they need to do to make them that way.

  • 11:53:22

    REHMAll right. Let's hear from one of those adults, Michele in Little Rock, Ark. Good morning to you.

  • 11:53:31

    MICHELEGood morning. I was wondering -- I wasn't even diagnosed until a couple years ago when I wanted to go to graduate school. And I thought it made sense the way I went through school, I picked certain instructors, you know, and tried to avoid others. But is this common that people go through without ever being diagnosed?

  • 11:53:54

    EIDEYeah, I can respond to that. It's been very common in the past. And it's becoming fortunately less common now, but we still see lots of students that present to our clinic in their teen years and when they're going off to college and they've never been diagnosed before. And it's really when they run into the timed tests like the SAT or even later, the GRE, and get unexpectedly lower scores in some of the components that involve lots of reading that they come in to get analyzed. Or they'll show up in their first term in college and not be able to keep up with the reading load where they've always done okay in high school.

  • 11:54:30

    EIDESo that's very common. And it's important to think about ways to structure the educational environment for students with that kind of learning pattern. And, again, technology is a big key, but also working closely with the student learning disabilities office at the school is important as well.

  • 11:54:44

    REHMWell, you have anticipated my last question, Brock. And to you, Laura Kaloi, as the mother of a dyslexic child, what would you say to parents out there who suspect from an early age that the child has problems?

  • 11:55:12

    KALOII would say that there are resources online if you have access to that. There are checklists where you can just do a cursory glance at home and see what's happening based on those early warning signs. You can ask...

  • 11:55:24

    REHMAnd the early warning signs again.

  • 11:55:27

    KALOICan be with speaking, with those early writing and reading, sounding letters. For instance, my fifth grader still can't understand consonants in words, syllables. If you're not being able to play those games in the car and play those early learning games that we all wanna play with our kids in the car, looking for those early warning signs. And ask the school. You have a right under federal law to ask in writing that the school help you evaluate what's happening with your child. And my organization on LD.org, we walk you through exactly how to do that with your school.

  • 11:56:04

    REHMAnd, Guinevere, what would you say to parents early on?

  • 11:56:10

    EDENWell, I think Laura is exactly right. I mean, there's tremendous research to show that the signs are there early. You heard from Jeff Gilger. You know who the children are at risk because they have it in -- if you have it in your family, the chances are much higher that you have it. And we all know that the earlier the child is identified and is helped, the better it is for everybody.

  • 11:56:29

    REHMGuinevere Eden of Georgetown University Medical Center, Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Brock Eide, co-author of "The Dyslexic Advantage," and Jeffrey Gilger of the University of California at Merced. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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