Understanding and Addressing
Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.
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There are some children who have a terrible time learning to read.
They get excellent support from home, excellent instruction from their teacher,
and they try very, very hard to learn. But try as they might, reading
is always a laborious chore for them. Without strong intervention
from a very knowledgeable teacher who really understands reading disorders,
those children will have a very hard time becoming successful in school
or in life. Those children may grow up to have children of their own,
and those children may inherit the same reading difficulty -- thus, you
have a parent who does not read well, raising a child who has difficulty.
Schools must stop that cycle. Knowledgeable teachers and fantastic,
long-term instruction provide the only hope those children have.
-- To learn more about a particular book, or to purchase
a copy of that book, just click on the image of the book cover --
Published in 2003 by Knopf Publishing
I am one of the people who has been saying for a long time that there
is really no such thing as "dyslexia." In my article "The Ten Myths of Reading,"
I argue that it is not true (it is a myth) that some kids are simply "dyslexic"
and thus will never be proficient readers. I still believe that,
but reading Shaywitz' book is making me back off of that position slightly.
Reading is a complicated, multi-faceted skill. If I grab a bunch
of people at random and test them, I would find a continuum of reading
abilities, ranging from the extremely proficient with high levels of comprehension
on one end to the complete illiterate on the other end. The National
Assessment of Adult Literacy confirms this.
If I were to examine children learning to read, I would find that some
children learn to read with more ease than other children do, just as some
people learn to skate or learn to swim with greater ease than others (personally,
I sink like a stone attached to an anchor every time I get near water).
There does not seem to be a population of people who are "different" from
"normal" people -- a separate population of people who are dyslexic.
Instead, it seems to be a normal distribution of reading skills, with people
at one end of that distribution labeled "dyslexic."
It has always been my contention that different children have difficulty
learning to read for different reasons, but that with good instruction
individualized to each child's needs, all children can learn to read proficiently.
Shaywitz' book supports this.
The contribution that Shaywitz makes with this book is to describe in
some detail why certain children have difficulty learning to read (and what
can be done about it). These are children with phonological processing
difficulties, and they are labeled "dyslexic." But I stand by my convictions
-- the label does not matter. What matters is that these children
can learn to read if they are given much more intensive, long-term, explicit
instruction in the phonological structure of speech, and the mapping between
phonemes and letters.
Maybe Shaywitz and I disagree; maybe we don't. I really don't know.
It's not that I deny that dyslexia exists -- in fact it is likely that I
was "dyslexic" (or "am" dyslexic). I had a little difficulty learning
to read, and to this day, I read very slowly, but I also read voraciously.
Am I dyslexic? Maybe. What does it matter? I had good instruction,
and now I am a sufficiently proficient reader.
I think that the presence of phonological processing difficulties is
one of many reasons that some children have difficulty learning to read,
but with proper diagnosis and proper instruction, it can be overcome, and
"dyslexic" children can learn to read quite well.
In the final analysis, this is a very thought-provoking book, and it
is extremely informative. Everybody who works with struggling readers
should read this book. It is very well-written and it eloquently describes
some of the challenges that teachers and parents face when dealing with children
with severe reading difficulties, and it offers excellent advice and solutions
for those challenges. This is also a nice summary of the current neuroscience
research in the field. Non-invasive imaging techniques are confirming
current theories about why certain children have so much difficulty learning
to read, and Shaywitz, as one of the leaders in the field, has done a marvelous
job of summarizing that work and presenting complicated neuroscience research
in an understandable way.
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Last Updated 1-1-05