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What is a learning disability?

Why do some call it a learning difference?

What is dyslexia?

Why do some call dyslexia a great paradox?

What is the International Dyslexia Association

What is dysgraphia

My child is disorganized?  What is that all about?

Why is my child disorganized, and does this relate to his poor memory for words and math facts?

What can we do to help our child at home?


What is a learning disability? A learning disability is defined differently by different groups.  The Federal Government (in IDEA, the special education law) defines it as,

LD is a disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways: as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, write, or do math. For more general information on learning disabilities, please visit LD In-General in our LD In-Depth section. 
[Source: National Institutes of Health, 1993]


Why do some call it a learning difference? Some feel that the term "learning difference" places more emphasis on the fact that the issues often involve a difference in processing information and often include many very important gifts as well.  Especially in persons with a dyslexic language pattern, there is often a significant paradox: there are profound differences within a system of many other equally profound gifts and talents.  However, many times the frustrations and resultant difficulties experienced by the differences in processing information hide the gifts.


What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.  
It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  
These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.  
Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia Research Definition: Adopted by IDA Board, November 2002; Adopted by the National Institutes of Health, 2002

Other valuable and relevant concepts pertaining to dyslexia:

  • Even though there is a phonological deficit, many times the "equipment" for understanding, forming concepts, and interpreting written text is unaffected.  This may be why accurate identification may be delayed in many students: it is delayed in spite of the richness and depth of the student's intellectual abilities.
    • Sally Shaywitz (a prominent researcher), refers to dyslexia as "a glitch in the language system". 
  • Imaging studies reveal markedly different brain activation patterns in dyslexic readers compared to those in good readers.
    • Shaywitz', Overcoming Dyslexia, page 81
  • Dyslexia is not only common, it is persistent.
  • Individuals with reading difficulties differ from one another and from typical readers along an entire continuing rather then being organized into one or two clearly defined groupings.
  • Many symptoms accompany dyslexia. It is important to recognize that each dyslexic student is different for every other dyslexic student. A single dyslexic individual will not demonstrate all of the symptoms, nor does anyone symptoms indicate dyslexia. Each symptomrepresents an aspect of normal development; but in the individual with dyslexia, the symptoms may persist past the time when it is normally integrated into the system.
  • The following references are among those that describe diagnostic procedures:


Why do some call dyslexia a great paradox?

The paradox of dyslexia: 
a pattern of contrasts

Profound and persistent difficulties experienced by some very bright people in learning to read

Dyslexia represents a very isolated weakness; thinking and reasoning are intact and perhaps even enhanced

From Overcoming Dyslexia, page 36

Sally Shaywitz, in Overcoming Dyslexia (page 40) reviews research findings and states:

  • Understanding that dyslexia reflected a language problem and not a general weakness in intelligence or a primary visual impairment represented a major step forward. Further advances have clarified the nature of the language impairment.
  • Dyslexia does not reflect an overall defect and language, rather, a localized weakness within a specific component of the language system: the phonologic module.
  • The phonologic module is the language factory, the functional part of the brain were the sounds of language are put together to form words and where words are broken down into the elemental sounds
  • We and other dyslexia researchers have found that the phonologic module provides a cogent explanation as to why some very smart people have trouble learning to read --- hence, the paradox


What is the International Dyslexia Association?

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA)

  • A non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with dyslexia, their families and the communities that support them
  • IDA is the oldest learning disabilities organization in the nation -- founded in 1949 in memory of Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a distinguished neurologist
  • Throughout its rich history, IDA's goal has been to provide the most comprehensive forum for parents, educators, and researchers to share their experiences, methods, and knowledge
  • The Inland Empire Branch in Southern California is one of 46 Branches and is very active in providing workshops and information to parents, teachers, and adults with learning issues
  • Regina Richards has been very active in this Branch since its formation in the early 1980s
  • The web site for this Branch includes many articles and substantial information, as does the web site for the National Organization


What is dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is related to dyslexia.  
It has a root in sequencing issues, particularly motor sequencing, and causes substantial writing fatigue which then contributes to poor organization on the lines and on the page and ultimately interferes with communication of ideas in writing.  
The greatest difficulty with dysgraphia is that the students may tend to simplify their writing: using smaller words and simple sentences. 
This interferes with adequate growth in written expression. 

It is possible to help students deal with dysgraphia so that this does not happen and it is strongly recommended that parents and teachers do so - even if dysgraphia is only suspected. 

Related quotes, referencing important concepts about dysgraphia

From The Source for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia (LinguiSystems):

  • Dysgraphia is defined as "a writing pattern characterized by substantial effort which interferes with a student's ability to convert ideas into a written format."
  • The basic prerequisite skills for letter form and use of space are inefficient, causing great energy drain and consequently interfering with the higher level performances of expression using a written format.
  • Primarily, the student experiences difficulty in automatically remembering and mastering the sequence of muscle motor movements needed in writing letters or numbers.
  • It is a difficulty which is out of harmony with the person's intelligence, regular teaching instruction, and (in most cases) the use of a pencil in non-learning tasks. It is an unexpected underachievement -- an unexpected underachievement based on the student's strong skills in other areas. (Page 72) 

From When Writing's a Problem (RET Center Press):

  • Dysgraphia is an inefficiency would seldom exists in isolation without other symptoms of learning problems. While it may occasionally exist alone, it is most commonly related to learning problems involved within the sphere of written language. (Page 26)
  • Mel Levine identifies six different areas of dysfunction which contribute to a diminished written output. These are selective attention, simultaneous production, sequential production, memory, language, and fine motor skills. (Page 27)
  • A dysgraphia pattern may exist in many degrees. Some children are able to draw a simple design and can trace within boundaries, but they are unable to develop automatic consistencies in writing letters.they struggle to copy figures that require reciprocal movement and contained a repetitive pattern. Some students especially those who are older and a practice writing a great deal, and sometimes produce legible writing; however, closer observation of their technique indicates a distorted sequence of movements.(page 31)
  • a message to students: a dysgraphia pattern is often misunderstood. Parents and teachers may think you are lazy or that you don't care about maintenance. This means that you have to work even harder to show that you do care. (Page 6)

From IDA Fact Sheets (available at the web site for the International Dyslexia Association):

  • Emotional factors arising from dysgraphia often exacerbate matters. At an early age, these students are asked to forego recess to finish copying material from the board, and are likely to be sent home at the end of the day with a sheaf of unfinished papers to be completed. They are asked to recopy their work but the second attempt is often no better than the first. Because they are often bright and good at reading, their failure to produce acceptable work is blamed on laziness or carelessness. The resulting anger and frustration can prevent their ever reaching their true potential.
  • Prevention, remediation and accommodation are all important elements in the treatment of dysgraphia. Many problems can be prevented by early training.
    Young children in kindergarten and grade one should learn to form letters correctly; kinesthetic memory is powerful and incorrect habits are very difficult to eradicate. Muscle training and over-learning good techniques are both critical for the remediation of dysgraphia. Specifically designed exercises are needed to
    increase strength and dexterity. A specialist can recommend the most appropriate plan of exercises.
  • For all students, kinesthetic writing, that is writing with eyes closed or averted, is a powerful reinforcer. Work needs always to begin with the formation of
    individual letters written in isolation. Alphabets need to be practiced daily, often for months.
  • Individuals can benefit from a variety of modifications and accommodations. One effective method is to teach the use of a word processor, bypassing
    the complex motor demands of handwriting. Many students may find learning the keyboard by the alphabet method easier than beginning with the
    home keys. For many, touch typing offers a whole new opportunity to learn to spell through a different kinesthetic mode. Students should also experiment
    with different writing tools; some people with dysgraphia may find pencil grips helpful.

Informative related articles by Regina G. Richards that may be downloaded from the Inland Empire Branch of the IDA and from LD on Line .

All of the sources listed above provide recommendations for accommodations and bypass strategies.


My child is disorganized?  What is that all about?

Organization is a very complex aspect of learning and behavior.  Mel Levine states that effective organization behaviors can make the difference between competent and inefficient school performance (Educational Care , page 158).  After all, school is much easier for children who know how to organize time and materials.  There is also spatial organization -- and this too plays a critical role in success. Often the habits and practices associated with efficient organizational tactics are a byproduct of learning.  However, many times students who learn differently are just so busy trying to keep pace, that they don't perceive, let alone internalize, these learning byproducts.


Why is my child disorganized, and does this relate to his poor memory for words and math facts?

Organizational skills
  • Good organizational behaviors require many attentional controls, especially previewing, pacing, and self-monitoring
  • They also demand memory for sequences, for procedures, and for other matters
  • For example, organizing materials for school in part recalls recalling where things are
  • Mel Levine states, "Children can often be taught how to get organized.  However, there is considerable variation in the degree to which they can actually generate or apply organizational skills in everyday life situations.  All individuals show signs of disorganization under certain circumstances, but for some children such disorganization is widespread and perpetual." (Educational Care , page 159) 
  • He describes material-management disorganization, time-management disorganization, transitional disorganization, prospective retrieval disorganization, and integrative disorganization.  He also presents (on pages 162-169) suggestions for managing these issues at home and at school
Memory skills
  • Rote memorization and rapid word retrieval are particularly difficult for dyslexics
  • On the other hand, dyslexics appear to be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of creativity and in people who have broken through a boundary and have made a real difference to society
  • I believe that this is because a dyslexic cannot simply memorize or do things by rote; she must get far underneath the concept and understand it at a fundamental level
  • This often leads to a deeper understanding and a perspective that is different from what is achieved by some for whom things come easier because they just can memorize and repeat -- without ever having to deeply and thoroughly understand

Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, page 57-58


What can we do to help our child at home?

Once you see a child's self-image begin to improve, you will see significant gains in achievement areas, but even more important, you will see a child who is beginning to enjoy life more .

Quote from Wayne Dyer, from page 3 of LEARN: Playful Strategies for All Students


Parents remember –

It begins at home: 
Look for ways to make your child feel capable; 
Eemphasize the child's abilities instead of "disabilities"


What a parent can do to specifically help the child
  • Help your child understand the nature of his difficulty
  • Read books or view videos about dyslexia
  • Help other members of the family recognize and understand the child who learns differently
    • Family members often need to quietly ask "who, what, where, and when" questions to get the necessary information because a child with dyslexia may sometimes have difficulty relating an event in proper sequence
  • Help your child locate and develop other talents
    • Examples: sports, art, music, mechanics, hobbies, etc.
    • Help improve your child's self-image by tasks that are possible to master successfully
  • Do not flood the child with petty time-consuming decisions such as what to wear.  These will vary at different age levels
    • Whenever possible, allow your child to voice an opinion and make choices in some larger matters, for example to go or not to go to a birthday party
  • Give the child chores to do
    • Boys and girls should do chores such as setting the table for supper, clearing the dishes, making the beds
    • Some of these may be used as opportunities for reinforcing learning
    • Make short lists of tasks to help him remember
    • A list is impersonal and reduces irritations
    • The child will gain satisfaction as he checks off tasks completed
    • Pictures or icons may be used along with or instead of words
  • Ensure that your requests are at a level the child is able to process efficiently
    • Some children do not process instructions with multiple levels quickly or accurately
    • State your ideas in simple, clear, one-concept commands and ask the child to repeat what was said
    • Speaking at a slower rate of speed to the child is often helpful
  • Provide structure for your child at home
    • Encourage a regular routine for meals, play, TV, chores, bedtime, etc.
    • Keep belongings in a consistent place and help the child remember where to put them
    • Provide reminders as often as necessary in a calm manner
    • Keep instructions simple- - one at a time
    • Break tasks into small parts or steps and provide one step at a time (this is “chunking”)
    • Help student develop consistent routines and a general homework plan
  • Use a regular homework location
    • Provide quiet or soft background music (this may vary: some students require silence)
    • Allow student to eat, drink sugarless carbonated beverages, such on sour candy, or chew gum
    • Provide a suitable place for homework - quiet and away from TV
    • Provide good lighting
    • Develop a homework schedule that is relatively easy to stick to
  • Talk to your child about the homework assignment
    • Go over your child's work to see if it is complete - and to answer questions
    • Make sure your child has the appropriate tools: pencils, pencil sharpener, desk (or table top), computer, if appropriate
    • It helps if you (as the parent) are aware of the type and amount of homework your child has
      • Teachers appreciate hearing from parents who have questions about homework
      • If you find your child is spending an excessive amount of time on homework, ask the teacher how much time is expected
      • Often a teacher will tell parents to limit the homework to a give time, rather than have the child spend 3 to 4 hours a night. help your child set up a homework environment
    • Most important, avoid making homework a punishment for your child
    • If your child is struggling with reading, writing, math, and is exceptionally frustrated, consider requesting extra help:
      • Contact your child's teacher
      • Check into what is available from the school
    • Contact your local International Dyslexia Association branch for referral(s) to outside sources
    • Help create efficient time management strategies appropriate to your child's age, such as those recommended in LEARN: Playful Strategies for All Students
  • Use some of the many books available for suggestions for home management as well as to help enhance your understanding of your child's world of learning differences. A few examples:

Explore the free publication, Putting Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read
This is a a publication by The Partnership for Reading, part of their goal of Bringing Scientific Evidence to Learning


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