One out of every five children is possibly affected by dyslexia, making it one of the most widespread of the learning disabilities. In the USA alone, 10 million children are dyslexic. Many children are suffering, yet still more remain undiagnosed and unable to receive the needed support to overcome this condition.
In 1896, W. Pringle Morgan, an English medical practitioner, provided the first description of dyslexia. Prior to that, the disorder was thought to be a form of mental retardation. Published in the British Medical Journal was Morgan’s case of a 14-year old boy who had extreme difficulty in readingyet excelled in game and was at the same level with his peers. This intrigued many scientists who had been studying the disorder for years. They finally realized that those who have the disorder could actually possess above average to exceptional intelligence. Some, they found out, even excel in sports and the creative arts. Because of this, their notion that dyslexia is a form of mental retardation was finally ruled out.
From the Greek words “dys” meaning difficulty and “lexia” meaning verbal language, dyslexia can be defined as a specific learning disorder resulting from neurological and genetic causes. It affects one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. This results in the difficulty of the brain in stringing words, numbers, and symbols at least average intelligence. Dyslexia may show up as a problem in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling or in a person’s abilityin math. Letter and word reversal and disorganization of word order are common symptoms. Problems with coordination, memory, depth, perception, and discerning left from right may arise. This explains why most dyslexics find it difficult to transfer information exactly from what is heard to what is seen and vice versa.
Researchers determined that a specific gene is responsible for dyslexia. The condition results from a brain difference. The right hemisphere of the brain of dyslexics is larger than that of normal individuals. This may be the reason why dyslexics excel in areas controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain – such as artistic and athletic; 3D visualization ability, musical talent; and creative problem solving skills but are poor in perceptual, motor, linguistic, and adaptive—areas controlled by the brain’s left hemisphere.
For years, the organic cause of dyslexia has puzzled doctors who have been studying the disorder. A significant breakthrough, however, was provided in 1998 by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a researcher at the Yale University of Medicine and author of the book Overcoming Dyslexia. Dr. Shaywitz’ s findings revealed that areas in the back of the brain that are usually activated when readers sounded out words are significantly less activated in dyslexics. Areas in the front of dyslexics’ brains show more activity than in those of the brains of normal individuals.