Dyslexia, Some Research Findings
A lot has been written about dyslexia and dysgraphia. Research is ongoing and progress is being made, although Dr Jon Lieff warns that there is still much we don’t know and advises caution in response to new findings. (www.Much that has been written about dyslexia is out of date because it is based on older research even though many recent findings support older findings. We can’t assume that rates of dyslexia in English-speaking countries applies universally. Research papers in other European countries often do not separate poor readers from children with dyslexia, diagnosed or not. Dyslexia in Japan is almost unknown even though the content words in Japanese must be read and understood according to the context. Some researchers and writers deny that orthographic dyslexia in children exists at all.
Recent studies in neuroscience alert us to the following: Words are the unit of reading but some shapes are connected to symbols and then later the symbols are connected to words. Dr Jon Lieff points out that “neuronal circuits first learn letters, then syllables, then small meaningful sounds.” As a result, he advises “some dyslexic children do better with more spacing between words so they can more easily see the writing of meaningful small sounds.” (www.searchingforthemind.com)
Through ongoing studies we have learned that the brain is plastic and neuroplasticity means that early diagnosis and intervention is critical for the brain to be retrained. We know, for instance, that within two hours of a person being blindfolded, the other senses become more sensitive and new pathways in the brain begin to form. This explains why early diagnosis of dyslexia and other learning difficulties gives the child the best chance of making early progress.
DYSLEXIA IN FRANCE
In French, written word identification leads to comprehension in reading which then interacts with cognitive and linguistic capacities in the child. (Jose Marais). According to Marais, the neurological interacts back and forth with the cognitive which interacts with the behavioural. The behavioural means how the child manifests the cognitive problem verbally and non-verbally in ways that communicate meaning to the observer. However, it is the cognitive alone that can direct our methods of addressing the child’s literacy limitations.
Fluss et al (2009) sampled 1000 children in 20 schools across Paris. All were Grade 2s. All socio-economic groups were equally represented in the sample. Bearing in mind that not all children facing delays in reading and writing have dyslexia, Fluss found that children from upper socio-economic backgrounds constituted only 3.3% of poor readers and children from a low socio-economic background constituted nearly 25% of poor readers. This implies that dyslexics who formed an unknown part of the sample, largely fall into the low socio-economic group. This finding infers that the number of dyslexics across the middle and upper socio-economic groups is exaggerated and is possibly a false belief.
Sprenger-Charolles et al (2003) noted that the greatest stumbling block for poor readers was decoding. Phonemic awareness is more important up to the end of Grade 2. Visual Span is important from Grade 3 onwards.
Prado et al (2007) found that dyslexics at age 11 and 6 months had a reading age of 7 and 11 months. The Visual Span for dyslexics was 26% and for good readers 60%. From these studies we can conclude that the critical phase is Prep to the end of Grade 2 when decoding means acquiring the building blocks for later literacy and that mastery of the alphabetic code during the first three years of schooling enables the child to move smoothly into the Visual Span stage in Grade 3.
DYSLEXIA IN CHINA
After the first six years of school in China or Chinese schools in Singapore and other places, children’s reading and writing abilities vary widely. Children spend these six years mastering 3000 Chinese characters. Unlike a western alphabet, Chinese characters map to the meaning and not the sound. Chinese children with dyslexia often confuse characters with a similar appearance. Research in Singapore where children are often bi-lingual informs us that dyslexics may not have the same problem in an alphabet-based language like English and dyslexics in English may not have the same problem in Chinese.
POOR READERS CATCH UP WHEN WELL TAUGHT
Research in Scotland and England reveal that even though children of low socio-economic status begin school without being able to identify 80% of the alphabet, they have caught up with children of middle and high socio-economic status by the end of Grade 3 in mastery of alphabet recognition and sound correlation. As Visual Span becomes more important from Grade 3 onwards, any disadvantage experienced by low socioeconomic status children is reflected in a lag of one year.
IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING
Dyslexia, Improving Teaching is a Post on this website dealing with concrete suggestions based on the research and experience in teaching.