It has become increasingly common for parents to require the services of a specialist in order to understand why their child is having difficulty reading. In some cases, the difficulties with reading are not diagnosed as dyslexia in a timely manner through regular medical consultations. What’s more, even with a diagnosis, it can be difficult to access the resources necessary to address the situation. This language difficulty can quickly become a major obstacle course with significant consequences for the individual and the families involved. In the often misunderstood and misguided universe of dyslexia, here are some observations from a professional’s perspective.

First and foremost, let’s demystify dyslexia. No, dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. No, the individual with dyslexia is not unmotivated, rather he is frustrated at not being able to read with fluidity, which is preventing him from advancing in his school studies.

Yes, approximately 15 per cent of students have this learning difficulty. Yes, getting support from a speech and language pathologist or neuropsychologist can be very difficult to obtain with long waiting lists. Yes, schools are generally ill-equipped to intervene, as teachers do not typically receive specific training for dyslexia in the required teacher certification programs. Yes, it’s hard to believe that in 2016, the vast majority of dyslexic students don’t receive assistance from their schools, because they are not coded by the Ministry, which prevents the students from receiving regular support.

Yes, eradicating dyslexia is impossible (even if intervention and treatment is possible). Yes, many dyslexic students are excluded from the world of writing due to their difficulties. Yes, we can be doing much better to support these students’ learning.

From lack of understanding to frustration
Even family members, friends or educators with good intentions sometimes still hang onto the belief of laziness, lack of motivation and the likelihood of a future without a high school diploma for students with dyslexia. These beliefs are a source of heavy frustration for dyslexic students. Psychological support is sometimes necessary in order for the student to maintain or recapture a sense of confidence in his abilities.

Talented beings
Dyslexic students have many strengths. Einstein, President Kennedy, Walt Disney, Leonard Da Vinci, Louis Pasteur and Rodin knew how to make a name for themselves despite being dyslexic. Even more astounding are the famous writers we know today who had dyslexia, such as Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Florence Cestac. Even Steve Jobbs, Founder of Apple, was dyslexic. Ironically, dyslexics are overrepresented in the global pool of celebrities and public figures!

Step by Step
The biggest challenge still lies in the diagnosis. It is essential that this happens at a young age, or else intervention will come very late, or not at all. Classic symptoms, such as reading or writing difficulty, should receive more attention from school personnel.

Once the difficulties have been flagged, an evaluation by a speech and language pathologist or neuropsychologist will follow to determine that a language difficulty is at the root of the problem. Of course, once this step has been completed, the work must begin: finding academic support.

Solutions south of the border
Not only is quality intervention rare, but it is often not well understood or not well applied, which can actually make the situation worse. This is the result of the lack of formal dyslexia training in Canada.

In fact, one must go to the United States to acquire a certification from the World Association of Dyslexia. The Orton Gillingham Method or Phonics First are two examples of programs in existence that lead to this certification.

While we wait for these formal trainings to arrive on Canadian soil, schools must provide better training for their teachers with resources that are already available. We already know, for example, that placing more attention to the letter-sound correspondence is an effective strategy in learning to read. A structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive and flexible program is necessary.

Fortunately, research is happening quickly, but it must be shared with teachers and educators more readily as it develops. One example of this? A student’s apparent boredom, dislike or lack of motivation toward school and academics are often the symptom of a language difficulty.