Learning to Read:
Dealing with Dyslexia
The ability to read is frequently cited as one of the most fundamental requirements for independent functioning in today's world. Indeed, those who are unable to read with any real proficiency, whether for lack of education or because of second language problems, are at a distinct disadvantage. Such people must depend on others for their most basic dealings with the world such as banking, shopping, and traveling. Not only is daily life difficult for them, but they can be financially disadvantaged as well. Employment opportunities for the functionally illiterate are difficult to find.
Although literacy is recognized by all as a basic necessity, the fact remains that a significant percentage of citizens in the western world lack functional proficiency in reading. Education systems have been modified and changed from one generation to the next in an attempt to improve the reading ability of students, yet there remains a large number of students for whom traditional teaching methods seem unable to reach. These students suffer in varying degrees from a condition known as dyslexia, an inability to interpret the written word without specialized therapy.
The neurological processes involved in learning how to read are complex and, even in these scientifically sophisticated times, they are still not well understood. It is still not scientifically possible to explain precisely, in terms of cerebral functioning, how a child learns to read though, in recent times scientists have been able to determine that certain alignments in the left hemisphere of the brain are significant to the development of reading ability. It is now known that dyslexia is a condition that results from neurological differences in the brain that affect the process by which phonemic awareness is achieved.
Since learning and teaching are intimately linked, it is difficult to know how best to teach reading when general understanding of the learning process is incomplete. Many theories on how reading should be taught have come and gone and still there is no clear teaching method that is successful with all students. Most children seem to develop reading skills through an eclectic teaching approach involving phonics, image association, and word patterns. More recently, high interest level readers and an approach to language that stresses the relevance of linguistic components to each other have achieved success with students who are otherwise disposed to language learning. Dyslexic children, however, have been consistently unable to learn how to read with any of the traditional teaching methods. It was necessary to develop a system that would address their specific needs.
Studies in North America during the latter half of the twentieth century sought to find ways of teaching dyslexic children to read. It was easily recognized that the anatomical and neurological differences of the dyslexic child had no effect on inherent intelligence. Dyslexics could learn to read if they were exposed to a teaching method that matched their learning style. This was found to be a system that relied heavily on multi-sensory, one-to-one training in phonemic awareness.
Programs have now been developed to deal specifically with the condition of dyslexia and, although these are essentially remedial in nature, they are far more successful with dyslexic children than any previous reading program. Dyslexia has finally been recognized as an inherited cerebral condition. By addressing the problem directly and by finding new teaching techniques, educators are now able to give those afflicted with dyslexia a chance to participate more fully in the modern world.
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