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Identify dyslexia warning signs, facts and myths as part of National Dyslexia Awareness Month

BOSTON What do business moguls Sir Richard Branson and Charles Schwab, entertainers Cher and Whoopi Goldberg, famed designer Tommy Hilfiger, renowned paleontologist Dr. John R. Horner, Olympians Bruce Jenner and Greg Louganis, actors Danny Glover, Rob Lowe and Henry Winkler, and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan all have in common? They are among the millions of individuals who have overcome dyslexia to become successful in later life. Estimates by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggest that as many as 15 percent of all individuals in the U.S. may have dyslexia or a related learning disorder. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, and the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (MABIDA) is encouraging parents and caregivers to understand the warning signs for dyslexia as well as the facts and the myths about this learning disability. Most importantly, MABIDA is helping to ensure that every child affected by dyslexia receives the support necessary to overcome their learning disability and develop strong reading skills. What is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that involves difficulties in the area of reading, particularly with accurate and rapid word identification. Dyslexia most often results from difficulties in phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear individual sounds in words. It is the most common learning disability, affecting people with generally average to above average intelligence including people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Why is it important to recognize, diagnose and treat dyslexia? If children with dyslexia receive effective reading instruction in kindergarten and first grade, they will have significantly fewer problems learning to read at grade-level than do children who are not identified or helped until third grade or after. Almost three-quarters of the children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade and typically continue to struggle with reading as adults. What are the most common misconceptions about dyslexia? One of the most common misconceptions is that individuals with dyslexia read "backwards." Although many will reverse and confuse letters particularly letters b, d and p because of their visual and sound similarities typically, the main problem relates to being able to hear sounds in words and connect those sounds with the appropriate letters. What are some of the warning signs of dyslexia? The following are some of the characteristics present in a child who may have dyslexia and require further evaluation from a qualified diagnostician: The child reads below his grade level. The child has a slow or unusual development of language or vocabulary for his age. The child has difficulty pronouncing words (aminal for animal), rhyming or distinguishing sounds in words. The child makes many letter reversals (b/d, u/n, p/q) or transposes letters and words (was/saw, on/no) (auction/caution, soiled/solid). The child has difficulty finding the words he wants to say or remembering the words to songs. The child has difficulty remembering the sequence of the alphabet, months of the year, number patterns, etc. The child confuses the concepts of right and left. The child has a poor concept of time and difficulty sequencing tasks. The child makes many spelling errors, even when copying. The child may have poor handwriting. What do the experts say? "We tell people not to take a 'wait and see' approach," Pamela Hook, PhD, president of the Massachusetts Branch of MABIDA and associate professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, said. "Early and appropriate intervention is critical and will greatly increase your child's academic success and self esteem. However, for older individuals with dyslexia it is never too late to learn to read, process and express information more efficiently." Many parents of struggling readers, however, are simply unaware of the appropriate interventions for their children, are confused about the specific type of professional help to seek, haven't yet recognized the early signs of a learning disability or simply expect their child will somehow "outgrow" their reading difficulty. What resources are available for help? If you have questions about dyslexia, please contact MABIDA at (617) 650-0011 or www.dyslexia-ma.org. In addition, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has published a free fact sheet for parents titled "Is My Child Dyslexic?" describing many of the early signs of this specific learning disorder. The organization also distributes a free "Matrix of Multisensory Structured Language Programs" which compares the similarities and differences among various, evidence-based reading instruction approaches used throughout the U.S. The early-signs fact sheet, "Matrix of Multisensory Structured Language Programs," and many others are available as a free download on IDA's Web site at www.interdys.org/FactSheets.htm.

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