[Editor’s note: This is the final post of a four-part series on dyslexia. Links to the other segments are included in the blog.]
Last week, we talked about how parents can work with their dyslexic children to ensure they get the proper support in the home environment. Today, we’re going to talk about one specific aspect of dyslexia – the condition is not confined to sighted individuals but may be present in those who are blind. Dyslexia is a reading disorder, not a visual one, so it doesn’t matter if one reads by sight or by touch. The problem is in the process.
For a dyslexic person, the problem with reading doesn’t necessarily relate to the way a word is seen (or touched); it has to do with the way the word sounds. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, phonemes are the sounds that distinguish one letter from another and make them unique. Since a dyslexic person often has trouble with phonetic recognition, this leads to difficulties with word comprehension.
In addition, according to BrailleSC.org, a South Carolina braille literacy website, “The brain of a person with dyslexia has a timing issue with connecting sounds to meanings.” Dyslexia involves a time lag in phonetic interpretation, not in the recognition of the look or feel of a letter. Dyslexia “does not cause a major impact on normal daily activities, like conversation,” but conversation does not use the same process as reading. The site notes that, in contrast to understanding word meanings in conversations, “reading requires much faster connections to be made.”
Since that is the case, if a person struggles even mildly with the relation between phonemes and their meanings, then reading comprehension becomes more of an overwhelming activity than for the average person. One of the main hurdles here is that reading is a skill that must be learned; it’s not something that’s already embedded within the human brain. We did not start out as a species that knew how to read; we first had to master speech and hearing, and only hundreds of thousands or millions of years later did we begin to assign written marks to the sounds we made.
BrailleSC.org continues that, “Part of what makes dyslexia so hard to understand is that the human brain is not designed to read in the first place.” As children, we learn to speak and verbally communicate before we ever learn to read. This holds true for both sighted and blind individuals. All that differs is the manner in which we read, not in the process of how we read and decode the information on the page.
Dyslexia is a complex disorder that has no easy solutions, only additional skills that must be mastered to help individuals overcome it. By studying the adaptive process of reading, we can gain greater insights into the process of reading comprehension. And by understanding how blind people can be dyslexic, we can gain critical information as to the real struggles that underlie the dyslexic brain.
Note: Dyslexia, as it is usually described, does not appear in deaf individuals who learn spoken language, though a new study showed that over half have difficulty reading as severe as dyslexic students when entering secondary education. Dr Ros Herman, reader in deafness and communication at City University and one of the authors of this new study, clarified the nature of the problem by saying, “Deaf children typically learn spoken language later and therefore have a problem understanding language, so that makes it harder for them to learn to read. They need more support and some of this should be specialised support, of the type that dyslexic children receive.”
 SecEd (27 February 2014). Dyslexia interventions could help deaf students. Retrieved from http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/dyslexia-interventions-could-help-deaf-students/
To read Part 1 of this series, click here.
To read Part 2 of this series, click here.