Convinced he’s “not smart,” 6-year-old Nicolas from Hunterdon County identifies classmates by the costumes they wore on Halloween, and composes pictures instead of sentences in his writing journal.

Hayden, a 12-year-old from Hamilton, rattles off the era, eating habits, and physical descriptions of dinosaurs, but labors to read books about them. Hayden formerly couldn’t see the difference between adding numbers and multiplying them.

Daniel, 18, from Lawrenceville, has struggled with spelling since kindergarten and can’t solve basic math equations without a calculator.

These children are all highly intelligent, and all share another trait: dyslexia, a learning disability that affects reading, writing, and spelling, and often results in difficulties with sequencing and speaking.

“It really impairs them across the board,” says Audrey Mainzer, Hayden’s mom. “If you can’t read, you can’t really do anything.”

But “it’s definitely not a lack of intelligence,” says Dee Rosenberg, president of the New Jersey branch of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). After all, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, and Albert Einstein were all thought to have had dyslexia.

click the next page for Dyslexic Children – Know the Symptoms

Dyslexic Children – Know the Symptoms

Misunderstood as a disorder that causes people to read backwards—and as something kids “grow out of”—dyslexia as a diagnosis can encompass a variety of symptoms.

  • Trouble learning letters and their sounds
  • May have had difficulty learning to speak
  • Difficulty organizing written and spoken language
  • Trouble memorizing number facts
  • Difficulty reading quickly enough to comprehend
  • Trouble persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
  • Difficulty spelling
  • Trouble learning a foreign language
  • Difficulty correctly doing math operations
  • Often can't fathom directions like left and right
  • Difficulty repeating a story they've just heard
  • Difficulty with word recall
  • Trouble remembering when prompted to recall names, dates, and facts, including their address or telephone number.

Dyslexic children usually can’t recognize relationships in language—like words that rhyme or begin with the same letter.  When speaking, they may interchange words that sound alike, like tangerine and tambourine.

“By kindergarten, all children should be able to learn letter names and identify the sounds associated with those letters,” Rosenberg says. “If they can’t, that’s a big red flag.”

While it’s normal for kids to write letters in reverse (“b” for “d,” for example), for kids older than 8, reverse writing can signal dyslexia.

Dyslexic kids may lose enthusiasm for school, and may express their frustration by misbehaving in class or lashing out against siblings who can breeze through homework.

Not all students who have difficulties with these skills are dyslexic. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.

click the next page to Find the Causes of Dyslexia

Causes of Dyslexia

According to the National Institutes of Health, dyslexia affects up to 20 percent of Americans. But what causes it? Gordon Sherman, Ph.D, executive director of the Newgrange School and Educational Center in Princeton, is a neuroscientist who studied the basis of dyslexia in the human brain. “We know that it’s caused by a connectional architecture of the brain. It’s not abnormal, just different,” he says.

Though it can range from mild to severe, there’s a proven genetic component. For example, Daniel’s father also battles the disability, as does his twin sister, to a lesser degree.

There are categories, including primary, developmental, and trauma. Then there are specific types: phonological, orthographic, double deficit, auditory, visual, and surface.

Dyslexia is often augmented by dysgraphia, marked by motor and processing weaknesses, and/or dyscalculia, difficulty with spatial and numerical relationships. It’s even been linked to ADHD.

Suspect your child might be exhibiting signs of dyslexia? See page 4

Dyslexia – Evaluation & Diagnosis

Parents who suspect that their child might be exhibiting signs of dyslexia or another language-based learning difference are likely to recount stories of family members who question their parenting skills, doctors assuring them their child is “normal,” or teachers who are  unfamiliar with the disability. Yet, it’s crucial to intervene the moment they suspect a problem. The earlier a child receives intervention the sooner he or she can get on the path to successful learning.

If your child passes eye and hearing exams, schedule conferences with your child’s teacher, head of school, guidance counselor or pediatrician and express your concerns. Don't be afraid to request a formal evaluation of your child by a professional or a referral for testing to confirm a diagnosis of dyslexia or another language-based learning difference.

“If you have those nagging qualms, get your child help as early as possible. Early intervention staves off the full expression of dyslexia,” says Dr. Francie Matthews, a certified learning disabilities teacher-consultant in Westfield and past president of the New Jersey branch of the IDA. Once a child is diagnosed, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be tailored to his needs, so teachers and other service providers can help him learn effectively.

Various specialized educational institutions and learning approaches have emerged since dyslexia was first acknowledged as a learning disability in the 1960s. In addition, there are resources like LDonline, discussion forums, conferences, books, and events of the IDA that parents can turn to for information and support.

Having dyslexia doesn’t mean your child will never learn to read, attend college, or land a job. Have a positive attitude. He may struggle with confidence issues and require special learning tools and techniques, but a dyslexic child can thrive. “They may not be ‘typical’ kids,” Mainzer says, “but they still bring you a lot of joy and help you grow as a parent—and a person.” Children with dyslexia are bright, capable and able to go on to college and successful careers. If your child has dyslexia it simply means that he or she learns differently. Many top CEOs, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

What can a parent do?


Dyslexia – How Parents Can help

Here’s how to help a child with dyslexia blossom in school and at home:

Use technology.

Take advantage of technology like iPads, digital textbooks often help too. Both Live Scribe Smart Pen and Dragon Naturally Speaking offers a way for dyslexics children to save time and overcome some of the issues they may encounter because of their dyslexia, such as slow note taking or unreadable handwriting. These assistive technologies allow them to use their time for all the things in which they are gifted. For dyslexic students, technology opens doors and allows them to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that were unimaginable in the past.The digital world can be a much better fit for dyslexic people.

Build self-esteem.

Nurture talent, whether in art, athletics, or music. Sally Shaywitz, M.D., author of Overcoming Dyslexia (Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004) who is the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at the Yale University School of Medicine and the co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, says dyslexia is a weakness in reading surrounded by “a sea of strengths.”

Encourage learning.

Read aloud to your children. Include them in adult conversations in the car, at the dinner table, when discussing an important issue. Dyslexic children typically develop strong listening skills. When you engage them in discussions this helps them build their knowledge and word banks while developing conversation skills.  It challenges children to use higher-level critical thinking skills and vocabulary.  Dyslexics crave context.  Conversations with adults offer children a context for ideas and words, two currencies that they will trade in throughout the remainder of their lives. Allow them access to listen to Public Radio.

Structure daily routines.

Lori, mom to 6-year-old Nicolas, avoids abstract requests like “get ready for bed” in favor of specific instructions (brush teeth, put pajamas on, etc.)

Push for improvement.

Audrey Mainzer gives her son breaks during homework time, but doesn’t let him duck opportunities to read or practice math skills. Avoid books that are below your child’s current reading level.

Educate yourself.

Learn about dyslexia and understand your child’s world and how he learns so you can remain actively involved in his education. Read The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child (Rodale Books, 2002) by Robert Frank, Ph.D., also dyslexic.

Offer encouragement, praise, and patience.

“If we give Hayden 15 seconds to answer a question, he’ll answer it in 16. It may take him longer, but he will get it,” says his mom.

Jennifer L. Nelson is a freelancer from Kenilworth, NJ who writes about parenting and health.