Child Development

Decoding Dyslexia: Common Misconceptions

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Maria Montessori said, “The child builds his inmost self out of the deeply held impressions he receives.”

Therefore, a ‘labelled’  child carries the impressions others heap on him, for life. Dyslexia is a learning disability plagued by misconceptions. Common labels for children with dyslexia include ‘slow’, ‘unintelligent’ or even worse, ‘stupid’. Some are even left behind, overlooked or ignored in kindergarten or school settings.

What Dyslexia is NOT:

  • Oral language impairment

Individuals with dyslexia have no issues with vocalisation and articulation. Instead, they have a neurobiological disorder which impacts written word pronunciation and spelling.

  • A behavioural or attentional problem

No, dyslexia is not ADD or ADHD. However, issues with attention could stem from inability to understand via conventional teaching methods. It is crucial to grasp the learning style that best resonates with the child.

  • A result of low motivation

It is a neurological disorder. Therefore, motivation or the lack of it does not cause dyslexia. Low motivation can occur in dyslexic children, especially when they are compared to their peers or worse, labelled.

  • An emotional problem

No, it is not an emotional problem. However, studies have shown a link between dyslexia and depression in adolescents. Typically, it stems from labels bestowed in childhood which they carry on for life. Nevertheless, emotional problems do not cause this disorder.

  • Autism or Schizophrenia

Not all learning challenges are the same. Dyslexia is unique in itself. It is not uncommon for people to associate one disability with another. Nonetheless, co-morbidity is possible. This is when an individual faces two learning challenges whereby one is not caused by the other. For example, dyslexic individuals could also have ADHD.

  • Limited intelligence

When a person is dyslexic, it does not mean they are not intelligent. On the contrary, those with dyslexia have normal to above average IQ scores. In fact, some famous personalities with dyslexia include Walt Disney, Richard Branson and Albert Einstein.

  • The result of poor teaching or low family income

Blame is the game when something is not right. So when a child has dyslexia, some blame poor teaching or the lack of exposure due to lower family income. This is simply not true. It is a neurological disorder, which simply means that the brain functions differently.

Photo credit: Sarah’s First Grade Snippets (http://snippetsbysarah.blogspot.com/2016/08/reading-and-brain.html)

The picture above illustrates the three regions of a typical brain, which light up when reading. However, the brain of a person with dyslexia, does not function in the same way when reading.

Photo Credit: The Reading Well (https://www.dyslexia-reading-well.com/causes-of-dyslexia.html)

As illustrated above,  the brain of someone with dyslexia is unable to automatically recognise and analyse words.

Indicators of dyslexia

1) Unable to recognise rhyming words

Rhyming words phonetically may not add up for a dyslexic person. Word analysis is tough. The words  “could” and “should” appear as individual words and not rhyming words.

2) Challenged by letter names and sounds

Automatic word recognition is difficult therefore, sounds and letter names are tough. Phonetically, the dyslexic brain finds it difficult to sound out the words they read.

3) Difficulty differentiating letters of similar appearances

Confusing similar looking alphabets is the most widely known sign of this disorder. It is also one of the earliest warning sign.  For example the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ may be used interchangeably.

4) Difficulty with spelling

Spelling may always be a challenge, which dyslexic children carry on into adulthood. However, in this digital age, there are many tools to assist children and even adults with this.

5) Hard to pronounce irregular words

Since sounding out phonetic pronunciations is difficult, irregular words prove challenging. It is quite common for dyslexic children to question the spelling of irregular words e.g. why is “once” not spelled as “wunce” or “one” not spelled as “wan”.

6) Problems with multi-syllabic words

Additionally, words with several syllables become tougher for a dyslexic person to pronounce.

7) Poor reading fluency due to slow word perception

Due to slow word perception, dyslexic children find it hard to read fluently. Dyslexic children with the proper diagnosis may apply for extra time or a “reader” and “writer” for main examinations such as UPSR, PT3 and SPM. This is to enable them a fair chance to perform well in such examinations.

How does one confirm if a child is dyslexic? Always see a paediatrician for a referral.  A Child Development Specialist or Child Psychologist is the best person to diagnose dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a learning disability, not a label for life. Hence, early intervention is key.  


Some helpful links and resources on dyslexia in Malaysia:

Dyslexia Malaysia Association (DMA) or www.dyslexiamalaysia.org.my

Dyslexia Parents Support Group  (PSIDM)

Dyslexia Remedial Centre

“Getting Started with A Special Needs Child” may have some useful information on getting an assessment for dyslexia.

Desiree Kaur was in PR for over 8-years until she found her true calling in the education line. After her son was diagnosed with autism, she decided to pursue her Masters in Special Education. She enjoys writing and advocates inclusion for children of all abilities in every little way possible.