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Let's talk about Dyslexia

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

First let's talk about Neurodiversity

It is important, to understand that slower rates of development does not equal to your child having a neurodevelopmental disorder. It may just be that their brains is just designed a little bit differently! Because of this, some delays may be observed in a child, but overtime they can catch up and carry on with their normal development.

This is something that we need to continually keep in mind when we speak of such topics because although it is completely justifiable, many parents often feel very concerned when their child does not seem to be developing the same way or at the same rate as other children.

In some cases, parents compare a child with a faster rate of development to their own children. They may question or wonder why it is that their child is not: speaking yet, having conversations or making friends easily. But, we need to keep in mind that every brain works differently and will develop at its own pace. We cannot and should not place a child against the standard of another.

Neurodiversity in relation to neurodevelopmental conditions teaches us that each person's brain is unique and different traits (or symptoms) are expressed in differently. Hence, we should stay mindful of this while reading this post or other posts I put on this blog. These are not meant to be guidelines to be used to diagnose your child or loved ones. These are here for educational purposes and to raise awareness about these different types of conditions.

What is Dyslexia?

Look at this image and tell me what you see.

Did you find it difficult to read or wonder what in the world you are reading? Maybe it even gave you a slight headache.

This is a glimpse into the experience of Dyslexia. Of course it does not always look like this (remember neurodiversity).

Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental condition that falls under the range of conditions that are referred to as a Specific Learning Disorders (SLD's) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders Fifth Edition. Dyslexia mainly impacts reading: decoding and reading fluency. Meaning it affects mainly accurate and/or fluent word recognition and in most cases spelling. Dyslexia occurs due to a significant deficit in phonological processing and awareness which is basically a difficulty in the awareness of and the ability to manipulate individual sounds of language.

Cases in clinical settings in Seychelles have shown that in a lot of cases GP's have advised parents to get their child prescription glasses when they expereince issues with reading and writting. Hence, the difficulties experienced due to dyslexia is commonly misdiagnosed as visual impairment. However, this is not true, because unless the child does have some visual difficulties that would require them to use glasses (seperate from the Dyslexia) most children with Dyslexia have perfectly good vision. In Dyslexia, the problem does not lie with vision but instead has to do with the processing of words and making sense of it. As a result a person with Dyslexiahas difficulty to learn in the conventional way: Read what is on the blackboard or in books and written schoolwork, exams, or assessments.

Eg: Say a teacher ask his/her students to pronounce words like “Forever together”. A child with dyslexia can find this difficult to do that, not because they don’t know how to read or have an intellectual disability but simply because it is difficult for them to put these letters and words together. Hence, the child needs to break the word ‘forever’ and "together" into parts so that they can read it. 

It is easier for a child with dyslexia to decode one syllable words and phrases (such as chase, stake and good) rather than longer word and phrases with more syllables.

How common is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia can affect 1 in 5 individuals in a population affecting 5–10% of school-aged children (dependent on the diagnostic criteria) (Pennington and Bishop, 2009). In the case of Seychelles, I cannot say with complete certainty what the prevalence is due to lack of information and statistics. Nonetheless, based on global statistics Dyslexia is quite common.

Dyslexia usually runs in families whereby 40-60% of people inherited it from their parents (Raskind et al., 2013). Usually you find that if a close family member has difficulties with reading and spelling, this increases the likelihood of having another family member that has similar issues or issues with decoding and understanding the meaning of words. A recent study by Gialluisi et al., (2020) has also shown the link between Dyslexia and ADHD. They also found links between Dyslexia and mental health conditions such as schizphrenia and bipolar disorder.

Dyslexia also functions on a spectrum (like autism) so it can range from mild to moderate to severe. Milder forms of dyslexia might look like an individual being able to read most words but having difficulties with some words or letters. By contrast, severe dyslexia may look like finding it extremely hard for the individual to read, write and spell.

The neurobiology behind Dyslexia

How does Dyslexia look in the brain? Let’s start with the basics.

The brain has 2 hemispheres (or you can call it sides). The left hemisphere is responsible for language, reading and the processing of language. About 92% of people use this part of their brain to learn, to talk, read and understand words. The right hemisphere is responsible for our creativity, spatial ability, and our music, and artistic skills. Most individuals are left hemisphere dominant meaning they use their left hemisphere more.

MRI studies show that individuals with Dyslexia are more right hemisphere dominant. For this reason, it takes them more time to process letters, words, phrases, or languages because the information needs to travel all the way through the right hemisphere before it reaches the left hemisphere. When a person that does not have Dyslexia reads; the areas responsible for reading in the left hemisphere becomes very active. The opposite is observed in individuals with dyslexia where the right hemisphere is seen as active.

These brain images of the left hemisphere show activation patterns of readers with and without dyslexia. While each individual is unique and there are large individual differences, typical readers tend to have more activation in the areas that are important for reading. Individuals with dyslexia tend to show more activation in the frontal regions but weaker in the rear systems.

(Source: Hoeft brainLENS Lab)

What does this mean for a person with Dyslexia?

The difficulties that come with Dyslexia often makes it difficult for someone with Dyslexia to go through and adjust to the traditional education system of listening to the teacher, lecturer or professor, reading from the blackboard or book and copying. People with Dyslexia may find school or university stressful, anxiety inducing and frustrating (sometimes they do not reach university or tertiary education due to these reasons). In the classrooms teachers can mistakenly label a dyslexic child as naughty, deviant or lazy; especially if they refuse to do schoolwork because it's too challenging.

Children with Dyslexia can find it hard to keep up with peers. It can be especially

challenging for them when they get constant criticism and negative labelling from teachers and parents. This is often the case when parents and teachers are not well versed in Dyslexia and understanding it. This can greatly impact on the child's self-esteem, self confidence and motivation to learn.

It is important then for parents and educators to be more informed and trained on how to work with and understand a child with Dyslexia.

Are children with Dyslexia able to succeed academically?

Simple answer: Yes, but only with the right tools and interventions in place.

The information given above shows that people with Dyslexia have difficulty learning in conventional ways. However, this does not mean that a child with Dyslexia cannot learn, as a matter a fact many children and adults with Dyslexia are very bright and intelligent. They can learn to read, learn languages, and can definitely progress to higher education. Having Dyslexia does not mean that they won’t succeed academically. It simply means that we need to catered for differently. It will require providing them with the services and resources they will need to continue their studies and give them the same chances as someone who does not have Dyslexia.

Due to the way the brain of a person with Dyslexia functions, students with Dyslexia usually excel in areas that involves critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, forming concepts, having an extensive vocabulary, comprehension, conversational and listening skills. Therefore, you find that a lot of people with Dyslexia excel in fields such as sports, entrepreneurship, architecture, coaching, motivational speaking and engineering.

Just to give you a bit more context. When I was studying, I knew someone who I found out had Dyslexia. At the time, I had a very limited understanding about Dyslexia. Once he explained it to me, I understood how amazing it was that he was a First Class Bachelors degree holder (and also very good at sports). He explained to me that the reason he was so good at sports is because when he started school they did not understand that he had Dyslexia and he was neglected academically. He decided to devote all his focus into sports. Nonetheless, throughout the years the teachers eventually started to get invest in him and identified that he had Dyslexia. He was offered a specialized program for children with learning disabilities and was able to do his GCSE’S, A levels and later obtained a bachelor’s degree. He aims to pursue his master’s degree where he aspires to become a sports science specialist or a coach for Olympic swimmers. This shows you that even though he has Dyslexia, he wasn’t limited by it. He shifted his focus, at some point received the help he needed and his academic difficulties pushed him to a field in which im sure he will be very successful.

I personally feel that in Seychelles our government needs to invest in such specific and specialized programs for the benefit of students that have Dyslexia. Dyslexia is still not a topic we are discussing and addressing but nevertheless it does exist in Seychelles. A lot of children with Dyslexia (across the world) are often disregarded and cast aside in the education system and they are not catered for due to their difficulties.

Early identification and intervention often is the best way to minimize the educational impact of Dyslexia. Hence, there needs to be an overall increase in the awareness of and proper assessment of Dyslexia in Seychelles especially in schools. For this to happen, we need more trained teachers that can provide appropriate instruction that targets the underlying phonological processing deficits that characterises Dyslexia.

I will end with some very famous figures that you may know that has dyslexia. This includes Cher, Pablo Picasso, Steven Spielberg, and Muhammad Ali. Cher is an American singer, actress and television personality. Picasso was an artist that, to this day, generations later, is one of the most world-renowned artists. Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest movie directors that has directed blockbusters such as Star Wars and Avatar. Muhammad Ali one of the best known boxers of all time. Even one of my university professors, a neurologist, was also dyslexic. This shows you how great of a future a child with dyslexia can have if we provide them with the proper resources they need.

Contact a psychologist at our private practise to book your appointment

International Dyslexia Association 

Pennington BF, Bishop DVM. Relations among speech, language, and reading disorders. Annu Rev Psychol. 2009;60:283306.

Raskind WH, Peter B, Richards T, Eckert MM, Berninger VW. The genetics of reading disabilities: from phenotypes to candidate genes. Front Psychol. 2013;3:120.

Gialluisi, A., Andlauer, T.F.M., Mirza-Schreiber, N. et al. Genome-wide association study reveals new insights into the heritability and genetic correlates of developmental dyslexia. Mol Psychiatry (2020).

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