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Brain Research, Reading and Dyslexia

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By Diana Moore, M.L.S.

Citing the National Research Council book, Dr. Shaywitz outlined the following key steps in reading development (which are usually achieved in grades K-3):

  • Print awareness
  • Recognize letter shapes and names
  • Know spoken words come apart into small sounds
  • Know sounds are represented by letters
  • Blend sounds together
  • Process larger letters and units
  • Develop automaticity, fluency
  • Develop comprehension strategies.

Known risk factors for preschoolers include:

  • Heredity
  • Late talking
  • Difficulty learning and recognizing rhyme
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Difficulty finding the right word in speech
  • Difficulty learning letters

Dr. Shaywitz discussed ways in which phonemic awareness could be developed and measured and suggested important components of kindergarten screening. She stressed the importance of direct, explicit instruction that is systematic, sequential, and supportive.

Finally, she addressed the importance of adopting a lifespan approach to learning and disability management. While young children may benefit from intervention, young adults learn best with accommodations (such as extra time). Accommodations allow youth and adults to access their "sea of strengths." While LD adults do not have decoding skills, they compensate by using reasoning, concept formation, comprehension, general knowledge, critical thinking, vocabulary, and problem solving skills.

Dr. Shaywitz went on to propose a "bill of rights" for learning disabled college students , which included:

  • Not requiring new diagnoses for the previously identified disabled student
  • Recognizing prevalence and not limiting numbers of disabled
  • Protecting privacy

Finally, Dr. Shaywitz discussed various pitfalls of standardized testing and supported the idea of extra time for LD students taking standardized tests. She cites the recent Boston University case which questioned the fairness of accommodations for learning disabled students. "Accommodations, by themselves, do not promote success; accommodations only act as a catalyst that allows success."

Comments from readers

"Dr. Allington is a respected researcher, but his statements in the article are certainly unfortunate. He is correct, however, in promoting the idea that with the right scientific reading interventions you can alleviate reading difficulties (known to many of us as dyslexia/LD). For those of you whose children (or friends) are directly affected by this, I'd encourage you to contact the school district directly. -Kristin Stanberry, GreatSchools Staff"
"The school district where I live recently brought Dr. Richard Allington to speak to administrators and teachers. The Baltimore Sun reports that this man stated that there is no such thing as a learning disability or dyslexia. My friend has a child in this system. What can be done to address this problem in the school district. The article made it seem that the superintendent supported the statements of this man. Is it true?"
"Would you consider responding to the Baltimore Sun article regarding Richard Allington's recent visit. The article cites Allingtn as a national expert who says 'there is no such thing as a learning disability.' I heard his claim and then was saddened to see it published in an article that seems to give his point of view as a national expert great weight. I hate to see this go unanswered. Why would BCPS endorse such a view?"
"I am the teacher of high school ld students. I did not learn to read until the 8th grade. I have discoverd a group of six -9th grade students, limited English Proficent, that do not know how to decode. I am using the REWARDS program with a great deal of success. But, what do I do now to continue with the progress I am makeing? We have bonded!! I have investigated the what every - graded should know. There is so much that they have missed out on by not being able to read. As we decode words in REWARDS that they do not know we stop and look them up on the web. We then act them out, (Kinesthetic learning is a strength for 4 of them), then write them on a card with the definition draw as a cartoon of the action, on the reverse side. Should I start teaching them the parts of speech? Should I start reading aloud an enjoyable book? Should I read for a while and then leave them with a cliff hanger to encourage their desire to read? Sincerely Alicia Steven RSP teacher ! Franklin High School L. A. CA "
"This is an out standing article that I have and will be recommending to parents and teachers as I go about my job of providing therapy to dyslexic students in public schools. "