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A Compassionate Approach to Dyslexia Awareness

Dr. Michael Hart shares his insights in a Dyslexia Awareness Month Q&A

As many educators and parents are aware, October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. This month presents a valuable time for educators, experts, parents, and individuals living with dyslexia to share their insights, stories, and successes. What questions do you have about dyslexia? Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #DyslexiaAwareness and #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth, or tweet at today’s guest expert, @drmichaelhart, to share your thoughts and contributions.

In this Dyslexia Awareness Q&A, international literacy expert Dr. Michael Hart, founder of True Literacy, shares information to correct some of the things that are misunderstood about dyslexia, strategies for educators to support their dyslexic students, his message of encouragement for parents and family members, and more. 

Q: What are the one or two things that you believe are most commonly misunderstood about dyslexia today, and what message would you want to share with educators, parents and/or students to increase their awareness of the reality?

Dr. Hart: One of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of dyslexia is that people “grow out of it.”  In fact, dyslexia is a lifelong challenge that may manifest differently depending on the environment in which the person is operating.  

During the K-12 school years it is really important to recognize that, even if the student receives intensive support early on, issues with decoding multisyllabic words and fluency may impact how well a student can keep up as the demands of the classroom increase over the years.  Ultimately, if the student is struggling with some of the more basic skills of reading, comprehension will suffer because all their energy is being used to sound out words and read fluently.  

Q: How does dyslexia relate to other language and reading challenges? Are there others that are commonly confused with dyslexia?

Dr. Hart: Probably the most common issue with dyslexia and other language issues occurs when we have to parse out a specific diagnosis of dyslexia with auditory processing disorder.  It is quite possible that a person could struggle with both but it is important to note that they are two distinct issues.  

Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference that results in poor skills in reading, writing and spelling.  An auditory processing disorder is a broader based challenge with processing sounds in the overall central auditory processing system. While both dyslexia and auditory processing disorder share many surface-based symptoms, they are quite different.  As a consequence it is really important to explore and address both issues so that treatment intervention is properly targeted.  

Q: What are one or two notable strategies all educators should understand, so they are equipped to meet the needs of students with dyslexia?

Dr. Hart: There are decades of evidence-based research that support the main strategy of providing intensive, extensive, explicit, and multisensory instruction in the classroom. In fact, this is a useful and effective strategy for students whether they have dyslexia or not. It’s just good teaching. 

Perhaps as important is the strategy of being kind, patient, and compassionate with our dyslexic kids. The more teachers educate themselves about the challenges of learning to read, write, and spell for dyslexic people, the easier it will be to cultivate the patience and compassion our kids deserve. This is not to say that our students should not be held accountable but it means the adults must take the responsibility of understanding the neurobiological challenges our students face.  

Q: What is your message to parents and family members who are just learning about dyslexia and preparing to help their child succeed?

Dr. Hart: The absolutely most critical thing a parent and other family members should do is educate themselves as much as possible about what dyslexia is and how to best treat it. With knowledge, parents are armed with the information they need to make informed decisions about their child’s care. In addition, they will likely need to serve as the key advocate as they work with the school team to develop an intervention plan.  

Sadly, the majority of educators globally have not been provided with the proper education, training and experience to manage dyslexia in their classrooms. The reality is that both parents and educators are learning together and hopefully will support each other.  

Q: Thinking forward, what would you like to see change in the way the world views and supports people with dyslexia?

Dr. Hart: Many of us who are professionals in the world of dyslexia have been working for years to continue to help others understand what it is like to have dyslexia and how easy it is to misunderstand a student’s struggles. If we take the time to understand the neuroscience behind dyslexia and that we know what to do in the classroom, our worldview will make it easier to do a better job supporting our students.  

With education comes compassion and understanding. With compassion comes patience. It is critical to understand that it is the adults’ job to understand how to organize around the child’s needs rather than expect them to organize around us.  

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