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Why Can’t My Child Read?

He May be Suffering from “Dysteachia”

by Ellen Hurst

As many as 15 percent to 20 percent of the US school population demonstrates a significant reading disability. But ask the superintendent of one of Atlanta’s school systems and she will tell you and The Atlanta Journal that her system has NO dyslexic children.

The director of special education for another system estimated that only about one in eight of the school district’s disabled students had a reading-based disability. The district will not diagnose dyslexia, and a private diagnosis won’t affect decisions about any special educational support. She stated that children with dyslexia won’t get extra help even if they’re not meeting their own potential.  This means that between 15 percent to 20 percent of the children in the each of her classrooms may have some form of reading disability without proper research-based intervention.

The symptoms of reading disabilities may include slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing or difficulty with comprehension. Whether or not these individuals qualify for special educational services is uncertain, but what is certain is that if something is not done in a timely manner, these children are likely to struggle with many aspects of the learning process and most probably turn their backs to the process of reading.

The fundamental and powerful assumptions of our culture regarding literacy are that it is inherently good for the individual, good for the culture, difficult to acquire and should be transmitted in classrooms. If literacy is difficult to acquire, then it becomes necessary to create a multitude of reasons to explain why some read better than others, as well as the cultural imperative to label as inferior those individuals who have poor reading skills. The consequence of believing that literacy is best learned in classrooms enables schools to create a monopoly in which they blindly repeat the same failed instructional practices with the expectation of a different outcome.

A history of learning disabilities (LD) in the United States reveals much about the cultural roles of literacy. Prior to our growing understanding of the exact nature of dyslexia, critics of the diagnosis of dyslexia asserted that it was nothing more than a plausible explanation of why children of privilege and intelligence did not learn to read as expected or a means of securing more time for labeled children on high stakes examinations.

The breakthrough of neuroimaging in children with dyslexia has revealed scientific evidence that individuals with dyslexia have a reduced engagement of the left temporal-parietal cortex for phonological processing of print.  This same neuroimaging technique confirms the plasticity of the brain as it responds to effective intervention. Behavioral and brain measures identify infants and young children at risk for dyslexia regardless of social status. There is hope that a combination of targeted teaching practices and cognitive neuroscience measures could prevent dyslexia from occurring in the majority of children who would otherwise develop serious reading difficulties. To fully explore this phenomenon, it is necessary to understand the complexity of dyslexia and unearth the prevailing misconceptions.

The difficulties and concerns of a parent advocating for the child with reading disabilities are already significant. The confusion and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia only add to the parental dilemma. Unfortunately, there are charlatans who will take emotional and financial advantage of the desperate parents of the reading disabled. Providers of costly vision therapy require parents to commit to 60 – 90 hours of left to right tracking exercises at $90 – $120 per hour. Trendy movement therapy promises improved balance in the body and the brain.

The neighborhood chiropractor is more than willing to lead the dyslexic child through a series of exercises promised to improve reading performance. Strip mall learning centers often charge high rates for computer based instruction which is monitored by rotating tutors with questionable credentials.  The well-meaning but misinformed reading specialist assures the parents that their child’s reading will improve if only they use multicolored overlays on the child’s reading materials.

Estimates of the prevalence of reading disabilities vary widely, ranging from 4 percent to 20 percent of school-aged children. According to these figures, up to 10 million children in the United States have some form of reading disability. Do they all suffer from dyslexia?


The Dyslexia Institute of America describes three distinct types of dyslexia:

Dyseidetic Dyslexia: A type of dyslexia associated with differential brain functions located in the Angular Gyrus of the left parietal lobe of the brain. A person suffering from this type of dyslexia will have:

  • Poor sight-word recognition, contributing to an overall slow and laborious reading experience.
  • Irregular words are both sounded out phonetically (laugh = log) and spelled phonetically (ready = rede).

Dysphonetic Dyslexia: A type of dyslexia associated with differential brain functions located in the Wernicke’s Area of the left temporal and parietal lobes of the brain. A person suffering from this type of dyslexia:

  • Relies on sight recognition to read, being unable to sound out unknown words.
  • During reading, words are either known or not known, and are often substituted or skipped when trouble arises.
  • Words are learned by rote memorization, and cannot be spelled by their sound

Dysphoneidetic Dyslexia: A type of dyslexia associated with a combination of differential brain functions in the Angular Gyrus and the Wernicke’s area. A person suffering from this type of dyslexia will have weak visual-motor skills, and is often the most difficult to treat.

For our purposes, a more universal definition of dyslexia is needed. Going forward dyslexia will be characterized as an unexpected difficulty in reading experienced by children and adults who otherwise possess the intelligence and motivation considered necessary for accurate and fluent reading. The term dyslexia will be used as a broad classification that encompasses all types of reading difficulties. Many of the world’s children suffer from dyslexia, yet very little is known about its causes. New research methods are beginning to shed light on this perplexing question.

The correction of this very serious disability is not simple. In order to seriously address the identification and remediation of dyslexic children, we must first demand all public schools identify and treat dyslexia. This presupposes our teachers are graduating from Schools of Education with adequate knowledge of the teaching of reading. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have created a new population of disabled readers who suffer from “dysteachia”

In order to answer this question – “Why Can’t My Child Read?” – we must delve to the complex reading brain as well as the decades long Reading Wars. This will require the acquisition of the vocabulary of literacy and an understanding of the interaction between memory, attention, and reading. Thus, we begin our journey over the next months to determine why our children can’t read.

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