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Although dyslexia is a life-long neurological disorder that cannot be "outgrown", there are many different strategies that can be used, especially early in academic life to help these individuals.
The early focus (before fifth and sixthth grades) is on "remediation." This means that strategies are employed to assist the child in learning to improve deficits in the particular area of disability, for example reading decoding, reading comprehension, or speed of reading. A child needs to be instructed in how to recognize the sounds of letters, how to identify the letters, and correlate with the sound. Then, focus builds on decoding with abilities to blend sounds into words and break down words into component sounds.
Gradually, a child is taught to focus on the content of the reading material, not merely focussing on individual words, but how to seek out sections which convey meaning for comprehension. The strategy of "guided oral reading" provides feedback to a child so as to identify areas of errors, and teach alternative ways of tackling the task at hand.
A popular and well-researched strategy is "multi-sensory learning." This comprises using auditory, visual, and sometimes tactile strategies to assist a child in recognizing and retaining written material to convey meaning. Material is organized to follow a sequential, logical pattern of learning, building on previously acquired skills or "scaffolding." This is often accomplished by direct instruction from a trained special education professional, individualized to the child's needs.
Some examples of this are the Orton-Gillingham method; and its variations including the Slingerland Method, Spalding Method, Herman Method, Wilson reading program, and several others. These strategies are well understood and used by special education teachers and several regular education teachers as well. There is no perfect strategy, and each must be adapted to fit an individual child's needs. There are no direct comparisons which indicate that one method is preferred over the other.
The advantage of early detection and remediation is that it provides individuals with dyslexia to be able to compensate for deficits and learn appropriate strategies to apply to learning. This helps reduce frustration and other emotional problems. Children need to be monitored even after appropriate interventions are put in place to ensure that they continue to make gains in their learning. This should be done periodically by the teacher and family, but also by a formal review by the school special education team at least annually. This would help to determine if the strategies employed are enabling the child to function more appropriately in the learning environment. If not, additional techniques or exploration of other possible causes of the problem need to be addressed.
Neelkamal S Soares, MD, MBBS, FAAP
Elizabeth A Finley-Belgrad, MD
Mary L Windle, PharmD
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