Dyslexia discussion part of Social Equity Lecture Series

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 at 5:23 PM

Do you remember that student from grade school who had trouble recognizing words during in-class reading assignments? Was there a student who had to sound out every letter in words while reading out loud? These are symptoms of dyslexia, which that student may have had, even if not formally diagnosed. 

On March 1, Dr. Heather A. Kenny talked the symptoms of dyslexia, the misconceptions of the disorder and what is being done to change it in a presentation called “Demystifying Dyslexia.” The presentation was part of the Social Equity Lecture Series, in which talks are held in the Pogue Student Center Theater. 

Kenny has been at Edinboro for nine years teaching early childhood education and reading development. Before working at Edinboro, she worked for 15 years as a professional educator and was an advisor to the Ontario Ministry of Education. Additionally, she has co-authored two books and written a number of journals and articles. 

Not much is commonly known about dyslexia and many myths surround the disorder, causing those with dyslexia to experience shame, humiliation and bullying in the class and workforce. 

One in five people have dyslexia, a learning disability that not only impacts their ability to learn how to read, but also how they see the world, Kenny said.

Well-known figures who were either thought to be dyslexic, or are medically or self-diagnosed with the condition include: Agatha Christie, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon and Steve Jobs. 

“The dyslexic brain brought us electricity, cars and the iPhone,” Kenny said. 

Dyslexia is displayed by “difficulties with accurate and/or fluent work recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities,” Kenny explained, quoting the International Dyslexia Association’s definition. 

Kenny then went on to debunk some myths linked to the disability, one being that dyslexic people are not intelligent. This has been proven false, she explained, repeatedly by the many members of society with dyslexia who have excelled in their chosen fields and created great feats of science, engineering and art. 

Other common myths are that dyslexia is more common in boys, people with dyslexia cannot read and those with dyslexia see their words backwards. 

All of these have been proven false, she stated. 

In a study done by Dr. Sally Shaywitz for Yale University in 2004, it was found that there is “no significant difference in the prevalence of reading disability in boys and girls.”

People with dyslexia can read, as well. The difficulty comes with how the brain processes letters, Kenny said. 

In a dyslexic brain, the words and letters do not move around as is commonly thought. Instead, the brain just has a hard time distinguishing between similar letters such as “p,” “q,” “b” and “d.”

Kenny went on to explain that the people on her list of famous dyslexics have one huge thing in common: their dyslexia makes them different than the rest of the world. 

Although dyslexics often have a hard time with fine details such as individual letters and letter sounds, they can step back and see the entire forest instead of just the trees, Kenny explained. Therefore, many people with dyslexia are scientists and engineers able to solve incredibly complex problems that, sometimes, have not even been thought of yet, she said. 

Efforts are currently being made in the state of Pennsylvania to diagnose children with dyslexia earlier so work can be done to ensure that they do not fall behind in reading or spelling. 

The hope with these efforts, said Kenny, is that future generations of children who are slower readers will not be subjected to humiliation and the shame of carrying a misunderstood learning disability. 

Hannah McDonald can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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