Written by: Marielle Potvin

May 27, 2015

There was no reason to believe this boy was dyslexic, the symptoms of dyslexia being very hard to discern before a child starts school.

Early Signs

Alex’s development seemed quite regular and was uneventful until his first year of school. He had learned to speak, potty train and to walk at a normal age and without incident. In kindergarten, his teacher had perceived a few difficulties in terms of phonological awareness, but nothing major.

And so, Alex started grade one. After only a few weeks, he started losing his motivation. In the morning, he was less and less enthusiastic about going to school. At night, homework time was becoming increasingly problematic.

Suspecting Dyslexia

With Christmas came the first report card, and by then, most of the children in Alex’s class could already read. He, on the other hand, was still struggling with his letter-sound correspondence.

Homework only became more time consuming, as the boy’s parents tried to help their son catch up in class. Eventually, his teacher requested that the boy be followed by the school’s remedial teacher. In January, Alex began to see the learning difficulties specialist twice a week with three other classmates also struggling with the similar issues.  

Everyone regained confidence at this point. These difficulties could not last... and it was still to early to start talking about dyslexia.  

And yet, right before spring break in March, Alex’s parents received a correspondence from the remedial teacher in which she reported the following observations:

  • Your child’s progress is slow;
  • He only recognizes a few letter (with help):
  • Alex reverses the letters b and d, or p and q when reading or writing;
  • He shows little interest in the activities suggested;
  • He recognizes few labelling words and struggles when writing his name.
  • We have to keep encouraging him!

Can School Staff Identify Dyslexia?

The teacher informed Alex’s parents that with effort and a little more maturity, the situation could resolve itself over the school year.

Unfortunately, the year finally ended for Alex with seemingly little or no change. What an understatement; Alex’s attitude had drastically changed. He was far from the bright-eyed boy who had seen the first day of school as an adventure. His self-perception and confidence had been severely affected. He was now prone to self-criticism, seeing himself as less intelligent than the other kids in his class.

Meanwhile, his parents were losing faith. Rewards and promises had done nothing to improve the veritable ordeal homework time had become. In the last months before school ended, they had received several notes from school saying their son hadn’t studied enough or that he had again failed this test or another.

Although Alex hadn’t completely acquired the writing and reading skills expected from children in first grade, he could perform fairly well in other subjects, therefore he was enrolled in grade two the following fall.

This time, meetings with the remedial teacher began in September. But again, the school year was proving to be as challenging as the first had been.

Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder?

Today, more often than not, an attention deficit disorder is suspected before dyslexia, as it was the case for Alex. Following the teacher’s recommendation, his parents brought him to a pediatrician to get evaluated. The doctor has Alex’s teacher and parents fill out a questionnaire to assess the boy’s level of attention. The results were clear: Alex had no attention deficit.

The boy’s parents therefore did some research online to discover if their son might have a learning difficulty called dyslexia. They came across a website explaining that dyslexia alters the way the brain processes spoken and written language, and that dyslexia is a mix between prefix “dys-“ (which refers to something difficult) and the suffix “-lexis”, meaning “speech” or “word” according to the Oxford dictionary.

Dyslexia is therefore a permanent disorder rather than a temporary difficulty. This disorder specifically targets language skills and affects 8 to 12 percent of the population (in varying degrees of severity). There is strong evidence to support dyslexia being of neurobiological origin with probable genetic cause.

Who Can Diagnose Dyslexia and When?

Alex’s parents decided to follow the recommendation of reliable websites on dyslexia and scheduled an appointment with a neuropsychologist.

It must be said that the cost of the neurological assessment can exceed $1,200. However, many insurance plans cover these costs (or part of them), as it was the case for Alex’s parents.

The waiting period was rather short, but Alex’s appointment had to be pushed back, since dyslexia and dysorthography can only be diagnosed in children who have been in the education system for at least two years.

Not long before his neurological evaluation, Alex’s report card came in, providing his parents with further information regarding his academic progress:

Reading Skills:

  • Reading is slow and hesitant (letter-sound correspondence and breaking words down into syllables seems an impossible challenge);
  • Shows even greater difficulty with words less frequently used and reads these in a very a segmented manner;
  • Non-phonetic or irregular words, which cannot be sounded out because they aren’t spelled the way they are pronounced, such as said or board pose a persistent challenge and are often not read correctly;
  • Often mixes up parts of words so that they come out in the wrong sequence;
  • Resorts to guessing words based on their appearance rather than reading them (he will read food instead of fork).

Writing Skills:

  • Alex has trouble matching the correct letters or letter-combinations to their corresponding sound.
  • He often inverts/reverses letters or substitutes one letter for another, such as “f” for “v”.
  • Omits, adds or changes the sequence of letters in words (four for flour or bargage for garbage);
  • Groups words together or divides them when unnecessary (all in all becomes alinal).
  • In sum, Alex systematically writes based on sound.

Thankfully, Alex was diagnosed at an early age. He will be able to start third grade knowing dyslexia is the source of the difficulties listed above, and that these problems can be worked on with appropriate strategies.  Accordingly, teachers will now be able to adapt their activities to Alex’s needs, and he will be provided with some advanced software created specifically for dyslexics to improve their comprehension of written texts (by reading out loud PDF files) or his writing skills.

Now that Alex will be equipped with the right tools and follow his personalized intervention plan, hope has been restored. He can resume his academic path alongside his peers and with the same opportunities, like all children with dyslexia (be it mild, moderate or severe).


Useful Links:

Marielle Potvin, Remedial Teacher
Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marielle.potvin
Email: marielle.potvin@gmail.com
Marielle Potvin on Google+

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