Learning to understand dyslexia

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TRUMAN?- These are samples of what people with dyslexia see when they try to read.

Dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder, is the most common learning disorder, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It hinders a person’s ability to read, write and spell, regardless of their level of intelligence.

Basically, certain areas in the brain don’t communicate with each other to process information. Diagnosis is scientific, and solutions are educational, according to the Reading Center in Rochester, a non-profit organization that helps students with dyslexia.

Throughout the world, there are more than 70 names used to describe its causes or characterizations, and it affects about 1 in 5 people.

Dyslexia often goes undetected until a child’s reading assignments evolve from picture books, when they can no longer “bluff” their way through assignments.

Melissa Steuber’s son, Matthew, was midway through his first-grade year, a time when reading assignments had become more difficult, when she sought answers to his learning frustration. The Reading Center staff, a pediatrician and psychologist agreed with his diagnosis of dyslexia.

It often is referred to as “the gift of dyslexia” because individuals with the learning disability often possess superior skills in other areas.

Steuber points out that her husband, Mark, who also has dyslexia, is a top-notch mechanic. At the age of 9, he took apart a lawnmower and modified it.

“That man can fix anything,” Steuber said of her husband, who now is a mechanic at Rabe International.

“In a way, it is a gift,” she said. “Thirty percent of all people that have their own business are dyslexic. Over 50 percent of NASA engineers are dyslexic.”

Some of the most famous celebrities in the entertainment industry are dyslexic. Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg share the learning disability. The music industry list includes Cher, Ozzy Osbourne and John Lennon. Sports figures Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, Bruce Jenner and Nolan Ryan are dyslexic. Henry Ford was dyslexic, and so were three U.S. presidents: Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and George Washington. Even Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were dyslexic.

The list of names is proof that most people diagnosed with dyslexia possess above-average intelligence. This intelligence can mask the learning disability, and students use coping skills to hide the fact they are not reading at grade level, Steuber said.

An advocate for educating people about dyslexia, Steuber cites data to support the importance of early diagnosis of learning disabilities. The National Institutes of Health has released research results indicating students not proficient at reading by the beginning of third grade have only a 25 percent chance of catching up over their entire public school experience.

A teen with learning disabilities is twice as likely to drop out of high school, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

According to the National Institute for Literacy, 43 percent of Americans with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty and 75 percent of unemployed adults have difficulty with reading and writing.

In America’s prisons, 70 percent of inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level.

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