Dyslexia: Where Does the Word Come From and What Does It Mean?

dyslexia-10Dear Sir

Heardy I aply for any posision in your cumpany. I am ninteen years of age and have now cumpleted grabe ten. I am interristed in people and a motivateb person. I dont have any work ecsperience dut I am wiling to lern.

Yours faitfuly.

Mr. R. M. White

When reading the above letter you might think that it was written by someone with a very low intelligence. You are wrong. This person’s intelligence is above average, but he is limited in his ability to read and spell correctly. He is what professionals call dyslexic.

The term dyslexia was introduced in 1884 by the German ophthalmologist, R. Berlin. He coined it from the Greek words dys meaning ill or difficult and lexis meaning word, and used it to describe a specific disturbance of reading in the absence of pathological conditions in the visual organs. In a later publication, in 1887, Berlin stated that dyslexia, “presuming right handedness,” is caused by a left-sided cerebral lesion. He spoke of “word-blindness” and detailed his observations with six patients with brain lesions who had full command over verbal communications but had lost the ability to read.

In the century to follow the narrow definition Berlin attached to the term dyslexia would broaden. By the mid-1970s it was describing a condition of epidemic proportions, and although it had no universally accepted symptoms, it was commanding the attention of an armada of professionals, including pediatricians, neurologists and educational psychologists.

In its short history the condition would have a multiplicity of names. In 1895 James Hinshelwood, an ophthalmologist from Glasgow, established the term “congenital word-blindness,” but since then it has been called strephosymbolia, word amblyopia, bradylexia, script-blindness, primary reading retardation, specific reading disability, developmental reading backwardness, analfabetia partialis, amnesia visualis, genetic dyslexia, reading disability, and learning disability. Most of these have now been discarded in favor of the terms dyslexia, reading disability and learning disability, with learning disabilities (LD) as the umbrella term for a variety of learning difficulties, including dyslexia.

Although there is a large number of other “disabilities” to be found within the LD field, a reading disability — or dyslexia — remains the most common. Estimates of learning-disabled students being dyslexic vary between 70 and 85 percent. Some experts are of the opinion that this percentage is even higher, so much so that labeling a child as learning disabled is understood to include a reading disability.

If one evaluates the importance of reading in the learning situation, this opinion probably comes close to the truth. Reading is regarded as the most important skill that a child must acquire at school, because one must learn to read in order to be able to read to learn. The implication of this is that the child who is a poor reader will usually also be a poor learner.

Pointers to dyslexia

Generally, the term dyslexia is used to describe a severe reading disability, but there has been little agreement in the literature or in practice concerning the definition of severe or the specific distinguishing characteristics that differentiate dyslexia from other reading problems. Instead of getting involved in the wrangling over a definition, we would rather use the “symptoms” below as an indication that a person has a reading problem and therefore needs help:

  • One of the most obvious — and a common — telltale signs is reversals. People with this kind of problem often confuse letters like b and d, either when reading or when writing, or they sometimes read (or write) words like “rat” for “tar,” or “won” for “now.”
  • Another sure sign, which needs no confirmation by means of any form of testing, is elisions, that is when a person sometimes reads or writes “cat” when the word is actually “cart.”
  • The person who reads very slowly and hesitantly, who reads without fluency, word by word, or who constantly loses his place, thereby leaving out whole chunks or reading the same passage twice, has a reading problem.
  • The person may try to sound out the letters of the word, but then be unable to say the correct word. For example, he may sound the letters “c-a-t” but then say “cold.”
  • He may read or write the letters of a word in the wrong order, like “left” for “felt,” or the syllables in the wrong order, like “emeny” for “enemy,” or words in the wrong order, like “are there” for “there are.”
  • He may spell words as they sound, for example “rite” for “right.”
  • He may read with poor comprehension, or it may be that he remembers little of what he reads.
  • The person may have a poor and/or slow handwriting.
Edublox programmes are effective in overcoming dyslexia and other learning difficulties by addressing the underlying shortcomings that interfere with academic performance.
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