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Understanding Developmental Dyslexia.

The perception of dyslexia has shifted over the last 30 years from being identified as “learning disability” to a neurologically based disorder.

The term “dyslexia” stems from Greek “dys” (bad, abnormal, difficult) + “lexis” (word). The term was originally used to describe adults who lost ability to read after a brain injury. With time, the term was adopted for defining neurologically based reading impairment in children. As opposed to adult dyslexia, which we define as “acquired dyslexia”, the reading deficiency in children was classified as “developmental dyslexia”.

According to International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia affects approximately 17% of the school-aged population. The primary cause of developmental dyslexia remained unidentified until recently. The functional MRI research have found that people with dyslexia have abnormal connections between some brain regions. As a result, they must rely on alternate brain circuits for reading.

The child diagnosed with dyslexia typically shows an IQ within a normal range but falls below 10% on standardized reading test. It is important to understand that dyslexic children are not lazy or unintelligent. Their brain simply functions differently when it comes to processing information.

Unlike the myth surrounding dyslexia that children “flip letters in the air” or “see the letters backwards”, dyslexia have been associated primarily with auditory disorder. Studies of dyslexia have found that dyslexia is caused by a problem with the phonological processing of speech sounds. This processing deficit means that children do not associate letters with the correct sounds. In other words, they experience a problem of auditory processing, which is a procedure the brain uses to recognize and interpret sounds in the environment. Therefore, it is extremely important that phonological awareness, or the ability to segment words into their components of speech sounds, should be directly and explicitly introduced in the beginning of reading instructions. The plasticity of the brain in young children has a potential to retrain the brain to overcome the learning difficulties, adopt and recognize neural pathways as a result of new experiences of learning.

It is difficult to draw any conclusions about teaching Hebrew decoding or the second language reading programs of Diaspora schools based on the methods that are designed to teach students to read a language that they already know. Therefore, the Jewish educators should not rely on the strategies that their students used for decoding their native tongue. Instead, teachers should be aware of the unique features of the Hebrew language in order to provide students with the most appropriate reading strategies.

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