Myths about dyslexia busted

According to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, dyslexia may affect as many as 10 per cent of Singaporeans, with conditions ranging from mild to severe. The study was based on an international research conducted.

Dyslexia manifests itself as a difficulty with reading, spelling and comprehension. However, contrary to popular belief, it is not a condition which will impede an individual's ability to succeed in life.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has stated that he is mildly dyslexic. Other well-known people with dyslexia include Albert Einstein, Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson and Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.

What other myths do you have about this condition? The Dyslexia Association of Singapore tries to dispel some of these myths. 

Myth 1: Dyslexia is a form of retardation.

The facts: Dyslexia is a difficulty in learning to read, write and spell, despite traditional teaching, average intelligence, and an adequate opportunity to learn.

It is an impairment in the brain's ability to translate information received from the eyes or ears into understandable language.

It does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of intelligence.

Myth 2: There is no 'cure' for dyslexia.

The facts: Dyslexia is not a disease. Given the appropriate specialist teaching, dyslexics can learn to read (and even to spell) just as well as anyone else.

Myth 3: Dyslexia is rare in Singapore.

The facts: The incidence of dyslexia in Singapore is within the international range of 3% to 10% of the population. There are about 20,000 primary and secondary school students who are dyslexic. An average of 1 to 2 students could be dyslexic in a class of 40. Dyslexia can range from mild to moderate to severe.

Myth 4: My child can't be dyslexic. No one else in the family has it.

The facts: Dyslexia is genetic in origin, but may go undetected in some families. They be relatives who "hated school," who were "drop-outs," or generally had difficulty in school.

In some families, one, or both parents, are obviously dyslexic and all, or most, of their children, have the difficulties.
Myth 5: Dyslexics can't read.

The facts: People with mild to moderate dyslexia have usually learnt to read well enough to 'get by' and to avoid being noticed. Despite this, their reading usually remains slower than normal and a spelling skills check will often reveal their true difficulties.

Myth 6: He can't have dyslexia because he can read.

The facts: All children with dyslexia can read - up to a point. But the problem they have with processing speech sounds, prevent them from hearing all the individual sounds in a word. So they generally don't read by sounding out. With poor ability to detect and manipulate speech sounds, dyslexics tend to have inadequate knowledge and application of how sounds are linked with their written form. This weak letter-sounds link affects their ability to read to some extent. Instead, they often use alternative strategies: pictures and a or familiar story, the shapes of words, and guessing based on the first letter or two. But their memories can hold only a limited number of words. Without the right type of help, they cannot progress any further - no matter how smart they are and how hard they try.

Myth 7: He can read okay. He just can't spell. That's not dyslexia, is it?

The facts: A child with severe dyslexia will struggle with reading from the very first day. But intelligent children with mild-to-moderate dyslexia can get away during the first few years in school. They can read. You just don't know HOW they are reading. But their unusual reading strategies will force them into a brick wall by third to fourth grade.

Their difficulties with spelling, however, are obvious very early. If they spend hours each night working on a spelling list, they may be able to pass the test. But they won't be able to spell those very same words when they're writing sentences or compositions. Poor spelling is highly related to poor reading, and poor spelling shows up first. But it may take until third to fourth grade for the reading struggles to become equally obvious. Reading and spelling are closely related skills.

Myth 8: Reversing letters is a good indication of dyslexia.

The facts: In fact, backwards writing and reversals of letters and words are common among young children learning to write whether or not they are dyslexic. Only about 10 per cent of dyslexics reverse letters. In general, letter-reversals become an area of concern if it persists beyond Primary 2 or 8 years old. 

Myth 9: Reading difficulties disappear with age.

The facts: Not if it's dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Dyslexic children become dyslexic adults. If they are identified and given the right kind of help early, dyslexics can learn to compensate for their learning difficulty and read accurately. Even so, they may continue to read slowly and not automatically.

Myth 10: Repeating a school grade can remove dyslexia

The facts: Dyslexics learn in a different way. Specialist teaching is necessary to learn to overcome dyslexia and cope in mainstream school. 

Myth 11: The way to help a dyslexic child to read is to force him or her to read at least 20 mins a day.

The facts:It is necessary to make reading easy and fun so the dyslexic child learns.

Myth 12: Dyslexia only affects children who speak English.

The facts: In fact, dyslexia has been shown to affect native Dutch, Israeli, Portuguese and other speakers. Dyslexia primarily affects the processing of speech sounds, otherwise known as phonological awareness. Dyslexia is also known to affect languages that are orthographically-based like Chinese. 

Myth 13: Dyslexia cannot be identified until a child is 8 to 11 years old.

The facts: Research suggests children at risk of developing reading, spelling and writing difficulties can be identified at ages of 5-6. In fact, there are validated instruments which allow us to do so. It is also important to identify them early so that appropriate help can be given before they start failing in school.

Myth 14: There is no way to truly diagnose dyslexia.

The facts: There are highly sophisticated and well-recognized techniques to diagnose dyslexia. A qualified educational psychologist will be able to diagnose dyslexia through a series of assessments with the child.

Myth 15: Dyslexics are clumsy, and have difficulty learning (for instance) to tie their shoes.

The facts: Some dyslexics are indeed clumsy, but most aren't. Once again, no convincing link exists. Most clumsy children learn to read without trouble.

Myth 16: Dyslexics will not succeed in life.

The facts: A great majority of dyslexics have achieved success in their lives. Some famous and accomplished dyslexics include Albert Einstein, MM Lee Kuan Yew, Richard Branson and Tom Cruise to name a few.

Credit: Dyslexia Association of Singapore