While often misunderstood, dyslexia is actually a variety of reading disorders that are closely associated with an inability to interpret spatial relationships or to integrate auditory and visual information.
"Contrary to popular belief, dyslexic people don’t see backwards. People with dyslexia can’t remember the sounds that correspond to letters," said Jill Lauren, a New York City-based teacher and author who has worked with dyslexics for more than 30 years.
Lauren, who estimates that the prevalence of dyslexia is about one out of every 10 people, has also trained teachers to teach reading using some of the most effective techniques available.
"All the recent scientific research about reading and dyslexia has shown that the methods that were developed years ago are exactly what dyslexic brains need to learn," Lauren said.
One of the most popular and venerable methods for teaching dyslexics to read remains an approach developed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the 1930s. Their method, known simply as Orton-Gillingham, uses a multisensory approach to simultaneously teach students with learning disabilities how to read, write and spell.
Lauren, who has worked with all ages from kindergarten to adults, adds that kids with dyslexia need repetition and can be taught in fun, interesting ways. "Reading is not a natural process, it’s man-made," she explained. "That’s why we need good teachers that know the latest techniques to teach reading."
Most experts on learning disabilities agree that early intervention and subsequent treatment tends to yield the best results.
"If you can identify a dyslexic student early on, then you can truly get great results using any variety of remediation methods," said Dr. Gordon Sherman, a noted expert in dyslexia research and also the executive director of the Newgrange School and Education Center in Princeton, N.J.
While noting that as a society we are "not very good at prevention," Sherman said that a variety of treatments and oneon-one instruction could be very effective.
In addition, he also pointed out that assistive technologies have been playing an increasingly important role in the treatment of dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
"Book readers, such as the Kindle, can be very helpful to people with dyslexia," he said.
Sherman emphasized, however, that software programs that promise instant remediation for dyslexia and other learning disabilities should be scrutinized. "There are no quick fixes when it comes to dyslexia and there’s also no instructional bypass to hard work," he said.
Dr. Benjamin Ticho, a pediatric ophthalmologist based in Chicago, said that the causes of dyslexia are still not clear but most likely have some type of genetic component.
Ticho, who noted that dyslexia was first identified a century ago by an ophthalmologist as "word blindness," likens the disorder to seeing words in a foreign language—and having no knowledge of that language.
He also urges those who suspect their children may be dyslexic to visit an eye doctor and have their eyes checked. "Sometimes, what people think might be dyslexia can actually be an ocular issue concerning how the eyes focus," he said.
Asked about the current state of reading and reading comprehension in NYC schools, Lauren said that nearly 60 percent of kids are not reading at grade level. "It’s a national crisis," she said, "that we have so many kids and even adults out there with dyslexia that can’t read."