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What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a condition in which a person cannot read as well as would be expected considering his intelligence and educational opportunities. The term is often used to cover many categories of reading retardation having various causes. In addition to problems in reading, dyslexia may involve problems in such other aspects of language as writing, spelling, and even speech. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of elementary and secondary school children in the United States have reading disabilities.

An important subgroup of reading disabilities is developmental dyslexia, also called specific language disability. The child with developmental dyslexia has difficulty organizing symbols in space. He may confuse the letter b for d, for example, or the letter p for q. He may also have difficulty recalling the proper sequence of letters in a word or words in a sentence. Similarly, there may be a problem with sounds. The sound fa may be substituted for v, or th for f. The sequence of sounds in a word and words in a sentence may be reproduced incorrectly. Moreover, the child may confuse left and right, and thus may have difficulty learning the left-to-right progression of printed words in English. Some scientists believe that developmental dyslexia is the result of a delay, possibly caused by inheritance, in the development of dominance for language in the part of the brain that is involved in language.

In some children, particularly in slums where everyone is poor and subject to the deprivations of extreme poverty, reading disability is believed to be caused largely by lack of appropriate stimulation in early childhood. Dyslexia may also be caused by defects in the central nervous system.

The proper treatment of dyslexia is based upon as clear an understanding as possible of its cause. It may involve correction of defects in vision or hearing, and sometimes psychotherapy is required. In most cases, however, the treatment is primarily educational, consisting of a systematic approach to language skills and much opportunity for repetition to assure mastery.

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