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Help for Dyslexic Kids

Even though he was in the middle of first grade, 7-year-old Keison Nemyer of Fairfax, MO, still hadn't mastered the alphabet. "He could sing the song, but he couldn't recognize the letters," says his mom, Roseann.

Keison's teachers said he was too young to be tested for learning disabilities, but his mother had him checked out by a private company. He was ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia, a disorder that affects 17 percent of children nationwide.

What is dyslexia?
It doesn't make people read letters backward, as many think. This learning disability affects a circuit in the brain responsible for the most basic elements of reading: the ability to connect letters with the sounds they make, then put those sounds together to form a word. This "decoding" is usually simple for normal readers, but those who are dyslexic have to work especially hard. Once they do decode words, they can think as clearly and as deeply as the next child.

How to assess your child
Dyslexia is not usually identified until third grade, yet new understanding of the disability has made it possible to recognize it in children who are vulnerable while they're still in kindergarten, says Sally Shaywitz, M.D., a pediatrician and neuroscientist at Yale University and a leading researcher on dyslexia. It tends to run in families, so if a parent or grandparent was diagnosed with it or had reading difficulties, keep a close eye on your child's verbal development. Warning signs around kindergarten age include:

  • Difficulty learning the alphabet

  • Trouble associating letters with their sounds

  • Difficulty playing rhyming games or predicting the next word in a familiar rhyming picture book

  • Confusion of simple words that sound alike, such as "bat" and "cat"

  • Fishing around for the right words for familiar things

    Tests can be conducted in school or by an outside expert, and treatment that emphasizes a multisensory approach to phonics and lots of reading is generally effective. (Therapies that haven't proven valid, however, include eye training, antinausea medications, chiropractic manipulation, and dietary supplements.) Parents can work with a child's teachers to make special arrangements for work that takes extra time, such as in-class reading or exams.

    For more information, contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities ( www.ncld.org, 888-575-7373) or the International Dyslexia Association ( www.interdys.org, 800-222-3123).

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