Is Dyslexia a learned behavior or a biological problem?
There are so many children in our county afflicted with dyslexia, who struggle with reading and therefore have a difficult time learning in school. The official position is that dyslexia is an innate, biological problem "presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction."
But there are others who assert that dyslexia is actually a learned behavior for many children, caused simply by how they're taught to read.
Researcher Edward Miller agrees that there are some children who are born with dyslexia, but these children are generally born with so many other problems at the same time, that dyslexia is simply one of many difficulties the child struggles with.
But Miller asserts that some dyslexia, which he terms "educational dyslexia," is actually caused by the method of teaching.
"Miller discovered that when preschoolers memorize as sight words the entire texts of such popular books as Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, they develop a block against seeing the words phonetically and thus become "dyslexic." They become sight readers with a holistic reflex rather than phonetic readers with a phonetic reflex. A holistic reader looks at each word as a little picture, a configuration, much like a Chinese character, and tries to think of the word it represents. A phonetic reader automatically associates letters with sounds and sounds out the syllabic units which blend into an articulated word."
Edward Miller's conclusions are definitely food for thought, and something that all parents might want to consider. Personally, I can see a lot of truth in Miller's argument.
Does your child struggle with Dyslexia and is it a learned behavior or a truly biological problem?
This is definitely plausible. Before homeschooling I taught in the public school system and through my experience I learned that phonics is a must. There are some words you must learn via sight word recall because they do not follow the phonetic rules, but without phonics a truly independent fluent reader one can never be. I was disgusted with the whole "My Baby Can Read" series when it came out. The entire program is based on sight which is completely disturbing. I fear for the future of all this babies who's moms want them to be able to read at 15 months old so they can say, "My Baby Can Read"… ridiculous! Oh the damage they could be doing!
While the minority of kids with dyslexia may have acquired it from faulty methods of reading instruction, I have to disagree with the idea that this is the cause of the majority of cases. Much research has been done by the NIH with functional MRI (fMRI) which definitively shows that there are differences in the brains between dyslexics and non-affected individuals. An excellent book to read: Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. An informative website: http://www.dys-add.com. Genes have been mapped to show the mutations that exist in dyslexics compared to the nonaffected population. My son has dyslexia, and there is a clear family history of it. I have taught both of my sons how to read using the same methods and one has dyslexia (with tell-tale signs that were obvious since toddlerhood) and the other does not. This issue is something I am very passionate about. I spent too many years thinking that my son couldn't read because of something I had or hadn't done in my teaching. Now I realize that the way his brain processes language (written, oral and aural) is different than most and he needs to be taught using different methods (Orton Gillingham). If you visit my blog and search the archives, I have many posts on the biological causes of dyslexia, as well as a summary of the best ways to teach a dyslexic to read.
One more thing:
"Researcher Edward Millers agrees that there are some children who are born with dyslexia, but these children are generally born with so many other problems at the same time, that dyslexia is simply one of many difficulties the child struggles with."
My dyslexic son does have problems with understanding spoken directions as well as rapid word recall (which causes him to sprinkle his speech with lots of um's and uh's), but these are all symptoms of dyslexia (see resources in my last comment to see the symptoms of dyslexia). Other than that, and his obvious struggles with reading and spelling typical of dyslexia, you wouldn't know my son has any learning disabilty. He excels in all other aspects of life and academics, and many are surprised to find out that he has any struggles in school. One mother who is part of our homeschool co-op and has known my son since he was 4 still refuses to believe he has a problem. So I disagree with the suggestion that kids with biological dyslexia (as opposed to the educational dyslexia you write about) are born with so many other problems that dyslexia is just simply one more difficulty with which the child struggles.
Please understand that I'm not trying to be confrontational. I'm just trying to clarify in the hopes that it might help some other parent with a struggling child.
@kristin, No offense taken at all and I truly appreciate what you've said. I don't disagree at all that some cases of dyslexia are biological. And whether it's the majority or minority of the cases isn't really important to me. That teaching methods can contribute to the development of dyslexia is something I've often wondered, and this article seems to answer that question somewhat. Thanks for chiming in and offering your perspective and experience!
@kristin, I agree with you kristin. I have also seen the research with functional MRI and tend to believe that dyslexia is a biological disorder. I am a dyslexic as are most of my children. I was taught to read with phonics. Also if you do much research on the disorder you will find out that most children have average or above average IQ.
Joy, thought provoking, and I'm very glad other opinions are voiced, I'm sure you welcome them all, as you said in your comments.
I believe that as the article say, some reading practices can mess up with children reading, but not as much as to CAUSE dyslexia, otherwise why would it be the case some children 'overcome' these bad practices and finally take off reading while some are always stuck in some sort of dyslexic reading pattern?
In the homeschooling then we should have less children since we usually start and pound much more on phonics than the schools (or that's my perception). Actually, in the last article at Simple Charlotte, Sonya says how her two first children learned to read with phonics, and the last one needed one more thing in the equation, sight words…I don't think as you say that it matters if it's majority or minority, but I tend to agree with the latter post that 'biological' dyslexia comes with many other problems. In fact, I don't even think it matters if is something you are born or you are taught, because if teaching mattered that much almost everybody would be dyslexic for a while. In other words, how you teach to read matters, YES, it can confuse children and they may present similarities with people with dyslexia, YES. But dyslexia exists by itself in many children, some very handicapped, some very brilliant. And bad teaching techniques can mess up our children, YES, but they won't cause this pattern in reading abilities that many people show.
@Silvia, I meant that it's not always the case biological dyslexia has to come with many other problems.
BINGO!!!! My 32 year old sister is a "classic case" of "educational dyslexia". You would never know it if you met her on the street, but reading is a real struggle for her.
@Rachel, It could be the case, but what reading is a struggle, 'educational reading' or any reading. And if it was learned, could it be unlearned? Why if they taught them like this does this stay with them for life, or for long?
I say it because my brother, 35, is another case of 'educational dyslexia', and you wouldn't tell it either, LOL. He never finished a degree and makes more money than any in the family…not that money determines success, or that he even brags about it, he simply has a very decent life despite of being an alleged failure, at least academically.
Joy, thanks for the link. I find this kind of thing utterly fascinating — how the brain works, how education wires our thinking, reading, etc.
My son was taught Whole Word in public school. This was his downfall in everything else. He does not know how to sound out a word and reads very slowly – especially if there is a word he has never seen before!! I have worked with him to incorporate phonics so that he can sound things out, but at 11 years old, this is truly difficult. He is so used to reading the whole word way, that phonics is secondary. This has been a struggle. Apparently, the school tried out whole word for 2 years and then reverted back to teaching phonics. Unfortunately, my son now has a disability due to their use of him as a guinnie pig for their trials.