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Unlocking the Potential of Dyslexic Learners

By Dr. Sharon Witkin |
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Dyslexia is a learning difference that affects between 3-20% of the population, but the exact prevalence is unclear due to varying definitions. It is best defined as a language-based learning difference that results in difficulty with reading that is not expected in the context of the individual's overall cognitive ability and educational background.

Learning to read requires rote instruction, unlike learning to speak which happens naturally. While most children learn to read in school, individuals with dyslexia are far more likely to perform below their potential. This is why early diagnosis, accommodations, and effective interventions are essential.

People with dyslexia struggle to read in large part due to poor phonological decoding abilities. English words are broken down into phonemes, which are small linguistic units that differentiate words from each other. People with dyslexia struggle to automate the decoding of phonemes, which is essential for reading and spelling. As a result, people with dyslexia tend to read slowly because they have not automated the decoding process.

Over 40 years of research and meta-analyses demonstrate that Direct Instruction is the most effective reading program, with most other programs being ineffective. Direct Instruction emphasizes phonics instruction through carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments. Phonics is a necessary component of an effective reading program, but a program that includes phonics instruction does not necessarily mean it is effective or evidence-based.

Early diagnosis of dyslexia is essential to prevent an educational snowball effect that can sabotage a child's intellectual development. Children who fall significantly behind in reading are subject to many adverse outcomes downstream that are unrelated to their innate intellectual capabilities. They may struggle to expand their vocabulary and knowledge base as quickly as their peers and fall behind in other subjects. Furthermore, the child may become frustrated with school, become disruptive, and develop mental health issues. This is why effective reading interventions, such as Direct Instruction, are crucial for the academic success of children with dyslexia.

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Dr. Sharon Witkin

Before leading Polygon’s clinical practice, Sharon was an assistant clinical professor at UC Berkeley, a researcher at MIT, and served on the clinical leadership team at the Stanford-affiliated Children’s Health Council. Sharon received her PhD from the California School of Professional Psychology and completed her postdoctoral training at Stanford University.

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