Seeing Dyslexia through three sets of lenses

Chris Murray, NBCTAugust 17, 2021

From as early as I can remember in elementary school, I had difficulties with words, spelling, and sounds. That difficulty was diagnosed when I was in fourth grade (currently the majority of cases of dyslexia are not identified until at least third grade), but I truly did not begin to understand that it is dyslexia that I have until last year when my son was diagnosed with it. I learned that dyslexia is often genetic, that my father, a successful architect, who, to this day, never reads for fun, inherited it from his father who was never a fan of reading either. It was my struggles in school that actually led me to the field of education. 

In the 8th grade I was lucky enough to have a history teacher, Joe Swope NBCT, who in addition to not grading for spelling, lectured about the subject and scaffolded for the class how to organize notes. At the end of 8th grade, I had developed a pride that I was intelligent and had a passion for history. Mr. Swope broke down the classic stereotype that plagues most dyslexics that they are not smart and that school is not meant for them. I knew before entering high school that I was going to become a history teacher myself and do for others what Mr. Swope had done for me. 

 I never fully understood my diagnosis of ADHD and Dyslexia until my youngest son began to show signs in Kindergarten and shared that he hated reading. The more I learn about both ADHD and dyslexia the better I understand who I am and realize that my dyslexia is the reason I love my work and my life. I want to help guide other educators through the minefields that our education system often puts in the place of our dyslexic students that can claim their self-esteem and lead many to drop out of school. Estimates from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity show that 20 percent of the population is dyslexic, representing 80-90 percent of all those with learning disabilities; and almost 50% of prison inmates have dyslexia!

My wife, an NBCT school counselor, has been the greatest advocate in helping our son get diagnosed and receive the interventions he needs to become self-aware of his dyslexia and realize just how smart he is. Our hope for this upcoming year is that more classroom teachers will learn how to spot dyslexia in their students and that schools and school systems will take advantage of the free online training from Made By Dyslexia https://connect-the-spots.madebydyslexia.org

Below are the basics of what dyslexia is from The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

“Reading is complex. It requires our brains to connect letters to sounds, put those sounds in the right order, and pull the words together into sentences and paragraphs we can read and comprehend.

People with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make. And when they have trouble with that step, all the other steps are harder.

Dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly and learn a second language, among other challenges. But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.

Dyslexia is also very common, affecting 20 percent of the population and representing 80– 90 percent of all those with learning disabilities. Scientific research shows differences in brain connectivity between dyslexic and typical reading children, providing a neurological basis for why reading fluently is a struggle for those with dyslexia.

Dyslexia can’t be “cured” – it is lifelong. But with the right supports, dyslexic individuals can become highly successful students and adults.

“For those with dyslexia, knowing that they are dyslexic provides direction and a starting point for self-advocacy and accommodations. It helps them feel that they are not alone—that they are part of a community of dyslexics contending with similar struggles. They can look to other people with dyslexia who are succeeding and know that they can do the same. They develop greater self-awareness about the specific challenges they face and what they can do to succeed, rather than assuming they are stupid or lazy. And they can learn to identify and utilize their strengths in both school and, later, in the workplace, bringing their best assets to the job at hand, knowing what tasks to delegate and when to allow themselves a little extra time.”
As we embark into yet another unprecedented school year, where so many things in our lives seem out of our control, let’s remember one consistent thing is that on average one out of five students in our classes will be Dyslexic. Some will have already been diagnosed and given the support they need to overcome Dyslexia. But many will need you, their classroom teacher, to spot the signs and ensure that it is the strengths of Dyslexia that shine through in them

Chris Murray, NBCT

Chris Murray is a National Board Certified teacher who teaches Social Studies at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (Montgomery County). Over the past decade he has taught and created a wide variety of courses while creating and facilitating a religious literacy professional development program. Chris lives in Rockville with his wife and two sons.