Dyslexia and Visual Problems

letter reversals
letter reversals

There is a lot of confusion about dyslexia and eye problems.  Dyslexia is NOT an eye issue.  Most children with dyslexia have completely normal vision.  Some do have a problem with letter reversals, particularly at younger ages, but that is due to directional confusion rather than eye issues.  (See Dyslexics and Letter Reversals.)  Most of these students can be taught not to reverse letters with some simple techniques.

Text may be blurry or appear to jump around
Text may be blurry or appear to jump around

However, some people may have an eye issue which is known by several names such as: Visual Stress, Scotopic Sensitivity, Asfedia, or Irlen Syndrome.  Irlen Syndrome is thought to be related to the interaction of the central nervous system and the eyes at a physiological level with light.  For example, a person may say that the text seems to jump around on a page.  A person with visual problems may be misdiagnosed as dyslexic because of a vision problem that makes reading difficult. It is also possible that someone with dyslexia may suffer from visual issues in addition to dyslexia.

It is important to note that there is great disagreement about the existence of Irlen Syndrome and its treatment.  Researchers say that there are other known eye problems that case these problems, not a separate syndrome.  They worry that people are spending money on highly advertised solutions like colored lenses and overlays without being evaluated and treated for appropriate underlying causes.  In 2004, the American Optometric Association released the following statement:

There is evidence that the underlying symptoms associated with the Irlen Syndrome are related to identifiable vision anomalies, e.g., accommodative, binocular, and ocular motor dysfunctions, in many patients seeking help from colored lenses. Furthermore, such conditions return to normal function when appropriately treated with lenses, prisms, or vision therapy. When patients exhibiting the Irlen Syndrome were treated with vision therapy, their symptoms were relieved. These patients were no longer classified as exhibiting this syndrome, and therefore did not demonstrate a need for the colored overlays or tinted lenses.

On the other hand, many people feel that colored lenses and overlays are very helpful.  Placebo effect?  A lot more research needs to be done.  It certainly will not hurt to use colored paper and colored overlays.  In fact I try to print student work on blue paper just in case there is an undiagnosed eye problem.  It may even be useful to use overlays while undergoing treatment if you find it cuts down on eye strain.  I would stop short of investing in colored glasses without first visiting a qualified ophthalmologist.  An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor.  Please do not substitute a visit to the optometrist at your local glasses store!

Orthography and Dyslexia

Matrix for base word "act"
Matrix for base word “act”

I was going to write an article about my new-found love of working with orthography that Kelli Sandman-Hurley (of the Dyslexia Training Institute) introduced me to, but Kelli says it better.

I now use these techniques with all of my students to supplement the Orton-Gillingham program (Barton Reading and Spelling System).  I continue to attend seminars and classes to learn more about linguistics and orthography.  I attended a weekend seminar with Pete Bowers (The Word Works Literacy Center) and Gina Cooke (Linguist Educator Exchange) whom Kelli talks about in this article.  Mind blown!  World rocked!  Soon I begin working with Michel Rameau of Real Spelling who started it all!

Please read about it here:

Dyslexia: When Spelling Matters.

Playing Games

Playing Vowel Team Bingo
Playing Vowel Team Bingo

Sometimes it is hard to remember how important games can be to learning.  It is SO easy to say that we just don’t have times for games because we have so much material to get through.  But I am reminded that just because something comes out of my mouth, doesn’t mean it goes into their brains!

Research studies have shown that activities which involve social interaction and body movement improve memory and learning. Games involve both interaction (sadly, only with me!) and bodily movement.  It is a great way for students to construct their own learning, moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Practicing Spelling Rules
Practicing Spelling Rules

There has also been a lot of research on the effect of emotion on learning.  Strong emotions tend to effect memory in both positive and negative ways.  (You remember that day you had the car accident as well as the day you first saw Paris!)  I sometimes wonder if the enjoyment of playing a game will create a more permanent memory.  I hope so.

Of course, I have to assure that the games I use are closely aligned with our learning objectives. They are fun, but, well, not TOO fun.  Students are working hard while they play.

That is why I have invested time and money to make sure that there are plenty of appropriate games to play.  Some I have purchased, others I have created.  Many of these games can be played in more than one way, spelling or reading words, or applying or recognizing spelling rules.  I also have made some games with phrases and sentences so that we fluency is part of the play, too.  Hopefully, I can assure that students have fun while learning at DYScover Learning!

Joyful Learning
Joyful Learning

WordStock III: Third Time’s the Charm

This should be great for anyone who is interested.


For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Doug Harper and a handful of eager scholars to talk etymology, online, in our LEXinars. Doug and I plan and deliver a series of cozy online seminars in which we discuss etymology, cognates, historical roots, historical languages, Proto-Indo-European, reconstruction, attestation, and spelling (okay, that last one is more me than Doug). It’s mindblowing. And it’s hilarious, as real language study should be. Doug is one smart cookie, and, while this shouldn’t surprise me, he has a way with words. So along the way, he says stuff like this:

“The language has mud on it.”

“Latin is in its pupa in the Middle Ages.”

“Old English is like clay.”

“It’s like jumping from house to house through the neighborhood looking for a fugitive.”

“I’ve seen seven-year-olds take to it like it’s birthday cake.”

I can’t even write…

View original post 611 more words

Nice Video about Dysgraphia

Another “Dys..” Dysgraphia is a problem with writing, often associated with dyslexia. See a nice video explaining it.


Five ways to understand dyscalculia – SEN Magazine

Great article about different ways in which people might struggle with mathematics.

Five ways to understand dyscalculia – SEN Magazine.


What are dyslexia and dyscalculia, and how do they affect our lives?Brain with gears

Very briefly, they are both specific learning disabilities in which a person has a discrepancy between what they are achieving in a specific area and their overall intelligence.  Generally their IQ in all other areas is average or above average.  People with dyslexia are intelligent people who have trouble with language.  People with dyscalculia are intelligent people who have trouble with numeracy and mathematics.  In both cases, there generally seems to be a genetic link.

CavemanDyslexia research has shown us specific areas of the brain that seem to be wired differently.  People are now beginning to think of it more as a cognitive difference than a cognitive defect.  People are born with a natural ability to speak and understand language.  Reading and spelling, however, are not innate.  Some people have brains that are just designed to process written language more efficiently.  Some people call it “word blindness.”  If you can imagine, throughout most of human history, written language was not necessary to live or thrive.  People with dyslexia did not have a disadvantage, in fact, their strong visual-spatial skills may have put them at an advantage.  It is our use of written language in society that has changed over time, making it more important to be able to read and write.

Count the dots

While there has been a lot of research on dyslexia, the research on dyscalculia is much more sparse.  There is still a lot to learn here.  Dyscalculia is sometimes called “math dyslexia,” or “number blindness.”  People with dyscalculia have trouble with basic numeracy.  Again, while people have an innate ability to understand larger or smaller quantities based on visual assessment, numbers themselves are an abstract concept, and the mathematics we do with numbers is even more abstract.  These are skills that must be learned and are not innate.  Some people have brains that are structured so that this is harder for them to learn.  Again, this was not so important while trying to hunt large animals, so what is now perceived as a problem is a very recent phenomenon.  People with dyscalculia can have trouble with math in different ways, but very often it is the abstract qualities of numbers that underlie the problem.

Multisensory - I can!So, how do we help?  In both cases, we must help develop new connections in the brain.  In some ways, we have to think about how a child learns since this is how we first make those connections.  Children learn by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, feeling, hearing — using their senses.  This is how we have to teach people with dyscalculia and dyslexia.  We must use multi-sensory learning to retrain the brain.  Then we can move to more abstract ways of thinking.

Multi-sensory learning is at the heart of what we do at DYScover learning.

I hope you will explore our website more to learn more about us!