Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

Parents have been booking time with me to ask whether or not their child has dyslexia. Let me see if I can read into their concerns and provide some information on this problem.

Up to 20 percent of people in this country have a reading disability – and 85 percent of those with a disability are dyslexic. Dyslexia is a type of learning challenge in which a person has trouble processing or understanding words or numbers.  Reading can be a challenge for people who have dyslexia, no matter how smart they are.

Dyslexia is not a disease: it is a condition you are born with and runs in families.  It occurs because of the way the brain is formed at birth and how it processes the information it receives.  Children and adults with dyslexia use parts of their brain to read that others do not.  People with dyslexia do not usually reverse letters, as is commonly believed, but more often have trouble recognizing the basic sounds of speech in the letters they see, making it hard to recognize short familiar words or sound out longer ones.

There’s no simple test to diagnose this. You should suspect a problem if your younger child has difficulty naming numbers or letters, sounding out words or keeping things in sequence, like the days of the week.  Older children may show poor reading and writing skills despite normal intelligence.  If you recognize these signs in your child, discuss them with your child’s teachers and doctor, who will want to do further testing.

The sooner dyslexia is diagnosed, and treatment initiated, the better the odds that your child will read better and do well in school.  If dyslexia is diagnosed in your child, schools will often provide extra help through special instruction with a tutor and/or more time to complete assignments.

Emotional support from parents and other family members is very important. Dyslexic children should not lose their self-esteem over something they did not cause but were born with.  Children and teens should not feel limited in their future career choices: colleges and graduate schools, even medical schools, make accommodations for students with dyslexia.  Let’s remember that Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Walt Disney were all dyslexic.

Hopefully tips that I have provided on this subject will be clearly understood if you are concerned that your child has dyslexia.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont .  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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