Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chris Everheart: Dyslexia on the Front Page

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. As a recovering reluctant reader turned author of books for children and teens, I meet parents of kids with dyslexia who are seeking connection and encouragement. Along with teachers and librarians, parents feel the pain of their troubled readers and are looking for good solutions and resources for young learners.

A kid’s desire to learn and be part of the successful school culture can be shattered by learning disabilities like dyslexia. Reading quickly becomes a self-esteem issue for kids who are left behind. As a struggling elementary and middle school reader, I watched other kids get praise from teachers for good reading and easily comprehend next-level subject matter while I lagged behind. It seemed easy for them, so “there must be something wrong with me.” This disconnection from reading and learning was a source of deep frustration and harsh self-judgment.

I have sometimes wondered throughout my life if I have dyslexia. I don’t remember being tested as a child, but I’ve shown some of the symptoms: I read very slowly, word-by-word; I often misunderstand word sequences; and I have difficulty with numbers. But I’ve learned that dyslexia has very specific and subtle symptoms that I haven’t experienced.

Dyslexia has more to do with how the reader relates sounds to letters than with the classic idea that letters are seen backward. Although dyslexic kids tend to have excellent listening skills, poor “phonemic awareness” causes misunderstanding of similar-sounding letters on the page. This condition can be a devastating handicap in our educational system, which teaches reading by sounding out letters. We also engage in word and reading play through rhyming, which is another block for sufferers of dyslexia.

Because the features of dyslexia are so subtle, combined with kids’ natural abilities to compensate at least temporarily for deficiencies, they can easily go unnoticed and cause mounting problems for a young learner.
Kids can’t be analytical about such struggles. Many act out, close down, and otherwise mask the problem and effects of a learning disorder. When asked what’s wrong, a child may not be able to pinpoint reading or learning as a source of frustration. The greater danger here is a child being left out or dismissed because of their behavior. In my day, the protocol was: Motivate or dismiss. Because I was intimidated by reading (and admittedly had a bit of an attitude about it) I was left back and marginalized.

What makes the difference is the attention of parents, teachers, and librarians who spot the struggles and offer gentle help and guidance. For me, a dedicated teacher connected me to subjects I was passionate about and gave me the motivation to make the effort to read.

Unlike in times past, we know now that reading difficulties are not a sign of low intelligence in children. There’s no reason in today’s world that a child who struggles with reading should be left behind. Patience and understanding are key to helping a reader with dyslexia —or any learning disorder—develop. Proper testing and effective accommodations are available too. There are many great resources to help identify and address dyslexia early.

There are 4 things parents, teachers, and librarians can do to help any reluctant reader:

* Get tested
* Be patient
* Learn new techniques
* Read with your kids

Every child deserves the benefits available through reading. If you have a reluctant and struggling reader, check out some resources to help determine if dyslexia is at the root and what you can do to help. The world will thank you for it. 

International Dyslexia Association Frequently Asked Questions:

International Dyslexia Association Dyslexia Awareness Month:

Alison Hale’s Dyslexia Hints & Tips:

Chris Everheart is a recovering reluctant reader turned award-winning author of books for young readers, teens, and adults. A lifelong TV and movie lover, Chris folds his interests in history, archaeology, science, and culture into fast-paced, thrilling, and thought-provoking stories for readers of all ages. He’s a Minnesota native living in East Tennessee with his family. When not writing he can be found hiking in the mountains near home or visiting schools and libraries to share his love of reading and learning.

His teen thriller series “The Delphi Trilogy” has been described by librarians as “unputdownable.” Even the most reluctant of readers will want to keep the pages turning. Book II: “The Delphi Deception” is available now on and in paperback at

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