Retraining the Dyslexic Reading BrainAuthor: Heidi Kroner
Posted: May 18, 2017
Our brains organize in the womb, and studies show our brains will organize differently based upon genetics. Studies show that the left-side of the brain is more efficient at the task of reading (first slide). Dyslexic brains organize differently. 1 in 5 people have dyslexia. When a child with dyslexia begins learning to read, they begin using areas on the right side of the brain (second picture). Dyslexia therapy will teach them to use the more efficient left-side of the brain when reading.
The above illustrations were developed to illustrate the concepts described in Sally Shaywitz's book "Overcoming Dyslexia." In the book, Shaywitz explains which parts of the brain are activated in the non-dyslexic brain while reading, and which parts of the brain are activated when someone with dyslexia reads. What NIH researchers have concluded, is that the dyslexic brain can be trained to use the more efficient reading centers on the left-side of the brain with Structured Literacy Methods based off Orton and Gillingham's theories from the 1940s.
Orton-Gillingham is a reading approach developed in the 1940s to remediate dyslexia. It uses the theories of Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, who studied stroke victims who lost the ability to read, and then intelligent children who couldn't master the ability to read.
He combined his science with the linguistic knowledge of Anna Gillingham. The Orton-Gillingham approach has been studied for 70 years, and has come under much scrutiny despite its success with dyslexic students. Now with fMRI technology, dyslexia research scientists and dyslexia advocates hope to dispel the controversy. Orton's methods and approach are shown to activate the regions in the brain that are necessary for reading, and that the dyslexic brain has shown to not utilize prior to this instruction.
In Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, there are Orton-Gillingham centers that operate with much success. These centers provide dyslexia therapy to students 5-6 days a week, up to 12 hours a day. In addition, many people have started home-based businesses teaching Orton-Gillingham. Two popular approaches used are the Barton System and the Wilson Reading System.
I started my own dyslexia learning center with two colleagues in 2014. After helping to start our state's Decoding Dyslexia Iowa chapter, we filled up every Orton-Gillingham tutor in the state, and quickly saw the need for more services. We began with 12 students, and we grew to 90 students in two years, delivering services both in-person and online to rural Iowans who were more than a two-hour drive away.
As a dyslexia therapist, I saw first hand how much these programs could help. Our center helped students from grades 1-12, as well as community college. I was able to take dozens of students from below grade-level reading to above grade-level reading. I saw kids who's anxiety towards school lessened, who's bullying behaviors faded, and who's confidence in school and on the job soared.
I also saw first hand how expensive it was to become certified ($10,000 of my own money), and what a financial burden dyslexia could be for a family when more than one child was diagnosed. I often told parents that the money they spent now would save a lot of heartache in high school and give their child a fighting-chance to attend college.
As personal circumstances put pressure on me, I chose to help students in a new way. Raising money to help teachers learn these programs, and help students afford this reading help. Dyslexia centers are also constrained by the lack of teacher training. Every tutor hired by a dyslexia learning center must be trained in the Orton-Gillingham method. This can take weeks and months. Home-based tutors face a similar situation, spending money out of their own pockets to learn these programs.
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