Dear Doctor, 

Recently, we were told our third-grade son has dyslexia. They also called it a learning disability. He is very intelligent, but reading is a struggle for him. The school wants to put him in a “reading recovery” program. We are not sure what we should do. Can you help us understand what is wrong? Does it get better? Thanks in advance for any help.

Uncertain

Dear Uncertain,

You have asked two questions.

The first is a definition of a reading disorder. Reading is a code. The little letters trigger recognition in the brain with attendant sounds, meanings and connections. In reality, the brain “reads” — not the eye.

In my view, there are many sources for the neurological difficulty in learning the “code.” For example, there have been studies that show there are too many neurons in the left planum temporale. Others show difficulties in the medial prefrontal cortex. Actually, the brain works as a whole to decode.

The term “disability” is a horrible label. The real issue is finding the best path for learning how to decode. Reading must become automatic to be useful. Therein lies the problem. The curriculum will become increasingly language based and your son will need to decode without struggle in order to get the meaning from what he has read.

I am of the opinion a unique method is often the answer. Here is where you must do research. Look into Orton-Gillingham tutors in your area. This is a well-proven method for combining visual and phonetic processes. However, this method does not always work. Check out Lindamood-Bell method, too. Look into the particulars of the recovery program at your son’s school. The most important factor is the passion of the teacher. If teaching reading is the teacher’s life work, you are in business.

I am reminded of one teacher I knew who said, “I can teach a barn door to read.” That would be someone to trust.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lllrsn@comcast.net.

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