Literacy and Dyslexia

by Maria Bechard M.A., CCC-SLP

“Literacy is not a luxury; it is a right and a responsibility.  If our world is to meet the challenges of the 21st century then we must harness the energy and creativity of all of our citizens.”  (President Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1994)

 In today’s educational society, the discussion of literacy development has changed from just reading and writing skills to a broadened range of abilities.  The Workforce Act of 1998 defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute and solve problems at a level of proficient necessary to function on the job and in the family and in society.” 

 The reading component of literacy continues to gain much attention from researchers and educators.  One reason for this emphasis is that the success of overall literacy development and academic success is greatly impacted by the ability to become a proficient reader. Throughout the country, educational communities have indicated that one of the major goals of education is to ensure that all students become proficient readers.  However,  the majority of educational communities are not obtaining this goal. There are a large number of students who despite the good intentions and efforts of dedicated educators and administrators continue to fall short of achieving the status of “the proficient reader”.  The reason school systems are falling short of this goal relies on the fact that there are dyslexic individuals that will most likely continue to struggle with the skills necessary to receive the label of the proficient reader.  However, this characteristic  does not mean that these students are unable to obtain the definition of literacy mentioned above. 

 Within our educational society, proficiency in reading has a moral judgment since it has been been deemed  one of the most valuable and necessary achievements  for the attainment of academic success.  So how does this type of moral judgment of proficient reading ability and its relationship to academic success and overall literacy affect the dyslexic child? The following quote says it all:

 “There are many poor readers among very bright children, who, because they are poor readers are considered less keen than their classmates. –Stanger & Donohue, 1937.

 Most children enter school and are able to develop a set of skills, which enables them to efficiently learn.  One of the most valued and socially accepted skill is that of proficient reading. When a student acquires the title of the proficient reader it is thought of to be the gateway to learning. When educational communities continue to have a narrow perspective regarding reading, then the dyslexic child will continue to be misjudged and will continue to be at a disadvantage to learn. 

 I recently read, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss and he states that there are actually three types of reading: eye reading, finger reading, and ear reading.  The mainstream within our society is to read with your eyes. However, for those children with  a visual impairment , information is accessed through Braille (finger reading) as well as through auditory means (ear reading).  Educators would not insist that these students reach proficiency in eye reading since they would struggle with the skills necessary to do so.  As a result, ear reading and finger reading are socially accepted forms of reading for the visually impaired individual.

 However, for dyslexic individuals ear reading does come with a moral judgment.  Keep in mind the number of times you have heard that one of the main goals of education is to ensure that all students are proficient eye readers.  In an environment in which eye reading is considered to be the only avenue for academic success, dyslexic children will not thrive for eye reading is not the most efficient means for these students to access information.   The goal of education for a dyslexic child should not be to transform the student into a proficient eye reader. This may sound defeatist in nature to many educators and parents; but in reality, many dyslexic individuals will continue to struggle with those skills necessary for proficient eye reading.  The true goal for all individuals within an educational community should be to provide each student with the opportunity to gather knowledge and explore ideas through those means that are most efficient. As a result, individuals will be provided the opportunity to become critical thinkers as well as develop the ability to make connections of their acquired knowledge with the world around them.  Ben Foss suggests that when there is an underlying bias towards eye reading to be the only type or reading associated with learning, the dyslexic child is not only at a tremendous disadvantage to achieve and develop a love for learning but more importantly is often misjudged.    He further indicates that educational communities should stop focusing on making the dyslexic child a proficient eye reader who can read without any difficulty but should focus on the acceptance of ear reading as true reading and an element of literacy.  If this is accomplished, then educators will begin to encourage a child’s quest for learning by allowing access to new ideas, which in turn will promote their overall literacy by harnessing their creativity and love for learning.  In closing, I would like you to reflect on the following words by Ben Foss:

 “In a perfect world, classrooms would be filled with all of the learning tools available including those that facilitate audio learning, visual learning, and eye reading.  But in the real world there’s an existing legacy in which eye reading is considered to be the best way to learn and consequently all children have to learn to thrive in this system—easier said than done for anyone whose skill set doesn’t include eye reading! “

(Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan pg. 138)

Maria Bechard, M.A., CCC-SLP, is the owner of The Literacy Corner located in Crestwood, Kentucky.  The Literacy Corner provides expert diagnostic and therapy services for language-based impairments such as dyslexia. Maria is a licensed and nationally board certified Speech and Language Pathologist. She has made it her mission to educate the community regarding the prevalence of dyslexia as well as the rights of the dyslexic individual. Maria is dedicated to promoting the love of learning that is often crushed for the dyslexic child.