Does your child have dyslexia? It’s not about just reading words the wrong way

Dyslexia is more complex than just seeing words differently or reading them backwards.
Dyslexia is more complex than just seeing words differently or reading them backwards. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jodi Kinzel says she has “the best job ever.”

That’s how much Kinzel, a literacy specialist for Bellingham Public Schools, loves her work helping young children with dyslexia and other reading and writing challenges.

Kinzel is based at Carl Cozier Elementary School and works with numerous classroom teachers and their students.

Question: Jodi, what exactly is dyslexia?

Answer: Here’s the definition adopted by the state legislature in 2018:

“Dyslexia means a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation and sensory capabilities.

“These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological components of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Q: I have known people with dyslexia who seem to be very talented in areas other than reading and writing.

A: Yes, people with dyslexia typically are often highly intelligent and have gifts in many areas, such as having high creativity, strong special knowledge, and excellent problem-solving abilities Dyslexia has a continuum – moderate to profound. About 1 in 5 people have dyslexia.

Q: Do you welcome questions from parents if they feel their child may need help and intervention?

A: Absolutely. We believe that parents are their child’s first teachers, so parental involvement is important and they are welcome at any time. Collaboration among the classroom teacher, parents and myself creates an extra supportive team for parent.

Q: You seem so passionate about being a literacy specialist.

A: Learning is different for every student and I care about supporting them specifically with what they need to grow. I feel lucky to be part of the work we do teaching them the skills they need to become life-long literate contributors to their community.

Q: Do you diagnose dyslexia?

A: In Washington State we do not offer a (clinical) diagnosis. That requires a psychologist (outside a school district). In Bellingham Public Schools, we start using screening assessments early, starting with all kindergarten and first grade students. We assess various areas of dyslexic indicators. We also track progress in all areas of reading in students K-12. Our state recently passed a new dyslexia law. You can read about it at http://www.K12.wa.us/Reading/Dyslexia.aspx.

Q: Does dyslexia have a genetic component? Does it run in families?

A: Yes, it often does, although dyslexia may look different from one family member to the next and some members may not have dyslexia at all.

Q: Can students with dyslexia learn to read up to standard?

A: Students with dyslexia can be a varying levels in reading and writing or on a continuum from “not yet at standard” to “standard” to “above standard.”

Q: Do students with dyslexia actually see words the same way most readers see them? This short video you showed indicates that brain paths are totally involved.

A: A common misconception is that people “see” words differently or it’s about reverse letters. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that is rooted in a variation in the brain. People with dyslexia have difficulty manipulating the sounds of language. Multi-sensory interventions (using touch, hearing, movement, etc.), like the ones I use, can create more efficient pathways. Reading and writing can improve.

A family friend resource is available online at https://dyslexiaida.org/ida-dyslexia-handbook/.