While the reading deficit dyslexia is more commonly known in academic and medical communities, its sibling disorders, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, can sometimes better describe the obstacles students face in achieving their academic goals. Understanding the specifics of these disorders can help us better mitigate the trouble students face in their schoolwork.
These three disorders often get umbrellaed under a single term, dyslexia, but wrong or incomplete diagnoses can mean students either a) don’t get the correct help they need, or b) don’t get any help at all because they don’t feel they have any sort of learning deficit but still struggle in school.
Dyslexia is broadly defined as a disorder that results in difficulty reading. Dyslexia can be further broken down, but it mostly exhibits in letters seeming to spin or appear out of order, or difficulty connecting phonetic sounds to the written characters. Students with dyslexia will struggle reading and may read slow or struggle to decipher words, or avoid reading entirely.
Dyscalculia, on the other hand, is a disorder relating specifically to math and numbers. Students in this area might feel they have dyslexia-like symptoms, but don’t have trouble reading and so don’t reach out for help. Poor spatial reasoning, quantifying numbers and quantities, and difficulties with directions and pattern recognition can all be signs of dyscalculia.
Dysgraphia is a disorder that affects the ability to write. Dyslexia and dysgraphia are very similar, but students affected by dysgraphia and not dyslexia will often be able to read normally and at an average pace but will struggle to write, sometimes by hand, but other times with typing as well. Dysgraphia can be a motor issue, where hand-eye coordination problems cause students to be unable to properly produce letters, a spatial issue, in which spacing and shapes do not properly form in the student’s mind, or a linguistic issue, in which the language processing unit impedes the ability to write.
It is very possible (one could say common) for students to have multiple concurrent deciphering disorders.
How do we diagnose these disorders? First, if a parent or student feels they may have some of these disorders, further research into a specific disorder is definitely warranted, but a complete diagnosis should be made by a qualified professional — either a teacher with a special education certificate or maybe a school psychologist or counselor.
It is very possible to overcome and mitigate any and all of these deficits, and many people with dyslexia or its related disorders are very successful! Treatment plans should be created with individual students in mind, but a couple of things to be aware of are:
- Adapting test and note methods
- Students with dysgraphia especially could benefit from spoken notes and recorded lectures, which do not rely on reading and writing so much.
- Students with dysgraphia may also benefit from large pencils or raised lined paper.
- Students with dyscalculia can benefit from the use of posters to remind of foundational math skills and calculators.
- Additional time for instruction and exams
- Often dyslexia and its related disorders is not a case of lack of understanding or intelligence, but more of a difficulty to make out what information is given. Enough time to understand problems on an exam can alleviate anxiety surrounding reading or writing and help symptoms.
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Especially in the case of motor-based learning disorders like dysgraphia sometimes is, practicing can help alleviate many symptoms. Students may always have a deficit in some areas, but continual practice and hard work can allow a student to overcome the difficulties and pursue any academic goals they may wish to.