Dyslexia is not the same as reading failure. Teachers often see only that aspect, because reading instruction is their concern. They are trained to measure a child's progress against a “norm” or “grade level” or “expected reading age.” When the child does not meet the standard, they intensify early reading instruction, assuming that reading is an essential skill that must be acquired early.
Children invariably grow up, but few researchers have charted the developmental path of dyslexia over time. One who has is Professor Rosalie Fink, who tested and interviewed sixty prominent adults with dyslexia who had become leaders in fields requiring extensive reading, including medicine, law, business, and sciences. This group of adults included a Nobel Laureate and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Each tested above twelfth grade level on word recognition, oral reading accuracy, and word meaning; more than 40 percent tested well on spelling and did not need extra time to complete reading tasks. As a group, they performed significantly worse than their controls when reading nonsense words, a test commonly used to measure decoding ability and diagnose dyslexia.
On average, these high-achieving adults learned to read at age eleven. They learned through reading about subjects that fired their imaginations and excited their passions. Their reading was supported by their intense interest, which had spurred them to develop the background knowledge and vocabulary needed to use context to help interpret the words on the page. For each, there had come a time when the thirst for knowledge simply drew them past whatever barriers to reading had existed before. That time seems to correspond with the onset of the period Piaget called the “stage of formal operations” (age eleven to fifteen-plus), and the rapid growth in brain gray matter and synapses known to occur just prior to puberty.
Children with dyslexia are capable learners who manifest some abilities well ahead of their peers, but their brains simply are not constructed for early reading. They need an enriched learning environment to fuel their inherent curiosity and thirst for knowledge. If they cannot find intellectual stimulation at school, parents should work to provide it at home.
Reading support to build foundational skills is essential and should begin early, but it should not overshadow or impede other learning opportunities, nor should it be withdrawn as the child enters her teens. The eight-year-old diagnosed with dyslexia can reasonably be expected to begin reading comfortably in her teens; she should not be deprived of educational opportunity because of her difficulties in learning. As a parent, you must shield your child from the demoralizing aspects of school failure through constant support and encouragement, recognizing that your child's optimal learning periods for certain skills will not always coincide with the “norm.”
The key is in understanding your child's needs and abilities, not in trying to change the child. He can be helped, but his brain cannot and should not be “rewired” nor can his dyslexia be “cured.” Through observation and open communication with your child, you can facilitate this understanding, recognizing that a misfit between child and school is a failing of the school, and not your child. Celebrate your child's talents, feed his passions, and work to cultivate his emotional as well as intellectual growth — in the end you will have raised an empowered and enthusiastic learner.