Do Kids Have Too Much Homework By Jonathon Hardcastle

Play with my children? No thanks, it's far too boring, says SARAH VINE as expert warns that parents who play with their offspring risk stifling their development

By Sarah Vine

Published: 02:01 GMT, 15 August 2014 | Updated: 13:03 GMT, 18 August 2014

Just under three weeks to go until the start of the autumn term, and parents across the land will be counting down the hours. No more cries of ‘I’m bored’; no more sibling in-fighting; no more treks around the sodding Science Museum.  

There are only so many cupcakes a person can make, only so many games of I-Spy to be had before the adult human brain starts to buckle.

Mid-August, and even the most willing parent has a dark place in the back of their mind that’s thinking: ‘Hmm … perhaps those Victorians had the right idea after all with their chimneys.’

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Life lesson: Sarah Vine is pictured with her 11-year-old daughter Beatrice and nine-year-old son William

Hardly surprising, then, that the collective sigh of relief was almost audible when one Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in psychology and education at the University of Cambridge, warned that parents who play with their children are in danger of stifling their development. 

That’s right, you read it correctly: not expanding their inquiring young minds, but actually holding them back.

Far better, said the Professor (genius, sage, saviour) to let them play alone.

That way, they will not only leave the poor adults in peace, but also develop crucial skills that are directly linked to higher achievement, both in the personal and the academic spheres.

I quote: ‘Research shows development of self-regulation abilities, which are predictive of academic achievement and emotional well-being in children, has a very strong link to the amount of time spent in child-led play.’

Warning: Dr David Whitebread, of the University of Cambridge, warns that parents who play with their children are in danger of stifling their development

In other words, abandon the little blighters to their own devices and they’ll not only be happier, they’ll be cleverer, too. It’s one of those bits of news, like reading that chocolate is good for you, or that red wine reduces the chance of a stroke, that seems just too good to be true. 

For my generation of parents, trapped in a cycle of guilt over our work/life balance, it feels like a long-overdue get-out-of-jail-free card. 

What? You mean I don’t have to get up at 6am after a full working week to do meaningful play-bonding with my four-year-old? I’m allowed to read the papers and drink coffee while he does Lego? Where do I sign? 

Dr Whitebread has swept aside the received wisdom of decades-worth of dreary child-centred parenting, and ushered in a delicious new possibility. Namely, that parents are not put on this Earth to act as unpaid children’s entertainers, but that they can go back to being adults who do normal adult things. Which doesn’t include playing Twister. 

For me, Dr Whitebread’s remarks are a balm for my conscience. Because, you see, I never play with my children. 

There are various reasons why. First, I find the stuff they want to do boring. And, second, it never occurred to me that it was part of the job description.  

After all, my parents never played with me. They were far too busy being glamorous adults for any of that nonsense (you can’t do Play-Doh if you’re wearing silk chiffon, darling). 

Besides, it was a question of status. Growing up, one thing was always made very clear to me: I was a child in an adult world. And as a child I enjoyed an inferior status to that of the adults around me.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never mistreated. But I was, nevertheless, a puppy. Which meant that they, not I, were in charge. I had a right to be loved, fed, clothed — all the usual things. What I didn’t have was the right to monopolise my parents’ time or attention. 

If you leave children to their own devices, they'll not only be happier, they'll be cleverer, too (file picture)

If I needed help with something — homework, a long word in a book, tying my shoelaces — that was fine. But if I was bored and just needed entertaining, that was my problem. They had better things to do than entertain me.

When it comes to my children, the same applies. As soon as they were old enough to be left alone in a room without killing themselves (so around the age of five), they were expected to amuse themselves. 

My view has always been that if it’s not broken or bleeding, then don’t bother me with it.   

This type of passive parenting is in contrast to the approach of many of my friends, who, quite understandably, take the view that since their work commitments limit the amount of time they get to see their children, quality time together is very important. 

'As soon as my children were old enough to be left alone in a room without killing themselves (so around the age of five), they were expected to amuse themselves'

And I agree. It’s just that my idea of quality time with the children is different from theirs. 

I don’t want to go to the park and play on the swings, or make spaceships out of plastic bricks. But I do enjoy going to the movies, eating out en famille, shopping with my daughter, and watching my son play football. 

It may seem selfish, but I’m simply not prepared to take part in some inane activity that doesn’t interest me. 

But, really, what it’s about is teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around their needs and wants. 

Which, I have to say, is one of the greatest lessons my parents ever taught me. 

It’s also one of the complaints employers make about the young people who come to them for work experience or training. Only the other evening, I was having a drink with a literary agent, and she was complaining about a young intern who wanted to knock off early every day.

Children enjoy baking because it's messy - the last thing they want is some bossy adult hovering over them

‘When I was her age, I would have stayed until midnight if someone had given me the kind of opportunity I’m giving her,’ she moaned. ‘But the girl has no sense of anything other than her own needs.’

The qualities that employers value — teamwork, resilience, initiative, a willingness to muck in — are not qualities a child is going to acquire if all that their parents do is try to please them. 

Kids need to understand that if they want attention, they must be being interesting, charming and helpful. And that if they’re dull, they’ll get zip. 

Resourcefulness is another important quality that is best taught through benign neglect.

Think about all those perennial children’s classics, such as the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Swallows And Amazons, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. What do they all have in common?

'Kids need to understand that if they want attention, they must be being interesting, charming and helpful. And that if they’re dull, they’ll get zip'

Easy. The kids are left to their own devices. They face danger on their own.  

So don’t interfere. When they come home from school in a state because they’ve fallen out with their best friend, don’t call the parents and remonstrate. 

Be sympathetic — but make it clear the problem is best resolved if they tackle it themselves.

Dr Whitebread also said something else worth reflecting on: ‘Children often have a purpose in their play when left alone; it is not just mucking around.’ 

This observation is key. Most adults I know are perfectionists. If they bake cupcakes, for example, they want them to look pretty and taste nice. 

But that’s not why a child wants to bake cakes. They enjoy it because it’s messy and they get to lick the bowl. The last thing they want is some bossy adult hovering over them. 

Which is why when my daughter says she wants to make cakes, I pick up my book and sit somewhere within sight but very much out of mind. The sense of achievement she derives is so much better than anything I could have shown her. 

Want your child to be happy and successful? Relax. Enjoy yourself. This is your world. Children need to learn how to live in it.

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What is Dyslexia?

The symptoms, the research-based definition, the cause of dyslexia, their gifted areas, famous dyslexics and their stories, and more.

Definition of “Dyslexia”

Historical Perspective

Before the National Institutes of Health began their research in the 1980's, the only definition of dyslexia was an exclusionary one. If a child's difficulty with reading could not be explained by low intelligence, poor eyesight, poor hearing, inadequate educational opportunities, or any other problem, then the child must be dyslexic.

That definition was not satisfactory to parents, teachers, or researchers. So here are three different definitions in use today.

Simple Definition

Dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language—despite at least average intelligence.

Revised Definition from the International Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic.

Dyslexia is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions.

Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention.

Research Definition used by the National Institutes of Health

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.

It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.

These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Definition of “Learning Disability”

“Learning Disability” is not a specific term; it is a category containing many specific disabilities, all of which cause learning to be difficult. The following definition of “learning disability” is used for legislative, financial, and educational purposes only. It is not a definition of dyslexia, which is one specific learning disability.

The term “learning disability” means a disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. It may show up as a problem in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling or in a person's ability to do math, despite at least average intelligence.

The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or physical handicaps, or mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.


Summary of warning signs

Disclaimer: No two people with dyslexia are exactly alike because dyslexia ranges from mild to moderate to severe to profound. Some people with dyslexia also have ADD/ADHD.

Therefore, someone with dyslexia may not have every single symptom listed below. But they will have many of them. Professional testers look for a “constellation” or cluster of symptoms in the following areas.

If someone struggles with spelling, is a slow reader who has a difficult time sounding out unknown words, and has difficulty getting their great thoughts down on paper in acceptable form, and that person has 3 or more of these classic warning signs, it is worth getting that person tested for dyslexia.

These problems are unexpected when compared to the person's proven abilities in other areas.

New – One-page summary sheet of the warning signs of dyslexia

Click here for the sheet. One is also available on the warning signs of ADD/ADHD. We will mail it to you, free. Just click here, then type in your home or work mailing address.

New – Watch our “Dyslexia: Symptoms & Solutions” video, FREE

Just click here to watch it now.

Preschool and kindergarten warning signs

If three or more of these warning signs exist, especially if there is dyslexia or ADD/ADHD in the family tree, the child should be tested for dyslexia when the child becomes five years old. Also, phonemic awareness games and other reading readiness activities should be done daily during the preschool years.

  • Delayed Speech: Not speaking any words by the child's first birthday. Often, they don't start talking until they are 2, 2½, 3, or even older.
  • Mixing up sounds in multi-syllabic words: For example, aminal for animal, bisghetti for spaghetti, hekalopter for helicopter, hangaberg for hamburger, mazageen for magazine, etc.
  • Early stuttering or cluttering.
  • Lots of ear infections.
  • Can't master tying shoes.
  • Confusion over left versus right, over versus under, before versus after, and other directionality words and concepts.
  • Late to establish a dominant hand: May switch from right hand to left hand while coloring, writing, or doing any other task. Eventually, the child will usually establish a preferred hand, but it may not be until they are 7 or 8. Even then, they may use one hand for writing, but the other hand for sports.
  • Inability to correctly complete phonemic awareness tasks.
  • Despite listening to stories that contain lots of rhyming words, such as Dr. Seuss, cannot tell you words that rhyme with cat or seat by the age of 4½.
  • Difficulty learning the names of the letters or sounds in the alphabet; difficulty writing the alphabet in order.
  • Trouble correctly articulating R's and L's as well as M's and N's. They often have “immature” speech. They may still be saying “wed and gween” instead of “red and green” in 2nd or 3rd grade.

Reading and spelling difficulties

People with dyslexia do not make random reading errors. They make very specific types of errors. Their spelling reflects the same types of errors. Watch for these errors:


  • Can read a word on one page, but won't recognize it on the next page.
  • Knows phonics, but can't—or won't—sound out an unknown word.
  • Slow, labored, inaccurate reading of single words in isolation (when there is no story line or pictures to provide clues).
    • When they misread, they often say a word that has the same first and last letters, and the same shape, such as house-horse or beach-bench.
    • They may insert or leave out letters, such as could–cold or star–stair.
    • They may say a word that has the same letters, but in a different sequence, such as who–how, lots–lost, saw–was, or girl–grill.
  • When reading aloud, reads in a slow, choppy cadence (not in smooth phrases), and often ignores punctuation.
  • Becomes visibly tired after reading for only a short time.
  • Reading comprehension may be low due to spending so much energy trying to figure out the words. Listening comprehension is usually significantly higher than reading comprehension.
  • Directionality confusion shows up when reading and when writing.
    • b–d confusion is a classic warning sign. One points to the left, the other points to the right, and they are left–right confused.
    • b–p, n–u, or m–w confusion. One points up, the other points down. That's also directionality confusion.
  • Substitutes similar-looking words, even if it changes the meaning of the sentence, such as sunrise for surprise, house for horse, while for white, wanting for walking.
  • When reading a story or a sentence, substitutes a word that means the same thing but doesn't look at all similar, such as trip for journey, fast for speed, or cry for weep.
  • Misreads, omits, or even adds small function words, such as an, a, from, the, to, were, are, of.
  • Omits or changes suffixes, saying need for needed, talks for talking, or late for lately.
  • Their spelling is far worse than their reading. They sometimes flunk inventive spelling. They have extreme difficulty with vowel sounds, and often leave them out.
  • With enormous effort, they may be able to “memorize” Monday's spelling list long enough to pass Friday's spelling test, but they can't spell those very same words two hours later when writing those words in sentences.
  • Continually misspells high frequency sight words (nonphonetic but very common words) such as they, what, where, does and because—despite extensive practice.
  • Misspells even when copying something from the board or from a book.
  • Written work shows signs of spelling uncertainty—numerous erasures, cross outs, etc.

Handwriting issues (dysgraphia)

Also known as a visual-motor integration problem, people with dyslexia often have poor, nearly illegible handwriting. Signs of dysgraphia include:

  • Unusual pencil grip, often with the thumb on top of the fingers (a “fist grip”).
  • Young children will often put their head down on the desk to watch the tip of the pencil as they write.
  • The pencil is gripped so tightly that the child's hand cramps. The child will frequently put the pencil down and shake out his/her hand.
  • Writing is a slow, labored, non-automatic chore.
  • Child writes letters with unusual starting and ending points.
  • Child has great difficulty getting letters to “sit” on the horizontal lines.
  • Copying off of the board is slow, painful, and tedious. Child looks up and visually “grabs” just one or two letters at a time, repeatedly subvocalizes the names of those letters, then stares intensely at their paper when writing those one or two letters. This process is repeated over and over. Child frequently loses his/her place when copying, misspells when copying, and doesn't always match capitalization or punctuation when copying—even though the child can read what was on the board.
  • Unusual spatial organization of the page. Words may be widely spaced or tightly pushed together. Margins are often ignored.
  • Child has an unusually difficult time learning cursive writing, and shows chronic confusion about similarly-formed cursive letters such as f and b, m and n, w and u. They will also have difficulty remembering how to form capital cursive letters.

Quality of written work

People with dyslexia usually have an “impoverished written product.” That means there is a huge difference between their ability to tell you something and their ability to write it down. They tend to:

  • Avoid writing whenever possible.
  • Write everything as one very long sentence.
  • Not understand that a sentence has to start with a capital letter and end with punctuation.
  • Be confused about what is a complete sentence versus a fragment.
  • Misspell many words—even though they often use only very simple one-syllable words that they are “sure” they know how to spell.
  • Take an unusually long time to write, due to dysgraphia.
  • Have nearly illegible handwriting, due to dysgraphia.
  • Use space poorly on the page; odd spacing between words, may ignore margins, sentences tightly packed into one section of the page instead of being evenly spread out.
  • Do not notice their errors when “proofreading.” They will read back what they wanted to say, not what is actually on the page.

Directionality issues

Most dyslexic children and adults have significant directionality confusion.

  • Left–Right confusion:
    • Even adults have to use whatever tricks their mother or teacher taught them to tell left from right. It never becomes rapid and automatic.
    • A common saying in households with dyslexic people is, “It's on the left. The other left.”
    • That's why they are b–d confused. One points to the left and one points to the right.
    • They will often start math problems on the wrong side, or want to carry a number the wrong way.
  • Up–Down confusion:
    • Some children with dyslexia are also up-down confused. They confuse b–p or d–q, n–u, and m–w.
  • Confusion about directionality words:
    • First–last, before–after, next–previous, over–under
    • Yesterday–tomorrow (directionality in time)
  • North, South, East, West confusion:
    • Adults with dyslexia get lost a lot when driving around, even in cities where they've lived for many years
    • Often have difficulty reading or understanding maps.

Sequencing steps in a task

Learning any task that has a series of steps which must be completed in a specific order can be difficult. That's because you must memorize the sequence of steps, and often, there is no logic in the sequence.

These tasks are usually challenging for people with dyslexia:

  • Tying shoelaces: This task not only has a series of steps, but many steps have directionality as part of them. Many children do not master this task until they're teenagers.
  • Printing letters: The reason they form letters with such unusual beginning and ending points is that they can't remember the sequence of pencil strokes necessary to form that letter. So they start somewhere and then keep going until the letter looks approximately right.
  • Doing long division: To successfully complete a long division problem, you must do a series of five steps, in exactly the right sequence, over and over again.
    • They will often know how to do every step in the sequence, but if they get the steps out of sequence, they'll end up with the wrong answer.
  • Touch typing: Learning to touch type is an essential skill for people with dysgraphia. But it is usually more difficult (and requires much more effort) for a dyslexic child to learn to type since the keys on the keyboard are laid out in a random order (which requires rote memorization).

Rote memory of non-meaningful facts

Memorizing non-meaningful facts (facts that are not personally interesting and personally relevant) is extremely difficult for most dyslexic children and adults. In school, this leads to difficulty learning:

  • Multiplication tables.
  • Days of the week or months of the year in order.
  • Science facts: Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, etc.
  • History facts: Dates, names, and places. Dyslexic students do well in history classes that emphasize why some event happened, and the consequences of that event, rather than rote memorization of dates and names.

Telling time on a clock with hands

People with dyslexia have extreme difficulty telling time on a clock with hands:

  • When asked what time it is, they may say something ridiculous, such as, “It's ten past quarter to.”
  • They may be able to tell whole hours and half hours (5:00, 5:30, etc.) but not smaller chunks, such as 5:12.
  • Concepts such as before and after on a clock are confusing. Therefore, time arithmetic is impossible.
  • Getting them a digital clock only helps a little bit. Now they can tell what time it is at the moment, but if you tell them to be home in 15 minutes, they can't figure out when that would be.

Extremely messy bedrooms

People with dyslexia have an extremely difficult time organizing their belongings. They tend to pile things rather than to organize them and put them away. It is almost as though if they can't see the item (if it is behind a door or in a drawer), they will forget where it is.

So they have extremely messy bedrooms, lockers, desks, backpacks, purses, offices, and garages.

Math difficulties

People with dyslexia are often gifted in math. Their three-dimensional visualization skills help them “see” math concepts more quickly and clearly than non-dyslexic people. Unfortunately, difficulties in directionality, rote memorization, reading, and sequencing can make the following math tasks so difficult that their math gifts are never discovered.

  • Memorizing addition and subtraction facts.
  • Memorizing multiplication tables.
  • Remembering the sequence of steps in long division.
  • Reading word problems.
  • Copying an answer from one spot to a different spot.
  • Starting a math problem on the wrong side.
  • Showing their work: They often “see” math in their head, so showing their work is almost impossible.
  • Doing math rapidly.
  • They often excel at higher levels of math, such as algebra, geometry, and calculus—if they have a teacher who works around the math problems caused by their dyslexia.

Organizational skills

Students with dyslexia and/or ADD/ADHD do not know how to organize school materials, backpacks, homework calendars, or notebooks. Those skills can and must be taught and modeled.

Co-existing conditions

Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without Hyperactivity)

Attention Deficit Disorder is a completely separate condition than dyslexia. However, research has shown that at least 40% of people with dyslexia also have ADD/ADHD.

To read more, click here.

Light Sensitivity (Scotopic Sensitivity)

A small percentage (3% to 8%) of people with dyslexia also have light sensitivity (sometimes called scotopic sensitivity). These people have a hard time seeing small black print on white paper. The print seems to shimmer or move; some see the rivers of white more strongly than the black words. These people tend to dislike fluorescent lighting, and often “shade” the page with their hand or head when they read.

Colored plastic overlays and/or colored lenses can eliminate the harsh black print against white paper contrast, and may make letters stand still for the first time in someone's life. However, the plastic overlays or colored lenses will not “cure” dyslexia, nor will they teach a dyslexic person how to read.

Phonemic Awareness

What is Phonemic Awareness?

NIH research has repeatedly demonstrated that lack of phonemic awareness is the root cause of reading failure. Phonemes are the smallest unit of spoken language, not written language.

Children who lack phonemic awareness are unable to distinguish or manipulate sounds within spoken words or syllables. They would be unable to do the following tasks:

  • Phoneme Segmentation: What sounds do you hear in the word hot? What's the last sound in the word map?
  • Phoneme Deletion: What word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?
  • Phoneme Matching: Do pen and pipe start with the same sound?
  • Phoneme Counting: How many sounds do you hear in the word cake?
  • Phoneme Substitution: What word would you have if you changed the /h/ in hot to /p/?
  • Blending: What word would you have if you put these sounds together? /s/ /a/ /t/
  • Rhyming: Tell me as many words as you can that rhyme with the word eat.

If a child lacks phonemic awareness, they will have difficulty learning the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent in words, as well as applying those letter/sound correspondences to help them “sound out” unknown words.

So children who perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks via oral language in kindergarten are very likely to experience difficulties acquiring the early word reading skills that provide the foundation for growth of reading ability throughout elementary school.

Phonemic awareness skills can and must be directly and explicitly taught to children who lack this awareness.

Importance of Phonemic Awareness

Quotes from prominent NIH researchers:

  • “The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to learn to read.”
  • “Phonemic awareness is more highly related to learning to read…than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension.”
  • “Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor separating normal and disabled readers.”

Phonological Processing and Phonics

Phonemic awareness must exist or be explicitly and directly taught before phonics instruction begins. Otherwise, the phonics instruction will not make sense to the dyslexic child.

Phonological processing refers to understanding of sounds used in our language, ranging from big chunks of sound (words), to smaller chunks (syllables) and eventually to phonemic awareness (every sound within a syllable). Both phonemic awareness and phonological processing are auditory processing skills. Therefore, they can (and should) be taught before letters are introduced.

The goal of teaching phonics is to link the individual sounds to letters, and to make that process fluent and automatic, for both reading and spelling. In other words, phonics teaches students symbol-to-sound and sound-to-symbol.

But for phonics to work, a student must first have solid phonological processing and phonemic awareness.

To see how these different items are taught, take a look at our How to Get Help page.

Causes of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is an inherited condition. Researchers have determined that a gene on the short arm of chromosome #6 is responsible for dyslexia. That gene is dominant, making dyslexia highly heritable. It definitely runs in families.

Neurological Differences

Dyslexia results from a neurological difference; that is, a brain difference. People with dyslexia have a larger right hemisphere in their brains than those of normal readers. That may be one reason people with dyslexia often have significant strengths in areas controlled by the right side of the brain, such as:

  • artistic, athletic, and mechanical gifts
  • 3-D visualization ability
  • musical talent
  • creative problem solving skills
  • and intuitive people skills

In addition to unique brain architecture, people with dyslexia have unusual “wiring.” Neurons are found in unusual places in the brain, and they are not as neatly ordered as in non-dyslexic brains.

In addition to unique brain architecture and unusual wiring, f/MRI studies have shown that people with dyslexia do not use the same part of their brain when reading as other people. Regular readers consistently use the same part of their brain when they read. People with dyslexia do not use that part of their brain, and there appears to be no consistent part used among dyslexic readers.

It is therefore assumed that people with dyslexia are not using the most efficient part of their brain when they read. A different part of their brain has taken over that function.


Dissecting Dyslexia

Excerpt from “Dissecting Dyslexia”

Children who cannot read fluently or spell accurately are often thought to lack intelligence or motivation. But in most cases, they are neither stupid nor lazy. They have dyslexia, which makes it difficult for them to understand written language despite having a normal—or higher than normal—IQ.

Recent studies suggest that their reading difficulties are caused by identifiable genetic variations that create “faulty wiring” in certain areas of the brain.

Luckily, most of our brain development occurs after we are born, when we interact with our environment. This means that the right teaching techniques can actually re-train the brain, especially when used early.

To read the entire article, click here.

From Genes to Behavior

Excerpt from “From Genes to Behavior in Developmental Dyslexia”
Albert M. Galaburda et al
Nature Neuroscience, October 2006

This scholarly research article expands on the following:

All four genes thus far linked to dyslexia impact brain development. Comparable abnormalities induced in young rodent brains cause auditory deficits, underscoring the potential relevance of these brain changes to dyslexia.

Our perspective on dyslexia is that some of the brain changes cause phonological processing abnormalities as well as auditory processing abnormalities.

Thus, we propose a pathway between a genetic effect, developmental brain changes, and perceptual deficits associated with dyslexia.

To read the entire article, click here.

Scientists Tie Two Additional Genes to Dyslexia

Excerpt from “Scientists tie two additional genes to dyslexia”
Sandra Blakeslee
New York Times, November 2, 2005

One year after scientists discovered a gene whose flaw contributes to dyslexia, two more such genes have been identified.

The findings, described yesterday in Salt Lake City at a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, support the idea that many people deemed simply lazy or stupid, because of their severe reading problems, may instead have a genetic disorder that interfered with the wiring of their brains before birth.

To read the entire article, click here.

Dyslexia Susceptibility Gene

Excerpt from “Association of the KIAA0319 Dyslexia Susceptibility Gene With Reading Skills in the General Population”
Silvia Paracchini, D.Phil., et al
American Journal of Psychiatry, December 2008

Dyslexia (reading disability) is a complex trait determined in large part by genetic factors. Association studies and translocation breakpoint analyses have proposed several genes as susceptibility candidates at some of the quantitative trait loci linked to dyslexia: DYX1C1 on chromosome 15, KIAA0319 and DCDC2 on chromosome 6, ROBO1 on chromosome 3, and MRPL19 and C20RF3 on chromosome 2.

The results of this study both support the role of KIAA0319 in the development of dyslexia and and suggest that this gene influence reading ability in the general population. Moreover, the data implicate the three-SNP haplotype and its tagging SNP rs2143340 as genetic risk factors for poor reading performance.

This research article is extremely technical but is a “must read” for those who want to understand the latest in genetic research.

To read the entire article, click here.

Dyslexia Gene Controls Cilia in Brain Neurons

Excerpt from: “Dyslexia Gene Controls Cilia in Brain Neurons”

Karolinska Institutet, June 20, 2011

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that a gene linked to dyslexia has a surprising biological function: it controls cilia, the antenna-like projections that cells use to communicate.

Dyslelxia is largely hereditary and linked to a number of genes. One of these genes, DCDC2, is involved in regulating the signaling of cilia in brain neurons.

To read the entire article, click here.

Musical Ability Connected to Dyslexia Gene

Excerpt from “Genome wide linkage scan for loci of musical aptitude in Finnish families:Evidence for a major locus at 4q22”
Kristiina Pulli, et al
Journal of Medical Genetics, April 18, 2008

A team of Finnish and American geneticists have found that, for some people at least, music is in their genes. In what the researchers called the first study of its kind, they found specific regions of chromosomes that were connected to musical ability.

The chromosomal regions that were found to be connected to music are known to be involved in the migration of neurons during development. And the study also found that the musical DNA overlapped with a region associated with dyslexia.

To read the entire article, click here.

Same Gene in Chinese Dyslexics

Excerpt from an article published on May 25, 2011

Dyslexia exists in every country, even countries in which the written language is not phonetic.

Genetic studies in western populations have suggested that DYX1C1 is a candidate gene for dyslexia.

This study of 393 Chinese children determined that the very same gene is responsible for dyslexia in Chinese children. And those children have difficulty with rapid naming, phonological memory, and orthographic skills – just as dyslexic children in western countries do.

To read the entire article, click here.

Recent Research

NIH Research Project

In the early 1980's, the United States Congress mandated the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research learning disabilities and answer 7 specific questions.

After conducting longitudinal research plus numerous studies on genetics, interventions, and brain function, we now have a great deal of independent, scientific, replicated, published research on dyslexia.

This section shares the research results released by the National Institutes of Health from 1994 to the present, as well as from dyslexia researchers in several others countries.

NIH Research Questions

NIH coordinated 18 top-notch university research teams throughout the United States to answer the following questions posed by Congress:

  1. How many children are learning disabled?
  2. Clearly define each specific type of learning disability.
  3. What causes each learning disability?
  4. How can we identify each learning disability?
  5. How long does each disability last? Map its developmental course.
  6. What is the best way to teach these children?
  7. Can we prevent any of these learning disabilities?

NIH investigated dyslexia first because it is the most prevalent learning disability.

NIH Results Released in 1994

These research results have been independently replicated and are now considered to be irrefutable.

  • Dyslexia affects at least 1 out of every 5 children in the United States.
  • Dyslexia represents the most common and prevalent of all known learning disabilities.
  • Dyslexia is the most researched of all learning disabilities.
  • Dyslexia affects as many boys as girls.
  • Some forms of dyslexia are highly heritable.
  • Dyslexia is the leading cause of reading failure and school dropouts in our nation.
  • Reading failure is the most commonly shared characteristic of juvenile justice offenders.
  • Dyslexia has been shown to be clearly related to neurophysiological differences in brain function. Dyslexic children display difficulty with the sound/symbol correspondences of our written code because of these differences in brain function.
  • Early intervention is essential for this population.
  • Dyslexia is identifiable, with 92% accuracy, at ages 5½ to 6½.
  • Dyslexia is primarily due to linguistic deficits. We now know dyslexia is due to a difficulty processing language. It is not due to visual problems, and people with dyslexia do not see words or letters backwards.
  • Reading failure caused by dyslexia is highly preventable through direct, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness.
  • Children do not outgrow reading failure or dyslexia.
  • Of children who display reading problems in the first grade, 74% will be poor readers in the ninth grade and into adulthood unless they receive informed and explicit instruction on phonemic awareness. Children do not mature out of their reading difficulties.
  • Research evidence does not support the use of “whole language” reading approaches to teach dyslexic children.
  • Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD are two separate and identifiable entities.
  • Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD so frequently coexist within the same child that it is always best to test for both.
  • Children with both dyslexia and ADD/ADHD are at dramatically increased risk for substance abuse and felony convictions if they do not receive appropriate interventions.
  • The current “discrepancy model” testing utilized by our nation's public schools to establish eligibility for special education services is not a valid diagnostic marker for dyslexia.

Research Results Released After 1994

  • Word recognition difficulties are the most reliable indicators of reading disability in older children and adults. Slow, labored, and inaccurate reading of real and nonsense words in isolation are key warning signs.
  • This laborious reading of single words frequently impedes the individual's ability to comprehend what has been read, even though listening comprehension is adequate.
  • Even among children and adults who score within normal ranges on reading achievement tests, many report that reading is so laborious and unproductive that they rarely read either for learning or for pleasure.
  • Developing adequate awareness of phonemes is not dependent on intelligence, socio-economic status, or parents' education, but can be fostered through direct, explicit instruction. Such instruction is shown to accelerate reading acquisition in general, even as it reduces the incidence of reading failure.
  • Disabled readers must be provided highly structured programs that explicitly teach application of phonologic rules to print. Longitudinal data (studies that follow children over time) indicate that explicit systematic phonics instruction results in more favorable outcomes for disabled readers than does a context-emphasis (whole-language) approach.

Longitudinal Research

The National Institutes of Health conducted a longitudinal study by tracking 5,000 children at random from all over the country starting when they were 4 years old until they graduated from high school. The researchers had no idea which children would develop reading difficulties and which ones would not.

There were many theories at that time as to what caused reading difficulties, and which tests best predicted reading failure. The researchers tested these children 3 times a year for 14 years using a variety of tests that would either support or disprove the competing theories. But the researchers did NOT provide any type of training or intervention. They simply watched and tested.

From that research, they were able to determine which tests are most predictive of reading failure, at what age we can test children, and whether children outgrow their reading difficulties. This study also spawned numerous other NIH research projects. The results of these studies were released in 1994.

Speech Delays Related to Later Reading Difficulty

Speech Delays Turn Into Reading Problems

Excerpt from: “The Relationship Between Language and Learning Disabilities”
Frank R. Brown III, et al

In 1980, Snyder predicted that the language-delayed preschooler of today may well become the learning-disabled child of tomorrow. A growing body of evidence supports her prediction and suggests that many of these children do not “outgrow” these problems, and that “simple” delays in communication may, in fact, be stable predictors of later learning disabilities.

One set of researchers followed a group of children from ages 2 to 6. The children were identified at age 2 as “late talkers”. Although the majority outgrew their oral language delay by age 4, they demonstrated academic delays at ages 5 and 6.

Another set of researchers found that the oral language disorders decreased over time, giving the impression of “recovery” by age 5. However, the majority of those children experienced reading disabilities by grade 2.

To read the entire article, click here.

Detecting Dyslexia In Preschoolers

Excerpt from: “Pre-school Age Exercises Can Prevent Dyslexia, New Research Shows”
Science Daily, August 22, 2008

Atypical characteristics of children's linguistic development are early signs of the risk of dyslexia, and new research points to preventive exercises as an effective means to tackle the challenges children face when learning to read.

The results achieved at the Centre of Excellence in Learning and Motivation Research were presented at Finland's Academy of Science breakfast on 21 August.

Headed by Professor Lyytinen at the University of Jyvaskyla, the study compared 107 children with a dyslexic parent to a control group of children without a hereditary predisposition to dyslexia. The researchers followed the children from birth through school age.

“Half of the children whose parents had difficulties in reading and writing found learning to read more challenging than children in the control group. The atypical characteristics of these children's linguistic development indicated the risk at a very early age,” says Lyytinen.

According to Lyytinen, the predictors of reading and writing difficulties are evident primarily in two contexts: a delayed ability to perceive and mentally process the subtleties of a person's voice, and a sluggishness in naming familiar, visually presented objects.

To read the entire study, click here.

Spelling Difficulties

Spelling & Dyslexia

Significant difficulty with spelling, when writing sentences and stories, is the most obvious warning sign of dyslexia. That's why spelling is mentioned in the research-based definition of dyslexia used by the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is:

Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Reading Problems Show Up In Spelling

Excerpt from video by Reading Rockets

funded by the U.S. Department of Education

posted on

Poor spelling when writing essays and stories is a huge red flag of dyslexia.

As part of Reading Rocket’s Meet The Experts series, Dr. Louisa Moats shares how reading problems show up first in spelling. She then explains the importance of reading and spelling nonsense words.

To watch that short video, click here.

Spelling Fact Sheet

The International Dyslexia Association has recently released a 4-page fact sheet on Spelling (“Just the Facts…Spelling”), which states that people with dyslexia have “conspicuous problems” with spelling and writing. The fact sheet quotes the research and explains how spelling needs to be taught.

To download that Spelling Fact Sheet, click here. Produced by the International Dyslexia Association, posted on their website in 2008

Spelling Gene

Excerpt from: “Spelling bee: Bad at spelling? Could be your genes”
Kate Wighton, October 25, 2008

In the past, poor spelling was attributed to all manner of things, from bad schooling to a lack of moral fiber. But science is offering a new explanation. A difficulty with spelling could be rooted in your genes and in the way your brain is wired. These findings stem from research into the language disorder dyslexia, but they are proving important for the wider population.

Tony Monaco, a scientist at the Wellcome Centre Trust for Human Genetics, Oxford University, believes that our ability to spell lies partly in our DNA. In his study, his lab tracked the development of 6,000 children born in the early Nineties. Previous studies highlighted a particular gene that might affect reading ability, KIAA0319. We all carry it, but he found that 15 percent of the population have a slightly different version than normal.

According to Professor Monaco, the normal version of the gene helps to guide brain cells into the cortex when a child is developing in the womb. When the gene is different, however, it is unable to properly fulfill its function; brain cells get lost on the journey and end up in the wrong place. “This may disrupt the processing of information,” he says.

To read the entire article, click here.

Spelling Changes the Brain

Excerpt from: “Brain Images Show Individual Dyslexic Children Respond To Spelling Treatment”, February 15, 2006

Brain images of children with dyslexia taken before they received spelling instruction show that they have different patterns of neural activity than do good spellers when doing language tasks related to spelling. But after specialized treatment emphasizing the letters in words, they showed similar patterns of brain activity.

These findings are important because they show the human brain can change and normalize in response to spelling instruction, even in dyslexia, the most common learning disability.

To read the entire article, click here.

Brain Research

Reading and the Brain

This 30-minute video, hosted by Henry Winkler, who has his own struggles with reading, explores how brain scientists are working to solve the puzzle of why some children struggle to read and others don't. Startling new research shows the answer may lie in how a child's brain is wired from birth.

This program is the newest episode on Launching Young Readers, WETA's award-winning series of innovative half-hour programs about how children learn to read, why so many struggle, and what we can do to help.

To watch “Reading and the Brain” FREE, click here.

Dyslexia Begins When Wires Don't Meet

Excerpt from: “Dyslexia begins when the wires don't meet”
Mark Roth
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 11, 2007

Dr. Just, a brain researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, and his colleagues, as well as brain imaging carried out at Georgetown University, Yale University and other centers, has proven that seeing letters in reverse or out of order is NOT the cause of dyslexia.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures blood flow to different parts of the brain, researchers now know that dyslexia involves a weakness in the part of the brain that decodes the sounds of written language.

That region sits above the left ear, at the junction of the brain's temporal and parietal lobes.

Researchers have also shown that the right kind of intensive instruction can rewire the brain and help overcome reading deficits. When Carnegie Mellon scanned the brains of youngsters who received a year of concentrated reading instruction, they showed 40 percent more activity in the word decoding areas of their brains, Dr. Just said.

A similar study at Yale showed that a year after receiving such instruction, boys and girls continued to show increased activity in both the word-decoding and word-forming areas of their brains.

A study at Georgetown University showed that intensive intervention also helps adults with dyslexia.

To read the entire article, click here.

Slow Reading in Dyslexia Tied to Disorganized Brain Tracks

Excerpt from: “Slow Reading In Dyslexia Tied To Disorganized Brain Tracts”
Science Daily, December 4, 2007

Dyslexia marked by poor reading fluency—slow and choppy reading—may be caused by disorganized, meandering tracts of nerve fibers in the brain, according to researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The study, using the latest imaging methods, gives researchers a glimpse of what may go wrong in the structure of some dyslexic readers' brains, making it difficult to integrate the information needed for rapid, “automatic” reading.

To read the entire article, click here.

Overcoming Dyslexia: Timing of “Connections” in Brain is Key

Excerpt from: “Overcoming Dyslexia: Timing of ‘Connections’ in Brain is Key”
Science Daily, September 5, 2007

Using new software developed to investigate how the brains of dyslexic children are organized, University of Washington researchers have found that key areas for language and working memory involved in reading are connected differently in dyslexics than in children who are good readers and spellers.

However, once the children with dyslexia received an intense and specialized instructional program, their patterns of functional brain connectivity normalized and were similar to those of good readers when deciding if sounds went with groups of letters in words.

To read the entire article, click here.

Dyslexic Children Use Nearly Five Times the Brain Area

Excerpt from: “Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area”
University of Washington press release, October 4, 1999

Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area as normal children while performing a simple language task, according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of University of Washington researchers. The study shows, for the first time, that there are chemical differences in the brain function of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children.

The research, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Neuroradiology, also provides new evidence that dyslexia is a brain-based disorder.

This study, part of a wider UW effort to understand the basis of dyslexia and develop treatments for it, was funded by the National Institutes of Children Health and Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

To read the entire press release, click here.


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