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Dyslexia Is Forever

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Despite improvements in the diagnosis and management of dyslexia, many adolescents and young adults with the disorder continue to have reading problems.

Jan. 7, 2000 (Atlanta) --Despite improvements in the diagnosis and management of dyslexia, many adolescents and young adults with the disorder continue to have reading problems. The results of a long-term study, published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, explain how disabilities in dyslexia are persistent.

"The belief that children with dyslexia will eventually outgrow it is simply not true," says lead author Sally E. Shaywitz, MD, of Yale University. Shaywitz tells WebMD that while many bright young adults with dyslexia learn to read words accurately, they remain slow readers for a reason. "The same phonological deficit responsible for initial reading difficulties remains and accounts for persistent problems," Shaywitz tells WebMD. In other words, children who were diagnosed as dyslexic early in their school careers were still dyslexic later on, even though they may have learned to overcome it to some degree.

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressing or receiving oral or written language. Difficulties may be expressed in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening. According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence. The term but describes a different kind of mind -- often gifted and productive -- that learns differently. The National Institutes of Health estimates that approximately 15% of the U.S. population are affected by learning disabilities, many with dyslexia.

For this study, children were recruited from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, a representative group of almost 500 children entering public kindergarten in 1983. When the students reached the ninth grade, those with persistent reading disabilities were compared with average and superior readers. Each child received a comprehensive assessment of academic, language, and other cognitive skills.

Over the study period, researchers found that deficits in phonological awareness and coding continued in the dyslexic group. Phonological awareness allows people to notice, comprehend, and manipulate the individual sounds in a word. Phonological coding deficits interfere with reading rate, accuracy, and spelling. Therefore, dyslexics are not 'cured,' nor do they 'catch up,' in the development of reading skills as they progress in school.

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