Stealth Dyslexia – Dyslexia is Not Just a Reading Difficulty

If your child seems verbally gifted yet struggles with poor handwriting or poor math skills, it may be time to have your child evaluated for stealth dyslexia.

Most people think of dyslexia as a reading disability. After all, even the experts define it as such. In 2003, for example, the International Dyslexia Association described dyslexia as, “a specific learning disability…characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities…problems in reading comprehension, and reduced reading experience…”

But dyslexia is, at its roots, a neurophysiological difference that is expressed in many more ways than this definition suggests. Reading difficulties are just a single manifestation of dyslexia. Just as often, dyslexia manifests as spoken language issues; poor handwriting; difficulties in math, coordination, sequencing, organization, time orientation, left/right orientation, auditory or visual processing, spatial perception, memory; and even eye-movement control issues.

Strong Readers

According to Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide of dyslexicadvantage.com (both of whom are dyslexics), many children in their practice struggle in school with difficulties that seem to have a clear basis in dyslexia, even though their reading skills are just fine, and in some cases, even superior. Since these kids are such strong readers, they remain below the radar for having dyslexia. As a result, they fail to receive the help they deserve and need to cope with their academic issues.

In fact, children with this type of dyslexia tend to be verbally precocious, even gifted. They use their verbal skills to compensate for low-level deficits in visual and auditory processing, whereas in “normal” dyslexic children, such deficits more often cause reading difficulties. The Eides see this type of dyslexia so often they decided to give it a name: “stealth dyslexia” since it’s a sneaky sort of dyslexia, so often going undetected.

Crippling Manifestation

In terms of academic work, the most crippling manifestation of stealth dyslexia is without a doubt dysgraphia, or difficulties in writing. These children find it difficult to take the words in their heads and turn them into symbols with pen and paper. Their motor systems just won’t obey.

They may also have problems with sequencing or spatial perception that means they just can’t retrieve the memories of how to form the individual letters. They end up with strange-shaped letters, letter reversals and inversions, and awkward spacing (irregular spaces, letters that are in turn, too far apart or too crowded). They may not even be able to figure out where the sounds or letters fit into a word.

The parents are often confused. Here is a child with incredible verbal skills but even into adolescence, the child still cannot write out the alphabet. The fact that such a child may also have dyspraxia or sensory-motor clumsiness may lead to a huge gap between apparent giftedness and actual academic output.

Yet, should the child be evaluated, and the stealth dyslexia recognized, a keyboard can be that child’s best friend. With the right tools, the child can set down those precocious ideas in solid type and create legible homework.

There is always, if not a cure, a means to cope with the issues that accompany dyslexia. For this reason, if your child seems to be gifted with words but is struggling with poor handwriting and math skills, for instance, have him or her evaluated by someone knowledgeable in the field of dyslexia. Early identification leads to the right sort of interventions which may make the difference between academic success and failure.

And failure is an untenable choice for a child with a gifted mind.

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