WHEN FADS in reading instruction swing away from a phonics-based curriculum, few students suffer more than dyslexics. Recent research pinpointing a difference in brain activity was credited with proving that dyslexia exists, that it is a neurological condition based in the brain and not a question of subpar intelligence or lack of effort.
Plenty of people knew that already -- including thousands of dyslexics who became eager readers, good students and successful adults after receiving the correct remediation. For most dyslexics, that help has come through intensive, one-on-one or small-group tutoring in a multisensory instructional method known as Orton-Gillingham.
Dyslexics may not find it easy to decode the written word, but they have distinctive strengths in other areas. Yet rather than trying to identify their needs and provide the kind of instruction that would make them successful students, public education has ignored them if they could scrape by or relegated them to special education classes with students with very different needs and much lower levels of ability.
Even when Orton-Gillingham instruction has been offered in public schools, it is given with too many students per instructor. If educators truly want to succeed in teaching all children to read -- including the estimated 10 percent to 15 percent who are dyslexic -- schools of education must train future teachers in reading methods that work for all students, including dyslexics. And school systems must pay more attention to identify early those children who show signs of reading problems.
School officials will argue that this is expensive. But so are the useless "special education" classes many dyslexics now attend instead of receiving proper help. And so is the human cost of wasted talents and untapped potential.
Pub Date: 3/17/98