Yet often, elementary school teachers skip or minimize the crucial first step in learning how to read—a thorough understanding of phonics—and emphasize other aspects of reading, like “learning to love reading” instead, assuming that, eventually, children will just pick up reading naturally.
That doesn’t work: The wait-and-see approach is really a wait-to-fail model, according to Gaab, and typically sets children with dyslexia even further behind, with serious implications for the rest of their lives. A quarter of children with dyslexia suffer from depression and anxiety, and a third also have ADHD. Nearly half of all prison inmates have dyslexia, and adults with disabilities are 46 percent more likely to commit suicide than those without.
While dyslexia cannot be cured, there are early interventions that can help a child learn how to read—specifically, structured literacy, an umbrella term for multisensory, explicit instruction based on six specific language areas set forth by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA): phonology, sound-symbol association, syllable instruction, morphology, syntax, and semantics.
When teachers use this approach for beginning readers who show signs of dyslexia, “studies have shown that 50–90 percent of those kids will reach the range of average reading ability,” says Gaab.