Rewiring the Dyslexic Brain for Reading

Updated: Sep 5

by Shawna Audet

If you have a class of 30 students then, it is statistically likely that you have 6 dyslexic students in your class. Dyslexia is a brain-based learning difference that puts these kids at risk for reading failure. Learning disabilities relating to dyslexia occur on a spectrum so if your school has an effective reading system in place, then some of these dyslexic students will not experience reading difficulties and will not require extra support. If you are working in a school where an effective reading system is not in place, then some of your students are being denied their basic human right to read. Ineffective school-wide reading systems put dyslexic students at heightened risk for many negative life outcomes such as mental health issues, incarceration, and life-long literacy struggles.

Having a proven intensive, systematic reading intervention available to all students who need it, is a critical piece of an effective school reading system. The intervention must be given by a trained individual. Special education teachers do not have the skills to do this unless they also have reading remediation training. For this reason, the practice of having general special education teachers using a collection of random resources is not an effective practice. The practice of withholding services until a child gets a psych-ed assessment and making the child wait until they are in grade four to get testing is another example of a practice that leads to the denial of our students' basic human right to read. Another ineffective practice is when a school provides accommodations instead of a proven reading intervention to students who are suffering from reading failure. To understand why these practices provide life-long harm to dyslexic children, we need to understand how the brain learns to read.

When all students begin the process of learning to read, they use their upper brain circuit. This circuit is a slow one. It allows a student to sound out each sound in a word. Imagine a kindergarten student sounding out the word c-a-t. You can almost hear the gears in their brains turning as they work out each sound. By the end of grade two, most students have made the switch to using their lower brain circuit. This circuit is much faster than the upper circuit. Using this lower circuit allows a student to instantly recognize the word “cat” without having to work out the sounds one by one. Using the lower circuit gives students the ability to read with the speed that allows them to move up the reading pyramid into a state of reading fluency. Fluency is critical because when we can read with speed, accuracy, and a natural expression, reading stops feeling like work. This is when we can experience the joy of reading.

Students who fail to make the switch to using the lower brain circuit for reading need proper support. Proper support means that they need access to a proven reading remediation program from a trained reading remediation teacher. It is critical that this support is provided early. To understand why the reading intervention needs to be given early (as early as the second half of kindergarten) we need to, once again, look to brain science. Remember that dyslexic students who are suffering from reading failure are stuck using their upper brain circuit. To understand the effect of this, imagine a truck going up and down a muddy road on the same track. The wheels create a rut in the road that becomes deeper and deeper.