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Understanding Dyslexia: Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders and More

written by: jennyflores • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/6/2012

Dyslexia can be more complicated than a disorder that causes letters to appear backwards. This article provides clarification on the different types of dyslexia as well as the signs that accompany each variation for students with special needs.

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    Visual Processing Disorder

    Dyslexia is commonly regarded as a reading disorder in which letters appear backward or jumbled up. The word dyslexia comes from the Greek words "dys", meaning poor and "lexis," meaning words or language. The original definition of dyslexia as a disorder primarily affecting reading has been revised by the International Dyslexia Association to allow for difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including not only reading but writing, spelling, handwriting, and arithmetic. By understanding the variations in these learning differences, appropriate teaching techniques can be adapted for successful intervention.

    The first variation we will talk about is visual processing disorder. This disorder does not stem from poor eyesight, but rather how information taken in through the eyes is interpreted by the brain. This impacts spatial relationships. The most common signs of this disorder can be seen in reading and math activities. Without appropriate spatial relationships it is difficult to view words as separate units. When reading, the words appear to run together. Directionality, reading right to left, is also affected. This type of disorder is what causes confusion with similarly-shaped letters such as b and d or p and q.

    Visual processing disorder negatively impacts mathematical abilities as well. In arithmetic it is necessary to be able to view numbers both as separate units (2) and understand that certain digits go together to make a single number (21). Operational signs must be viewed as distinct from the numbers yet tell you about the relationship between them. Problems in this area can be seen in the spacing and order between symbols.

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    Auditory Processing Disorder

    Auditory processing disorder is similar to visual processing disorder in that it isn't difficulty in hearing but the brain's difficulty in interpreting what has been heard. This has a direct impact on speech and language. It affects phonological awareness which is the awareness that words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes). With this awareness impaired it is difficult to recognize individual sounds in words, recognize similarities in words, or identify the number of sounds in a word. A person who is having trouble recognizing individual sounds in words will often leave off the ending sounds when speaking and spelling will be affected. Difficulty recognizing similarities between words is most noticeable when working on rhymes.

    Auditory processing disorder can also affect auditory memory and auditory sequencing. Auditory memory is the ability to remember information that was given verbally. A common sign of a deficit in auditory memory is difficulty following verbal directions. If given a three-step direction, the last step of the direction will be followed while the first two steps will probably be forgotten. Another clue to this disorder is difficulty recalling information from a story that has been read to them.

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    Other Variations

    Dyspraxia is another related disorder which affects planning and completing fine motor tasks. This disorder is easily recognized in younger children as they may have trouble not only with fine and gross motor skills, but there will also be a delay in understandable speech. School age children with dyspraxia will have the expected difficulties in gym classes and organized sports. They will often be socially immature because of an unwillingness to engage in social conversation due to speech difficulties such as control over volume, pitch and articulation. People with dyspraxia also experience extreme sensitivity to touch. Clothing and tags become bothersome enough to be a distraction.

    Dyscalculia refers to the disorder affecting mathematical skills. Symptoms of dyscalculia are difficulties with time and direction, money and credit, inconsistent results in basic math operations, the inability to remember math concepts, rules, formulas, and sequences. Dyscalculia can affect other areas of life as well. Formal music education becomes problematic. Dance step sequences are difficult to remember, as are rules and scorekeeping in sports.

    Dysgraphia negatively affects writing skills. Signs of dysgraphia are illegible handwriting, random (if any) punctuation, and an unusual and inconsistent positioning on paper with regards to lines, margins, and word spacing. Although dysgraphia is a term rarely used in schools, a student with dysgraphia will clearly have difficulty across curriculums.

    Clarification on these disorders makes the next step easier. Working on their difficulties within their abilities is the most direct path to a successful educational experience for students with special needs in the classroom.