Three million people are diagnosed with dyslexia each year. Students might struggle with reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling and sometimes speech. All of these challenges might exist along with other related disorders, which can make the learning experience incredibly stressful.

Among students with learning disabilities receiving special education services, 70-80% have deficits in reading. Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties, affecting up to 20% of the population, regardless of gender, ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds.

While defined as a Language-Based Learning Disability, there are additional perspectives that could offer intervention and treatment for dyslexia.

Visual physiology

A 2017 study found a major difference between the arrangement of the eye’s light-receptor cells in dyslexic and non-dyslexic people.

It found that in people with the condition, tiny light receptor-cells were arranged in matching patterns in the center of each eye. In non-dyslexics, the cells were asymmetrical, allowing the brain to choose one eye to override the other and create a single image. For dyslexic students, there is no dominant eye. The brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, which creates a glitch in how the image is processed.

The study’s authors posit that the lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities.

Brain development & neurology

Neuroscience offers another view. Dr. John Gabrieli, a professor and expert neuroscientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, looked closely at brain plasticity, and how hearing a word and reading a word aren’t quite the same experience.

“At first your brain responds strongly [to a] word and then when it’s repeated a few times it responds less and less strongly. We think that’s because the brain has changed to process the word more efficiently,” he said. “What we found in both adults and kids with dyslexia – this change in brain, this plasticity, this response to something repeating — was less with words that they saw and words that they heard.”

Gabrieli joins educators and parents in a strong desire for early identification of children at risk.

“We know the literature supports that early interventions are most effective not only for learning to read, but we also hope in any discouragement the child might have about his or her first major educational experience,” he said.

After that early detection? Students need comprehensive multi-sensory interventions and personalized learning opportunities.

“Because no two children are exactly the same, personalized instruction is critical. Studying ways in which personalized instruction can be even more effective and fit a child’s specific needs early on, is crucial,” he said.

Thoughtful instructional and personalized strategies can ease the strain of reading and learning, and are often detailed in an IEP. But not every student in need will arrive with a district-diagnosed intervention. How do you support their reading needs?

Tech that can help right now

dyslexic font overdrive

Odds are, you have struggling readers in your classroom right now. While many young readers report a preference for traditional books, standard typefaces are often difficult to read for people with dyslexia. The letters are hard to differentiate and words tend to jumble together. Screen reading with eBooks offer one thing a paper page cannot: dyslexic font. Audiobooks, as well, offer a different sensory experience that provides another reading solution that students with visual, language and processing challenges can all enjoy.

The dyslexic font, or dyslexie, is designed so that each letter is unique. Letters and words have extra distance between them to combat reversal and flipping of letters. Capital letters are bolder to help readers identify new sentences, and each letter is bottom-weighted.

OverDrive is the only U.S. eBook provider to offer the dyslexic font option as a reading setting in our apps, through the browser-based OverDrive Read and for navigating digital collection websites. Offering students a discreet, personalized way to read with less frustration will foster a love of reading, boost confidence in their ability to learn and improve achievement. And it’s available right now.