Our 14-year-old son has been assessed as being dyslexic, dysgraphic, and dyscalculic along with being above average in intelligence but having some memory issues and some borderline attention issues. After having had him assessed by both a hospital and a school district the question is: Can dyslexic reading challenges be fully or mostly overcome, or will there always be some challenge associated with dyslexia? Is it worth continuing to try to teach and help our son understand the basics of reading or should we switch to a focus on accommodations to get by and actually learn content? I don't plan to "give up" on our son; it is a matter of where to put our money and effort. Help!


Dr. Pierson's Response: 

First, dyslexia is not cured; it is lifelong, BUT many dyslexics do overcome those challenges and lead successful, happy, fulfilled lives. See our Successful Dyslexics section. And, not all of these folks are famous.

That said, a common theme is that these successful people found their niche in life and work in areas that map onto their strengths. And, many talk about pursuing reading in areas of INTEREST. So, your son should read whatever interests him. We know the more one reads, the better reader one becomes.

Additionally, he needs to know his strengths and his weaknesses and typically those understandings come through intervention—by working with a clinician and experiencing success and when he hits the challenges, discussing what is going on and how to mitigate those challenges. I have found that many times middle/high school kids have not received the intervention that they need because people assume once you get through elementary school, there's not much to teach them. This is simply not true. Many of these kids have not received intervention in word study, for example—morphological roots, prefixes, and suffixes—which greatly helps them approach reading, spelling, & writing.

We also know that language and curriculum demands change over time. He needs to learn strategies, say, on how to approach/read different genres of text (narrative vs expository), how to write for different purposes (e.g., compare & contrast, persuasive, descriptive essays), how to manage reading increased amounts of text, how to manage his time (e.g., estimate how long it is going to take to read/write something).

So, my answer to this question—“Is it worth continuing to try to teach and help our son understand the basics of reading or should we switch to a focus on accommodations to get by and actually learn content?”—is BOTH. And, to do this you need a good, comprehensive assessment from someone who has expertise and experience evaluating the older student. At his age, it will be very important to get an assessment that includes both oral and written language!

A good clinician will assess his skills and can design intervention to target his specific needs AND help with accommodation/modification suggestions. You'll want to be sure the clinician has experience working with his age level. Your son also needs to learn to advocate for himself, which will be a part of therapy.

Last, I would recommend that he read Dr. Michael Ryan's Letters to a Young Dyslexic. Michael walks the walk. He is a successful dyslexic and as a psychologist, specializes in working with these people. He writes some REALLY good pieces.

An important factor in these individuals' lives is they had someone—that one person who believed in them. For many it was/is mom. He's lucky he has you! Let me know if I can help further.