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Dr. Sally Shaywitz: Dos and Don'ts of Approaching Dyslexia

Dr. Sally Shaywitz: Dos and Don'ts of Approaching Dyslexia



Anastasia Copettari

April 6, 2023


Dyslexia is a common learning disorder that impacts the ability to read, write, and spell currently affecting between 10 to 20% of the global population.  Entirely caused by the way the brain processes information related to language, it can impact phonemic awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate individual sounds in words), decoding (the ability to decipher unfamiliar words), and reading fluency (the ability to read with accuracy and speed). It may, but it’s not by any means a necessary condition, also affect comprehension in other subjects, such as math, science, and history.

The term "dyslexia" comes from the Greek words "dys" (meaning "difficulty") and "lexis" (meaning "word" or "language") and, although it has been documented throughout history, it was not officially recognized as a specific learning disorder until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The path to our current knowledge on the matter has certainly been a winding road and it all began with dyslexia being thought to be caused by visual processing difficulties.

Around the mid-20th century, researchers like Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham started developing specialized teaching methods and materials for individuals with dyslexia. These approaches focused on teaching phonemic awareness and phonics, which are critical components of reading.

In the 1970s and 1980s, research into the neural mechanisms behind dyslexia began to emerge. Researchers like Albert Galaburda and Sally Shaywitz identified differences in brain structure and function in individuals with dyslexia compared to typical readers. Research also led to a better understanding of the disorder, improving interventions for dyslexic individuals.


Dr. Sally Shaywitz

Dr. Sally Shaywitz is a renowned pediatrician, neurologist, and researcher who has dedicated her career to understanding and treating dyslexia. She was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan before attending Harvard Medical School.

In 1973, Dr. Shaywitz joined the faculty of the Yale School of Medicine, where she founded the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity with her husband, Dr. Bennett Shaywitz. Together, the couple has conducted groundbreaking research on the neural basis of dyslexia and developed effective interventions for dyslexic individuals

Dr. Shaywitz's research has focused on the behavioral, cognitive, and neural aspects of reading and dyslexia, as well as the impact of dyslexia on social and emotional development. Her work has been published in numerous scientific journals and has helped to shape our understanding of this complex learning disorder.

In addition to her research, Dr. Shaywitz has been a vocal advocate for dyslexic individuals and their families, working to raise awareness about the disorder and improve educational opportunities for those affected by it. She has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the field of dyslexia research and advocacy, including the Samuel Torrey Orton Award and the Alice H. Garside Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Dyslexia Association.


Treating  juvenile dyslexia


Based on her research and clinical experience, Dr. Sally Shaywitz has provided some tips on some of the most important things to do when dealing with juvenile dyslexia. This paragraph will focus on them:

Early identification and intervention:

Dyslexia is a lifelong learning disorder that affects reading, writing, spelling, and sometimes, math. Early identification and intervention can provide dyslexic children with the support they need to overcome their challenges and succeed in school and life. It's important to screen children for dyslexia as early as possible, so they can receive the appropriate interventions and accommodations.

Use a multisensory approach:

Dyslexic children have difficulty processing language sounds, which can make reading and spelling challenging. A multisensory approach to teaching reading and spelling can be highly effective. This approach involves using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic cues to help dyslexic children learn and remember the sounds and symbols of language. For example, a dyslexic child might learn to associate the letter "b" with the sound of a bouncing ball, the letter "d" with the sound of a drum, and so on.

Provide accommodations:

Dyslexic children may require accommodations to help them succeed in school. Accommodations might include extended time on tests, the use of audiobooks or text-to-speech software, and access to assistive technology such as speech recognition software or specialized keyboards. Accommodations can help dyslexic children to work around their weaknesses and focus on their strengths.

Focus on strengths:

Dyslexic children often have strengths in areas such as creativity, problem-solving, and visual-spatial abilities. It's important to recognize and build on these strengths to help dyslexic children feel successful and confident. By focusing on their strengths, dyslexic children can develop a positive self-image and a sense of pride in their abilities.

Provide emotional support:

Dyslexia can be emotionally challenging for children. Dyslexic children may feel frustrated, anxious, and discouraged, particularly if they struggle in school. It's important to provide emotional support to help dyslexic children feel valued and respected. Encouragement, positive feedback, and a supportive learning environment can help dyslexic children to feel confident and motivated to succeed.


In Dr. Shaywitz's opinion, there  are also some things that are better avoiding. These include:

Don't underestimate their potential:

Children with dyslexia often face low expectations from their teachers and peers, which can lead to a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Dr. Shaywitz stresses the importance of recognizing that dyslexia does not define a child's potential, and that with the right support and resources, they can excel in their academic and personal lives.

Don't use negative reinforcement:

Punishing a child with dyslexia for mistakes or failures can be counterproductive, as it can further erode their self-confidence and make them less willing to take risks or try new things. Dr. Shaywitz recommends using positive reinforcement instead, such as praising effort and progress rather than just focusing on grades or test scores.

Don't rely on one-size-fits-all solutions:

Dyslexia is a complex and individualized condition, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating it. Dr. Shaywitz emphasizes the importance of personalized interventions that take into account a child's unique strengths and weaknesses, learning style, and interests.

Don't ignore the emotional impact of dyslexia:

Dyslexia can have a significant emotional impact on children, leading to feelings of frustration, shame, and isolation. Dr. Shaywitz stresses the importance of addressing the emotional impact of dyslexia and providing children with the support and resources they need to build resilience and cope with the challenges they face.

Don't overlook the importance of early intervention:

Early identification and intervention are key to helping children with dyslexia succeed. Dr. Shaywitz emphasizes the importance of screening for dyslexia as early as possible, ideally in kindergarten or first grade, and providing interventions that are tailored to a child's needs and individualized learning style.


In conclusion, dyslexia is a complex learning disorder that can significantly impact an individual's ability to read, write, and spell. However, with early identification, appropriate interventions, and accommodations, dyslexic individuals can succeed in school and in life. Dr. Sally Shaywitz's research and advocacy work have greatly contributed to our understanding of dyslexia and have helped to improve educational opportunities for dyslexic individuals. By following her dos and don'ts for approaching dyslexia, we can create a supportive learning environment that focuses on dyslexic individuals' strengths and provides them with the emotional support they need to feel valued and motivated to succeed. It's important to continue raising awareness about dyslexia and to promote inclusive educational policies that ensure equal opportunities for dyslexic individuals.


Edited by: Sushmita


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