Parents need to know this to help their children overcome reading difficulties.

  [Window of World Education]
  In modern society, reading is one of the necessary skills for individuals. Reading is a key way for children to learn knowledge, and it is also an important way for children to develop their thinking and cultivate their temperament. In the frame map of students’ learning fields in the 21st century put forward by UNESCO, reading and communication occupy the central position in the seven learning fields. Therefore, parents expect their children to learn to read as soon as possible.
  However, in fact, all over the world, many children can’t read normally. Some parents feel that their children can’t concentrate, that they are "ADHD", and they don’t realize that their learning disabilities may be another situation.
  1. Is it dyslexia or ADHD?
  Under normal educational conditions, most children can learn to read normally. However, although reading is so important to children’s development, some children can’t acquire reading smoothly. According to research statistics, there are about 5%-10% children in English, Chinese, Japanese and other writing systems. They have normal intelligence and enjoy equal educational opportunities, but their reading performance is still far behind their peers — — These children are called dyslexia.
  As early as 1896, clinicians in Europe and the United States discovered the existence of children with reading difficulties. Limited by the level of science and technology at that time, the most knowledgeable people also knew little about "dyslexia". For a long time, society has misunderstood children with dyslexia, thinking that they are stupid, lazy, or "unable to sit still" (inattention and hyperactivity). Up to now, science has unveiled the mystery of "dyslexia", and our understanding of dyslexia is more clear.
  First of all, children with dyslexia do not have intellectual problems, and some children with dyslexia are even very smart. If the problem of dyslexia can be found in time and received special education, they may overcome the problem of reading and writing, give full play to their potential, and even become creative talents in various fields. Therefore, sometimes we call children with dyslexia "smart stupid children".
  Secondly, dyslexia is a developmental disorder, and people diagnosed with dyslexia are troubled by it all their lives. They have difficulties in word recognition, word understanding and dictation throughout primary and secondary schools and all the way to adulthood. So don’t expect dyslexia to heal naturally. Early detection and early intervention are very important to overcome dyslexia.
  Thirdly, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, commonly known as ADHD) are two different problems, which can exist separately or at the same time. Although the prevalence of dyslexia with ADHD is as high as 20%-40%, dyslexia and dyslexia caused by ADHD are two different abnormal phenomena. It is important to distinguish the difference between these two problems, because there are different ways of intervention.
  Finally, dyslexia runs in the family. Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one person suffers from dyslexia, the probability of the other person suffering from dyslexia is as high as 68%; One of the parents or immediate siblings suffers from dyslexia, and the probability of this individual suffering from dyslexia is about 50%. This can be used as one of the signals for early identification of children with dyslexia.
  So, how should parents or teachers identify children with dyslexia? Typical manifestations of children with dyslexia are listed below. The following 10 items meet 6 or more and last for more than half a year. Children may have dyslexia and need to find a professional institution to diagnose their children.
  First, the language performance is significantly lower than the average level of the same class; Second, read slowly and laboriously, and do not understand the content after reading; Third, it is easy to jump words and lines when reading; Fourth, I don’t like reading aloud, and when I read aloud, I drop words or easily read typos; Fifth, the writing speed is slow and it is easy to write typos; Sixth, I often can’t remember the date or name; Seven, the sense of balance is not good, and the small muscles are clumsy; 8. Avoid tasks that require a lot of reading and avoid reading novels or other written materials; Nine, low self-esteem, no confidence in themselves; Ten, learning a foreign language is particularly difficult.
  2. A stumbling block to fluent reading
  Reading is an advanced cognitive function, not a physiological instinct that human beings naturally develop and mature at a certain age — — Reading is far more complicated than we thought. Reading involves a series of cognitive processing processes: first, bottom-up processing, that is to say, reading is to obtain meaning from written words, involving the recognition of written words, and only by recognizing words can we understand the meaning of sentences or chapters; The second is top-down processing. Reading comprehension depends on the interaction with the reader’s own memory (knowledge) structure to process and process the input textual information.
  Most children have been exposed to the written environment before they formally learn to read — — Advertising slogans, printed words on food packaging bags, and words on picture books that can be seen everywhere in life — — These make children have a preliminary understanding of the characteristics and functions of words, and they can gradually realize that words are symbols used to record spoken language, which are different from other symbols. This initial perception of words is called "word consciousness". Whether it is the reading of pinyin characters or Chinese characters, the sense of words is very important.
  As children grow older, they are exposed to more and more words. Especially after primary school, I began to systematically learn the recognition of words, and gradually formed my perception of the design rules of words, that is, "orthographic consciousness." When children know a certain number of words (or words), they can enter the stage of independent reading, that is, they will no longer rely on the help of adults to read text-based books independently. With the increase of children’s reading, the reading speed is gradually accelerated. By the fourth grade of primary school, most children can become skilled readers.
  Phonetic awareness is very important for children with pinyin (such as English and German) background to learn to read. Phonetic awareness refers to children’s ability to perceive and operate phonetics. For example, they can skillfully divide cat (meaning "cat") into three corresponding minimum pronunciation units /k//ae//t/, and can also combine pronunciation units to form a word. The deficiency of this ability is considered to be the core reason for the difficulty in reading pinyin. However, the role of phonological awareness in Chinese reading is not as important as that in pinyin. It is generally believed that phonological awareness only plays a limited role in the early stage of Chinese reading and learning.
  For children with Chinese background to learn to read, the first threshold is the decoding of Chinese characters, that is, literacy, that is, to establish the relationship between the font of Chinese characters and the pronunciation and meaning of words. On the road to becoming a fluent reader, the first stumbling block for children with Chinese dyslexia is to remember the glyphs and write Chinese characters. A large number of studies have consistently shown that children with Chinese dyslexia have difficulties in font processing. They often have slow literacy, less literacy, and often make mistakes in writing, so it is difficult to remember the font of Chinese characters. Therefore, in order to firmly grasp the writing of Chinese characters, Chinese children often spend a lot of time copying Chinese characters. Copying one stroke at a time can help children to carry out fine visual processing on each Chinese character’s glyph. Like building a Lego block, different strokes are combined according to a certain spatial structure and "built" in Mi Zige in a regular and harmonious way. This is not an inefficient and stupid method. On the contrary, copying is an effective means for both literacy and writing. It can not only help children to establish a solid representation of glyphs in their brains, but also help them write Chinese characters more accurately.
  The structure of Chinese characters is complicated. According to the spatial relationship, Chinese characters can be divided into single characters, upper and lower structures, left and right structures and surrounding structures. Because of the visual complexity of Chinese character composition and the spatial diversity of Chinese character structure, it is difficult for Chinese children to master orthographic skills. The research also shows that the defects related to orthography are the core defects of Chinese dyslexia.
  Chinese character is an ideographic character, and there is no direct relationship between the shape and the pronunciation, but the relationship between the shape and the meaning of the word is closer. Pictophonetic characters are the main body of modern commonly used Chinese characters, and 80.5% of them belong to pictophonetic characters. Pictophonetic characters include two parts: shape and sound. The ideographic meaning of Chinese characters is very strong, and many words with the same shape are consistent or related in meaning. For example, after children learn the words "sea, ocean and river", they will find that they have the same radical "Tanya" and are all related to water. When they learn the words "lake, swimming and stream" again, they can realize that the newly learned Chinese characters may also be related to "water" — — This understanding and cognition of the smallest semantic unit is called "morpheme consciousness". This morpheme awareness is particularly important for children to learn to read, because Chinese contains a large number of Chinese characters with homographs. After children know a certain number of Chinese characters and can read independently, the obstacles they encounter in reading become the understanding of vocabulary, especially some written vocabulary. Children with strong morpheme awareness are more likely to understand the meaning of words and expand their vocabulary. Therefore, morpheme awareness is more important for Chinese reading learning than learning pinyin characters. It is found that morpheme awareness is closely related to children’s word formation ability, vocabulary and reading comprehension.The defect of morpheme consciousness is also one of the main cognitive defects of children with Chinese dyslexia.
  In addition to the difficulties in font processing, writing and morpheme processing, the study also found that children with Chinese dyslexia still have naming speed problems. The naming speed obstacle may reflect that children with dyslexia have some difficulties in establishing stable and high-quality orthographic representations, thus affecting the speed of transforming visual symbols into sound symbols. Research shows that naming speed can also predict reading fluency well. Naming speed is also very important to the development of pinyin reading, and naming speed defect is also one of the main defects of pinyin reading obstacle. Therefore, naming speed defect may be one of the common cognitive defects of cross-language reading disabilities.
  To sum up, children with dyslexia may have cognitive defects in many aspects. The mechanism of dyslexia in different words is not only consistent across languages, but also specific to words. As far as the current research is concerned, the mechanism of Chinese dyslexia is more complicated than that of pinyin.
  3. Is reading a brain problem?
  Reading is one of the unique advanced cognitive functions of human beings, and the brain is the physiological basis of reading learning and development. The International Dyslexia Association points out that dyslexia has specific neurophysiological defects.
  At the end of the 20th century, with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists were able to detect the inside of the brain in a non-invasive and harmless way. Like a precise scientific camera, it takes a complete and clear picture of every slice of the three-dimensional body of the brain and shows it to people. At present, the research conclusion that has been repeatedly verified by scientific research and widely recognized by academic circles is that the dyslexic group of pinyin characters (such as English) is mainly abnormal in the posterior temporal-parietal junction area of the left brain, which is manifested in the level of brain functional activity, brain structure and the connection between this brain area and other brain areas. This abnormality may affect their phonological awareness development and thus hinder their reading.
  However, the Chinese dyslexic group mainly has specific problems in the middle frontal gyrus of the left brain (related to the writing skills mentioned above) and the ventral pathway of the brain (related to the semantic processing and visual font processing mentioned above). At the same time, the abnormality of the occipital part of the right brain (that is, the brain area where we touch the pillow after lying flat) used for the processing of holistic visual features may also affect Chinese reading. These are all "abnormal brain working modes". The abnormality of these working modes will make the process of learning reading slow and arduous for dyslexics, because they can’t use the efficient and labor-saving reading neural pathway that most readers can use.
  How to understand the abnormal brain working mode of dyslexic people? First of all, this once again shows that dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not the result of children’s lack of hard work and incorrect learning attitude. Secondly, the brain is plastic, and appropriate and timely targeted training can help children with dyslexia overcome their reading difficulties and regain their reading confidence. For example, neuroimaging studies have found that effective behavior intervention can enhance the activity level of the temporal parietal region in the back of the left brain, which was originally weakly activated, and improve their reading performance. Finally, the abnormal brain working mode of dyslexic people has two sides. On the one hand, it makes the road for dyslexics to learn to read full of thorns; On the other hand, many dyslexics who have achieved high achievements in some fields are grateful for it, believing that the "learning process that can’t take the usual path" has given them unique problem-solving ability, while the difficult process of overcoming dyslexia has forged their perseverance.
  4. How to help smart "stupid children"
  Dyslexia is a developmental disorder. Early identification and early intervention can not only improve the success rate of intervention, but also prevent dyslexia from continuing into senior grades, and also avoid children’s emotional, behavioral problems and lack of self-confidence related to low academic achievement. Foreign research shows that in order to achieve the same effect, the teaching time of intervention in senior grade is several times more than that in junior grade (2 hours in fourth grade/0.5 hours in kindergarten).
  The study of dyslexia has a history of hundreds of years in the west, and it has been relatively perfect in the evaluation, intervention and policy support of dyslexia. Hong Kong, China, has also taken the lead in this respect. At present, it has developed the dyslexia behavior scale and diagnostic test, designed Chinese reading and writing courses in kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, and developed corresponding teaching materials, and conducted relevant training for educational administrators and Chinese teachers in primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. In addition, they also used the three-level response intervention model to replace the traditional methods to intervene in children with dyslexia, and achieved good intervention results.
  Because the research on dyslexia in mainland China started late and mainly stayed in the basic research stage, the applied research on the diagnosis and intervention of dyslexia is still relatively weak. The public’s understanding of dyslexia is very limited. In recent years, more and more scholars began to pay attention to the popularization of common sense of dyslexia, and popular science books such as Smart Stupid Child: Helping Children Overcome Dyslexia and Getting Out of the Maze appeared, which made the public have more scientific understanding of dyslexia, but there is still a long way to go in the intervention of dyslexia and the development of diagnostic tools.
  As mentioned earlier, dyslexia is a special learning disability that stems from abnormal brain development. Children with dyslexia are not not smart enough or do not study hard. On the contrary, their IQ is normal or even extraordinary, and they even have special talents in many aspects. Without timely diagnosis and intervention, what they need most is the understanding and support from teachers and parents. I hope these "smart stupid children" can have a happy childhood and enjoy reading like other children.
  (Author: Liu Li, Gao Yue, professors and doctors of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning of Beijing Normal University; Kang Cuiping, Ph.D., now works for China Education Innovation Institute of Beijing Normal University)