Addressing Characteristics of Dyslexia and it’s Myths

Reading Time: 3 minutes


Meet Dr. Gail Hardwick, a district Reading Coach for Decatur Public schools in Georgia. Dr. Hardwick works in a district that is part of a pilot program in the state of Georgia designed to screen all K-3 students for characteristics of dyslexia. Once students have been screened, the information is shared with the schools’ MTSS team so decisions can be made on the appropriate supports the learner needs. Teachers also participate in training on the science of reading, so that even without a diagnosis, a child who has been identified as having characteristics of dyslexia can receive proper support. This helps address some of the equity issues around access to a diagnosis and aligns with the universal design principle that accommodations for one student can be beneficial for all.


Identifying the Root Cause & Academic Factors First

As part of her reading coach work, Dr. Hardwick tutors students 1:1 who have been identified as having characteristics of dyslexia. One of her students is a fourth grader with below average reading scores and low self esteem. Originally her teacher identified her as having comprehension difficulties.  However, after completing the Acadience screener and Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KETA), Hardwick identified the student as having characteristics of dyslexia and the root cause being a phonological issue that was impacting her ability to decode and therefore understand grade level texts. Some of the academic factors that Hardwick considered when working with this student include: phonological processing, orthographic processing, morphological knowledge. But she also knew that this student has ADHD.  ADHD and dyslexia have a frequent comorbidity. Other factors Hardwick considered include: attention, working memory and motivation.


When Hardwick started working with the fourth grader, she began by “clearing up” the sounds of individual letters. She noted that certain letters like “x” were still confusing for the student. Once the student accurately recognized the individual sounds, they moved into blends and digraphs, swapping out letters to make new sounds. Much of their time together included multi-modal and a multisensory approach to phonics


Incorporating Motivation in each Strategy

Hardwick’s approach also addressed motivation. For instance, working on blends included jumping around and tracking in the sand. Or, Hardwick created games that involved the student running from one side of the room to the other to highlight a different blend. Hardwick also used controlled passages of decodable text that she would write herself to ensure that the student was only exposed to words that she already knew.


A key aspect of Hardwick’s program was ensuring that the student understood the “why” behind each strategy. Being transparent with the student about her characteristics of dyslexia helped remove the stigma of being a “poor reader” and helped her understand what strategies would support her reading. For instance, Hardwick clearly explained how the challenges of working memory had an impact on her reading and provided a fun strategy to help her develop working memory. Hardwick used a multi-sensory approach of pushing up pebbles for each word in the sentence to help her recall the whole sentence. By sharing the why behind this strategy, the student showed that she felt empowered to ask for support by saying, “can you repeat that I have a hard time remembering things?” instead of feeling “dumb” for not being able to remember. 


Debunking the Dyslexia Myths

When Hardwick first shared the diagnosis of dyslexia with Amanda’s parents, her mom was surprised.  She thought dyslexia was only something you had if you reversed letters, a common misconception. By showing her the test results and educating the student’s  mother on her diagnosis, the parent took the added step of finding and enrolling Amanda into a school for dyslexic students. Hardwick remarks that parents can feel very differently about the label of dyslexia. “Some parents want the label so they can get the services they need, others are concerned about the stigma that label brings,” says Hardwick. 



What we Learned Along the Way:

Regardless of whether you get an official diagnosis, understanding what the needs of the student are and debunking some of the myths around dyslexia can be empowering for parents AND students.


The Learner Variability Navigator is a free online tool that translates the science of learner variability into factors and strategies to improve educational product design and classroom practice.

About The Author


Dr. Gail Hardwick

District Reading Coach for City Schools of Decatur in Georgia.


Decatur Public Schools

Decatur Public Schools is an independent public school district that serves all of the children and youth within the four square mile area of Decatur, Georgia. An urban town of approximately 20,000 residents, the City of Decatur is a historic city of homes, schools, and places of worship with a thriving business community located east of downtown Atlanta. Decatur offers a traditional small-town atmosphere–and the sophistication and excitement of a college town–along with all the benefits of living in a major metropolitan area.