After one of my patients, Philip, shared his MRI with his third grade classmates and told them he had dyslexia, his teacher wrote to me to say, "The children were curious about it and had the following questions, what is dyslexia?" Dyslexia means being smart and having a hard time learning to read. When you have dyslexia, will you always have it? Can it be made better? Children who have dyslexia will always have dyslexia, but they can learn how to read. Sometimes it takes a while for reading to get better, but it always improves a lot. Well, then how do you get dyslexia? Children get dyslexia just like they get brown or green eyes or get to be short or tall. They are born with it. Does dyslexia come from a virus? No, dyslexia is not catching. You cannot get it from another person. Why is it called such a funny name like dyslexia? The word dyslexia comes from the Latin word dys, meaning difficult, and the Greek word lexia, which means words. Together, the two parts add up to a difficulty reading words. Often when thinking about a dyslexic child, the focus is on remediation, instruction in reading and spelling. But this is a whole child, what else should we be considering and thinking about the whole child? What I would think of is early on to help your child identify an interest or a hobby, an area in which he can have a positive experience; whether it be pure enjoyment or perhaps the ability to stand out or excel, an interest in fish or in rocks, a talent for dancing or juggling, skill in skating or swimming, a talent for acting or drawing, a propensity to understand science or computers, or love of poetry or music. It doesn't matter what it is. For the writer, John Irving, it was his involvement and skill in wrestling that helped him endure particularly harsh experiences at school. Having an interest or athletic activity often means that child's life is not always negative or entirely about studying or catching up. It allows the child to see himself as a victor, as a competent individual who has mastery over topic or an area. He gets to experience the feeling of winning. He must be encouraged to explore a range of possibilities in school and after school at the Y, in sports, in music, in art, in photography, and support his participation. Keep in mind, not every child falls in love with an activity immediately, so it's important to expose him to different possibilities and to get him through the initial rough spots when his first response maybe to want to give up. Remember that in most areas, stars are not born but made after lots of practice and hard work. Praise should not be treated as a rationed item. Be giving with your praise as long as it is honestly deserved. A child who is dyslexic will be receiving more than his share of criticism. Parents and teachers too should see to it that he knows the soothing sounds of praise. Parents should encourage the child to view himself as a person who has something to say and whom people should respect. Parents should discuss important decisions with him. These might involve issues that affect the entire family, like where to vacation, or issues that are more personal to him. They might talk about a current events issue such as a national, local or school election, or about a movie or television show. Be patient and listen as he expresses himself, take his comments seriously and respond to them. As he gets older, there will be many occasions where he will need to speak up and advocate for himself. Getting into the habit of speaking out and being heard is invaluable preparation for that. It is important that he fully understands the nature of his reading problem and its implications so that as he goes on in school, he can determine his need for educational modifications or accommodations and feel comfortable in speaking up for himself. Role-playing with a parent, or a trusted teacher, or a tutor can be helpful practice. It is terribly important how a parent views his or her child. If a parent feels that a diagnosis of dyslexia means that the child's future is doomed, he will come to feel the same way. Having a diagnosis of dyslexia should not preclude a child from pursuing his dreams. Given adequate intelligence, interests, persistence, and support, a child who is dyslexic can pursue virtually any area that interests him. Men and women who are dyslexic have distinguished themselves in every area imaginable, including areas the uninformed might belief are not possible for a person who is dyslexic: writing, law, medicine, science, and poetry. Children who are dyslexic should not be reflexively shunted onto a path of nonacademic ambitions. Unless that is clearly their preference, they should at least be helped to understand that they have a much fuller range of options. Many parents of children who are dyslexic have experienced reading problems themselves. If a parent has, encourage that parent to tell their child about them and about how that parent felt when growing up. Allow him to see that people whom he admires are not perfect and are able to succeed in life. Be aware that some of his behaviors, such as procrastinating with regard to reading or studying for a test, may reflect anxiety associated with previous difficulties in reading or taking tests. If these begin to interfere with his daily functioning, that is, if he always seems anxious, sad, or worried, it may be helpful to consult with the child's psychiatrist or psychologist. The child's pediatrician will provide an appropriate referral. A visit to a professional often helps a family better manage a problem or prevents a more serious one. Don't! Don't patronize a child or dumb down his expectations. Always treat him as a person with many dimensions, not simply as a person who has a reading problem. Let his strengths and not his weaknesses define him as a person. When I was in high school, I was a high school debater and high school debaters are famous or infamous depending on your perspective, for their use of note cards. Everything's down on a note card and people speak from these note cards. Now, when you're dyslexic, that doesn't work very well because the time it takes you to look down on a note card, focus, read is too long, you've lost your audience. So you need to learn to speak and debate if you're going to debate and you're dyslexic. You need to learn how to do that without using note cards. You need to learn how to speak extemporaneously, you need to learn how to remember, memorize a framework and then speak around that framework. That is a skill that can be very valuable to you later in life, and particularly if you're a trial lawyer like I am. It can be particularly valuable, but it can be valuable to people in all walks of life because people in all walks of life have to present. This allows you, I think, to present it in a much more natural way. There are things that you learn to cope that can become actually sources of strength.