I often encountered parents in my reading practice who struggled with learning to read in school, but who later became avid readers. Were they once dyslexic, and have they somehow been cured? What happened? Let's assume for the moment that this happened to you, or to your spouse.
It’s important for you to recognize that you or your spouse might still be dyslexic, even though both of you now read well, because your own experience might lead you to assume that your child’s situation will also resolve itself in time. While your assumption might turn out to be correct, I recommend that you not leave the outcome to chance, but instead take steps to help your child if you are able to do so.
How Your Own "Dyslexia" Could Have Disappeared
Note that "dyslexia" is in quote marks here. That's because you might have struggled simply because your visual skills took a bit longer to mature than your peers. All of a sudden one day in late first grade, your binocular vision skills clicked in, and what the teacher was telling you about reading started to finally make sense. This is actually fairly common, leading many first-grade teachers to assure parents of struggling readers that their child seems intelligent enough and is probably just one of those "late-bloomers" she sees each year. But this is not dyslexia; this is just a case of slower than average visual development. It's unlikely that you ever considered yourself to have a reading problem, or that you soon forgot how you struggled initially.
However, you might well have gone through the early grades, and even high school, knowing full well that you were struggling with reading. Yet today you might be a decent reader, even an avid one. What is likely to have happened in your particular case? Were you somehow "cured" of your dyslexia, which you almost certainly had?
How the Brain Adapts
With each passing year we learn more about the brain, and in particular, about it's amazing ability to adapt. And if you are an avid adult reader who was once a dyslexic child, it's likely that an interesting adaptation has occurred, that being that you are reading while using only one eye, even though you might be completely unaware of it.
What happens is that the brain, faced with two conflicting, and confusing, outputs from the eyes, due to your poor visual skills, finally decides to deal with the matter itself and selects the output of one eye for processing, while ignoring the output of the other eye. That this actually does occur has been demonstrated repeatedly among once-dyslexic adults, where testing reveals that output from one eye is not being processed, even though that eye is open and is receiving input normally. In fact, if one covers the eye that is being actively used, the output from the other eye will be processed, so an affected individual will naturally assume that both eyes are functioning normally.
Thus, the reason you are reading comfortably as an adult is possibly due to the brain adapting to your deficient binocular vision skills by refusing to process the output of one eye when reading. Should that be the case, your dyslexia is anything but cured, for an adaptation is hardly a cure.
Now, this doesn't happen to everyone, of course. Some adults read well, but have to take frequent breaks because their visual systems are fatiguing due to poor visual skills. Others read well because their visual skills finally did develop sufficiently that reading became effortless.
In all such cases, however, a genetic tendency is likely to be present and is able to be passed on. In that sense, especially, dyslexia cannot be "cured," and a dyslexic parent needs to be aware of the likelihood that some of his or her children will probably share the genetic predisposition to dyslexia.
A Dietary Cure for Dyslexia?
In The Diet Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle, I discuss a study that indicated that fish oil, presumably the Omega 3's in the oil, had a positive effect on reading ability. The change happened quite rapidly in the study, indicating that it was probably affecting something physical, rather than just increasing a child's ability to learn over time. A similar sort of outcome occurred in a study involving multivitamins. Both of these studies support the notion that dyslexia involves certain processing abilities of the brain, including possibly visual processing, and that the supplementation enabled that processing to proceed more normally, at least during the time period of the study.
In addition, in that section, I introduce Dr. John Cannell's Vitamin D Theory of Autism, a theory in which Dr. Cannell postulates that the autism epidemic we are now experiencing is due to a widespread vitamin D3 deficiency. I believe he makes an excellent case. Furthermore, it would not surprise me to find that the vitamin D3 deficiency is also causing an increase in the incidence of dyslexia, as well as those suffering from ADHD symptoms, since all of these are conditions characterized by delays or disruptions in normal child development processes and share many common symptoms.
Should it turn out that proper diet, or supplementation, keeps the dyslexia gene set to "off" in most individuals, then it's reasonable to consider those individuals to be cured of dyslexia, although really that's not accurate either, since they never really had dyslexia if the gene was never actually "on." However, should it eventually turn out that some individuals experience a treatment effect, and that their existing dyslexia symptoms disappear due to following a suitable diet or supplementation, I suppose they would be considered cured. Still, they would carry the genetic predisposition and could pass it on to their children.
Is Vision Therapy a Possible Cure?
In The Vision Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle I describe much of what I learned working closely with a vision therapy department while operating my reading instruction business. That experience is what convinced me that every child struggling with reading should, at a minimum, be examined by a developmental optometrist to rule out visual skills problems.
As to whether vision therapy offers a cure for dyslexia, I have seen children undergo vision therapy, and then easily pick up my phonics instruction thereafter. Was their dyslexia cured? In this case, I would say definitely not, especially since they often showed other symptoms of developmental delay, such as compromised immune systems, or poor gross or fine motor skills. In this case, vision therapy addressed the particular developmental delay that was making reading such a struggle, that is, their poor visual skills, and then the phonics instruction filled in the necessary information about how print works. It would be hard to characterize this as a cure, however, although many of those children did indeed become proficient readers. In that sense, their parents certainly deemed them cured, for the reading problem was the one that drove them to seek help in the first place.
Other Possible Cures?
In both The Auditory Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle and The Exercise Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle I briefly discuss other avenues of treatment for dyslexia, treatments that others have claimed will address a reading problem effectively. Because many of these purported treatments do address fundamental developmental issues, I would not rule out the possibility that some of them might be of value, at least in certain cases.
After all, if dyslexia is characterized as a pattern of delayed development across several fronts, then any therapy that accelerated development on one of those fronts, auditory, visual, fine motor, or gross motor, stands a chance of improving development on other fronts as well. So, I remain quite open to claims that, say, an auditory program might remove a particular developmental roadblock, or even several roadblocks, and thereby create an efficient reader. Should one of these therapies somehow correct all of the developmental delays, I suppose it could be considered to have cured dyslexia. I currently know of no such therapy, however, though I have no doubt that some of them can improve the reading ability of certain dyslexic individuals. In fact, this is one reason dyslexia is such a puzzle; because so many different approaches to the issue show promise in at least some individuals.
The Phonics Cure?
A small contingent of reading instructors, educators, and reading researchers claim that poor or non-existent phonics instruction coupled with a predominantly whole language approach to instruction will create the brain patterns seen in dyslexics. And while it is almost certainly true that whole language instruction will create a different student brain than phonics instruction, in that the synapses constructed for reading will almost certainly be different, perhaps wildly different, such instruction could hardly be considered to have created a dyslexic; a dyslexic, incidentally, that can then be easily "cured" by proper instruction in phonics, by providing the missing ingredient, if you will.
While whole language instruction has created some inefficient readers, and many really horrible spellers as well, I don't consider that to be a case of creating dyslexics. Perhaps a style of reading instruction is capable of generating symptoms of dyslexic behavior, and even of creating its own unique pattern of brain waves, but whole language reading instruction by itself is not going to generate the pattern of delayed development across several developmental fronts that is common to the dyslexic child. Furthermore, if the dyslexic child can be identified even before reading instruction begins, how could any style of reading instruction have created the dyslexia?
So, in short, phonics instruction is not a cure for dyslexia, simply because whole language instruction cannot be considered a cause of dyslexia, unless dyslexia is defined narrowly as simply poor reading, rather than broadly as a pattern of delayed development across several fronts.
An Important Note on Intelligence
Before jumping off to one of the pages on this website that address the various diet, vision, and phonics issues already mentioned, please take a minute or two to read the following page titled Can Intelligence Be Changed? The short answer is "yes," but, unfortunately, it can change in either direction. It can decrease as well as increase and it's more likely to be decreasing while a child is struggling with a reading problem.
The message to get from that page, though, is that it can indeed be increased, and that after a reading problem has been addressed, the parental focus should switch to ensuring that such an increase actually does take place.