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Specialist of the Month: Brian Wolff

Categories: Learning Disabilities

Increasing Awareness of Dyslexia, One Myth at a Time

Dr. Brian WolffDr. Brian Wolff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and owner of the Wolff Child Psychology practice in Denver, Colorado. As a professional specializing in the evaluation of dyslexia and other learning disabilities, Dr. Wolff has worked with local schools and families all over the state. Originally started as a solo practice, Wolff Child Psychology aims to offer a holistic approach to helping students and has grown to include several clinicians. Dr. Wolff’s experience with dyslexia spans the length of his career. His mentors in graduate school were some of the founders of dyslexia diagnostic testing, which helped him discover his own passion for neuropsychology and learning disabilities. While the field of dyslexia research is not new—there was work being done in the 70s—our understanding has advanced significantly over the past several decades. Despite this increase in information and facts, public awareness of dyslexia remains generally low. “There is still a huge disconnect in what we as specialists know and what the public knows,” Dr. Wolff says. Unfortunately, the disconnect often extends into the education system. “There are persistent myths surrounding dyslexia and restrictions on what the schools can do. For example, we still hear messages about backward writing and flipped letters. We see schools sending their students who show signs of dyslexia to vision or auditory therapists, when really they need a dyslexia specialist to make the diagnosis and recommend Orton-Gillingham intervention and audiobooks.” As a psychologist, an important part of Dr. Wolff’s role is to correct these myths and fallacies. He says that, while public understanding of dyslexia is increasing, there is still progress to be made. “There's a growing awareness, but it's not always an evidence-based awareness. A lot of what I do is offer education and guidance.”
“Kids who get evidence-based early intervention have a better chance of catching up with their grade level than kids whose disability is caught later."
Informing families and schools about dyslexia often involves explaining the signs. “When a child avoids reading, they may get passed off as having ADHD or oppositional behavior. It's possible the student has those issues, but some kids cleverly avoid having their reading skills assessed in the classroom because they’re struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia. Another example is if a child without a hearing problem seems to frequently have a hard time parsing words during a discussion, it may be an indicator of a learning disability. My job is to determine the cause of the issue, make a diagnosis, and recommend appropriate interventions.” When it comes to identifying students with learning disabilities, earlier is better. Dr. Wolff says, “Kids who get evidence-based early intervention have a much better chance of solidly catching up with their grade level than kids whose disability is caught later. However, it is definitely a better-late-than-never situation, and there are many accommodations that work well for older students." An important factor in early intervention is not only strengthening the connection between the student's brain and language, but also increasing their motivation to learn. "If a child realizes early on that they're not stupid—that it's not a can't situation—they can become a more excited, engaged learner, which carries weight. When a kid doesn't get help early and by fifth grade decides school isn't for them, you then have another obstacle to overcome. They don't feel hopeful. On the flip side, we sometimes hear teachers say that it's all a confidence issue, which is definitely not true either. Dyslexia is far more complex than that.”