What is dyslexia?
The following definition is taken from The International Dyslexia Association Ontario Branch:
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
In Ontario, dyslexic students may be identified by the Ministry of Education as learning disabled with a Communication Exception. The terms Specific Reading Disability, Specific Spelling Disability or Specific Writing Disability may also be used. Many people refer to dyslexia simply as a reading disability.
Dyslexia may present with varying degrees of severity.
2. What is the difference between the terms dyslexia and learning disability?
Dyslexia is a type of learning disability (LD) and represents the vast majority of all LD’s. An individual can have more than one type of learning disability.
Fortunately, dyslexia is considered highly responsive to appropriate treatment.
3. How common is dyslexia?
It is estimated that 15-20% of the population has dyslexia. In Canada that’s an estimated 5 million people. In every classroom there are likely 4 or 5 students who have difficulty reading and writing.
Dyslexia affects males and females almost equally.
4. What is the cause of dyslexia?
Dyslexia is neurological in origin. The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions. Typically, dyslexics have problems with phonological awareness.
5. How can I tell if my child has dyslexia?
Most children learn to read by age 7. Learning to read is built on a foundation of language skills that children start learning at birth. There are warning signs that can be observed in pre-school and kindergarten children that indicate a potential for future reading difficulties. These ‘red flags’ must be taken seriously, because the earlier a potential reading difficulty is addressed, the better.
“Current research indicates that early appropriate intervention can successfully remediate many disabilities, particularly those related to reading. Parents are often the first to notice that “something doesn’t seem right”.
(Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington, Children Services, ‘Red Flags’, 2006)
The following is a list of warning signs to help you to determine whether or not your child is at risk for reading difficulties. A history of reading problems in the family is always a warning sign.
Pre-school – JK
trouble learning nursery rhymes
inability to recognize or generate rhymes
mispronunciation of words (‘aminal’ for animal, psgetti)
difficulty learning and remembering names of letters
difficulty forming letters and numbers
Kindergarten and Grade 1
separate multi-syllable words into syllables
separate one syllable words into sounds
learn sound/symbol relationships (eg. the letter >b< makes the sound /b/)
sound out simple words like “cat” or “dog””
reading errors show no connection to the sounds of the letters (reads “goat” for “big”) many number and letter reversals complains about how hard reading is
For a more extensive list of literacy milestones see this article
Please note: The only way to verify that an individual is dyslexic is through testing by a qualified examiner.
6. I’ve tried to teach my son to “sound out” words, but he just gets frustrated. Why is this so hard for him?
The majority of students who struggle to learn to read have undiagnosed and untreated phonological awareness problems. Phonological awareness skills are listening skills such as the ability to hear rhymes or the ability to hear each individual sound in a word. These pre-reading skills develop sequentially, and are the building blocks necessary for success in learning to read. Unfortunately, not all reading instructional methods fully assess or address the development of phonological awareness skills.
At The Reading Clinic we develop these essential pre-reading skills prior to teaching sound-symbol relationships (“the sounds that letters make”). When your son has achieved the necessary phonological awareness skills, he will be ready to learn individual sounds and how to blend these sounds together to make words.
The good news for young children is that intensive, daily treatment of phonological awareness problems, before the end of grade 1, can usually result in normal development of these skills and the prevention of a major reading disability.
7. My daughter easily forgets letter names and their corresponding sounds. How can I help her remember them?
Your daughter would likely benefit from a multi-sensory approach using a lot of repetition to strengthen these sound-symbol relationships.
For example, to teach her that the letter makes the sound /m/, we would:
Work from visual to auditory
“This letter (point to the letter ) makes the sound /m/”
Ensure that the child can make the sound accurately
“Make the sound /m/. Notice that your lips are touching each other and that you can make this sound last for a long time.”
It’s important for our students to “feel the sounds in their mouth” as they make them.
Work from auditory to visual
Bring out previously taught letters and ask her to:
“Point to the letter that makes the sound .. /a/, /p/, /m/”
Kinesthetic – printing the letter
“Let’s print a big letter on the board. What sound does it make?
Good! Now let’s print a small letter and make the sound at the same time. Good. What is that letter called?”
Tactile (the sense of touch)
If a sound-symbol relationship is particularly difficult to learn, we’ll ask our students to print them using their index finger in sand or on a soft cloth. As they form the letter they continually make the corresponding sound. We try to stimulate multiple senses to strengthen the neural pathways until the sound-symbol relationship is automatic in printed text.
At The Reading Clinic all of our lessons are designed to review previously taught material as we introduce new concepts. In this way we are constantly strengthening associations to develop long term memory.
8. My daughter brings home books from school that are called “Early Readers”, but she can’t read them. I’ve noticed that there are many words that can’t be sounded out.
A major difference between the reading material at The Reading Clinic and “Early Readers” at school or at public libraries is that our text is phonetically-controlled. What that means is that we only ask our students to read words that they can successfully sound out based on the code they have been taught.
For example, the first lesson for a student who has completed the pre-reading phonological awareness work, is to identify the sounds of the following letters:
a, b, f, m, p, s, t
We use a logical, sequenced approach. First the letter names and corresponding sounds are taught. Then the letters (on tiles) are arranged to practice blending the individual sounds into three letter words. Next, the student is asked to spell words that are dictated to them. From words, we move on to phrases and then sentences. When this is ‘solid’, we introduce our students to their first book. This book only contains words that the student can read. Our success oriented approach means we don’t ask our students to do anything we have not prepared them to do. Obviously the text is limited at this stage, so pictures help fill in the pages. A sample sentence from the first lesson is:
A fat cat sat.
Common words that cannot be sounded out (such as “”the” and “was”) are taught separately so that more complex sentences can be introduced.
The Reading Clinic has Kingston’s largest selection of phonetically-controlled stories and books. Each level builds on the previous ones until the entire code has been mastered and students are ready to move on to uncontrolled text. This is an exciting time, when students realize that they can go to the library and pick out whatever books they want to read at their reading level and know they can read them successfully.
9. My daughter, in grade one, is struggling to learn to read. It has been suggested that we wait and see. What should we do?
It is important to seek help right away rather than waiting. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy (2003):
“There is a critical window of opportunity from the ages of four to seven for children to learn to read. Research on early reading difficulties is very clear: children who continue to experience reading difficulties in Grade 3 seldom catch up later. It makes sense to detect problems early in order to avoid the escalation of problems later.”
10. What type of reading program is the best for my child?
The International Dyslexia Association recommends that a reading program be based on a multisensory structured language approach.
(The following information has been taken from the International Dyslexia Association’s website, click on Orton-Gillingham Based and/or Multisensory Structured Language Approaches.) The content of the reading program must contain the following:
Phonological awareness: the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds (or ‘phonemes’) in spoken words.
identifying the beginning sound in dog as /d/
combining, or blending, the separate sounds in a word to say the word: (/m/, /a/, /p/ ? “map”)
breaking, or segmenting, a word into its separate sounds: (“up” : /u/, /p/)
Phonological awareness also includes work with rhymes, and syllables.
Sound-Symbol Association: the knowledge of the various sounds in the English language and their correspondence to the letters and combinations of letters which represent those sounds. Sound-Symbol association must be taught (and mastered) in two directions: visual to auditory and auditory to visual.
Morphology: the study and description of word formation (for example: prefix + base + suffix)
Syntax: this includes grammar and the mechanics of language
Semantics: the comprehension of written language
The reading program must be based on the following principles:
Simultaneous and Multisensory: All learning pathways in the brain (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile) are stimulated simultaneously in order to enhance memory and learning.
Systematic and Cumulative: The organization of the material follows a logical sequence starting with the easiest and most basic elements and progressing methodically to more difficult material. Each step is based on those already taught and concepts are systematically reviewed to strengthen retention.
Direct Instruction: Instruction requires direct student-to-teacher interaction.
Diagnostic Teaching: The teacher must be adept at prescriptive or individualized teaching. The teaching plan is based on careful and continuous assessment of the student’s needs.
Synthetic and Analytic Instruction: The program includes both synthetic and analytic instruction. Synthetic instruction presents the parts of the language and then teaches how the parts work together to form a whole. Analytic instruction presents the whole and teaches how this can be broken down into its component parts.
*The Reading Clinic meets all of these requirements.
11. My son is in grade 8 and struggles to read and write. Is it too late to get help?
It is never too late for individuals with dyslexia to learn to read, write and improve their spelling. Your son may be exhibiting some of the signs of an ongoing reading disability:
Avoids reading aloud
Reads slowly and with great effort
Avoids or struggles with writing tasks
Has trouble with word problems in math
Continues to spell incorrectly; may spell the same word differently in a single piece of writing or may reverse letter sequences (left / felt)
Is slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, base words, and other spelling strategies
12. My teenaged son hates school. He’s skipping classes and has become withdrawn. I’m sure it’s because of his reading disability.
If students with dyslexia receive appropriate instruction in the early grades, they learn to read. If they do not receive appropriate instruction, they struggle with reading and writing and will likely do poorly in school. Gradually they may lose their enthusiasm for learning. They end up being asked (on a daily basis) to perform tasks requiring the use of literacy skills they haven’t acquired. Discouraged and frustrated, it is easy to understand why some children with dyslexia become anxious or depressed. As adolescence approaches, frustration often leads to behavioral problems and loss of self-esteem.
According to Literacy is for Life (Movement for Canadian Literacy) 35% of students who are identified with learning disabilities drop out of high school. This is twice the rate of non-LD peers. It is crucial that children with dyslexia get the help they need in the early grades, before their self-image is affected. However, it is never too late to get help for your son.