Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. -Frederick Douglas
Is Your Child at Risk for Dyslexia?
What is dyslexia?
- Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.
What causes dyslexia?
- 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. Moreover, most people with dyslexia have been found to have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. Researchers now know that Dyslexia is not due to seeing letters backwards (as once thought); lack of intelligence; or desire to learn. With appropriate teaching methods, dyslexics can learn successfully.
What are the effects of dyslexia?
- The impact that dyslexia has is different for each person and depends on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of instruction or remediation. The core difficulty is with word recognition and reading fluency, spelling, and writing. Some dyslexics manage to learn early reading and spelling tasks, especially with excellent instruction, but later experience their most debilitating problems when more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and writing essays.
- Individuals with dyslexia can also have problems with spoken language, even after they have been exposed to good language models in their homes and good language instruction in school. They may find it difficult to express themselves clearly, or to fully comprehend what others mean when they speak. Such language problems are often difficult to recognize, but they can lead to major problems in school, in the workplace, and in relating to other people. The effects of dyslexia reach well beyond the classroom.
- Dyslexia can also affect a person’s self-image. Students with dyslexia often end up feeling “dumb” and less capable than they actually are. After experiencing a great deal of stress due to academic problems, a student may become discouraged about continuing in school.
How common are language-based learning disabilities?
- 15-20% of the population has a language-based learning disability. Of the students with specific learning disabilities receiving special education services, 70-80% have deficits in reading. Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties. Dyslexia affects males and females nearly equally, and people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds as well.
What are some of the signs of dyslexia?
- Late learning to talk – most children say their first words around 12 months of age and phrases by 18-24 months
- Speaks in “baby talk” longer than his or her peers, sometimes until he or she is 5 or 6 years old
- Difficulty pronouncing words – mispronounces words like spaghetti (pisgetti), animal (aminal), or specific (pacific)
- Difficulty repeating multisyllabic words
- Displays difficulty retrieving words and often has the sensation that words are at the tip of the tongue, but inaccessible; uses vague words like “stuff” instead of more descriptive words
- Difficulty acquiring vocabulary or using age appropriate grammar
- Difficulty following directions
- Confusion with before/after, right/left, and so on
- Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes, or songs
- Difficulty understanding concepts and relationships
- Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems
- Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words
- Difficulty with hearing and manipulating sounds within words
- Difficulty remembering the entire alphabet
- Difficulty following instructions that have more than one step
- Difficulty remembering the days of the week and months of the year
- Difficulty remembering phone numbers
- Difficulty following spoken instructions
- Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics or phoneme-grapheme relationships)
- Difficulty remembering names and shapes of letters, or naming letters rapidly
- Oral reading is choppy, not fluent and smooth
- Slow, laborious oral reading
- Reads words in the wrong order
- Skips small words such as a, the, to, of, were, and from
- Recognizes a word on one page but not on the next page
- Inserts extra letters in a word when reading. For example, may read tail as trail (The misread word often has the same beginning and ending letter)
- Deletes letters in a word when reading (i.e., may read sag instead of sang and the misread word often has the same beginning and ending letter)
- Switches the order of letters in a word (i.e., may read mug as gum)
- Substitutes words with similar meanings when reading stories (i.e., may read said instead of shouted)
- Substitutes similar-looking words, such as house for horse
- Ignores punctuation when reading
- Makes up part of the story based on the illustrations or context clues instead of reading the actual words on the page
- Loses place on the page, skips lines, or rereads lines
- Reads at a level substantially below that of peers
- Has difficulty reading single words on a flashcard
- Is fatigued after reading for a short time
- Transposes the order of letters when reading or spelling
- “Stumbles” through longer words
- Poor reading comprehension during oral or silent reading, often because words are not accurately read
- Inserts extra letters in a word when spelling. (i.e., may write tail as trail – The misspelled word often has the same beginning and ending letter)
- Deletes letters in a word when spelling (i.e., may write caft instead of craft – the misspelled word often has the same beginning and ending letter)
- Switches the order of letters in a word (i.e., may write speical instead of special)
- Has difficulty copying words from another paper or the board (i.e., copies letter by letter, referring to the original copy for almost every letter)
- Messy papers, including many crossed-out or erased words
- Misspells many common words like said, there, and does
- May be able to spell the words on a spelling test after much studying, but then misspells the same words outside of spelling class
- Difficulty putting ideas on paper
- Many spelling mistakes
- May do well on weekly spelling tests, but may have many spelling mistakes in daily work
- Difficulty proofreading
- Relatives may have similar problems
Why should you have your child screened for dyslexia?
- Many states across the U.S. are enacting mandatory dyslexia screenings for all K-5 and first grade students to identify potential reading problems in young children before the problems turn into reading failure.
- Early dyslexia screenings can determine if your child presents with enough symptoms to put him at risk for dyslexia.
- A screening can indicate whether a full comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation is necessary.
- A comprehensive evaluation reveals a child’s cognitive profile and can uncover a child’s particular type of dyslexia – phonological, orthographic, or mixed. Knowing a child’s cognitive profile and type of dyslexia can help professionals recommend the right type of early intervention.
- Waiting for students who are significantly behind their peers to catch up on their own is no longer recommended by researchers.
- Children with symptoms of dyslexia often go undiagnosed until they fall way behind their same age peers at which time intervention is more difficult
- Typical standardized tests given in group settings do not identify students with dyslexia
- Early intervention can allow students to learn to cope with this condition before they become labeled as low achievers, suffer from low self-esteem, and lose their motivation in school.
When should a child be screened?
- Dyslexia researchers recommend screenings for children in preschool K-4, kindergarten K-5, and the first semester of first grade.
What does a dyslexia screening measure?
- By examining a young child’s oral language skills and phonological processing ability, specialists can determine if a child is at-risk for dyslexia.
Oral Language Skills
- Oral language, simply stated, refers to our ability to listen to and understand speech as well as to express our thoughts through speech. Oral language is made up of low-level skills, such as recognizing and making the sounds within our speech, and higher-level skills, such as getting meaning by listening to someone speak or creating sentences to express thoughts. Students with dyslexia typically have adequate higher-level language skills. Indicators of higher-level oral language skills include being able to understand an age-appropriate story and spoken directions, to carry on a conversation, and to understand and use words that are age appropriate. If a student has average higher-level oral language skills but much difficulty developing written language (reading and spelling) skills, the need for evaluation for dyslexia is recommended. Although students with dyslexia usually have strong higher-level language skills, they typically have problems (a deficit) in low-level language skills (see following section “Phonological processing”). This deficit limits the ability to learn to read and spell using the sounds of the language. Young children with dyslexia often have delays in language development, but their higher-level language skills are usually age- appropriate by the time they enter school. Difficulties with higher-level language skills suggest a need for a comprehensive language evaluation by a speech-language pathologist to rule out language impairment.
Phonological Processing Ability
- Phonology is one small part of overall language ability. It is a low-level language skill in that it does not involve meaning. Phonology is the “sound system” of our language. Our spoken language is made up of words, word parts (such as syllables), and individual sounds within words (phonemes). We must be able to think about, remember, and correctly sequence the sounds in words in order to later learn how to link letters to sounds for reading and spelling. Good readers do this automatically without conscious effort. However, students with dyslexia have difficulty with identifying, remembering, and pronouncing sounds. Tests of phonological processing focus on these skills.
- Phonological Awareness is an auditory processing skill. It involves the ability to detect and discriminate differences in speech sounds (phonemes) in the absence of print. Phonological awareness is the understanding of the different ways that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated. Phonemic awareness refers to the highest level of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds or phonemes. It also refers to the ability of an individual to manipulate these phonemes either by segmenting, blending, or changing individual phonemes within words to create new words.
- Phonological Memory refers to coding information phonologically for temporary storage in working or short-term memory, to be “read off” in the process of applying the alphabetic principle to word identification. For example, when attempting to remember a phone number, most people remember it not by storing a visual representation of the sequence of the digits, but rather by storing a phonological representation of the sounds of the digit names.
- Students with dyslexia often have a slow speed of processing information (visual or auditory). Dyslexia screening tasks measure Rapid Naming speed (also called Rapid Automatic Naming). Sets of objects, colors, letters, and numbers are often used. These items are presented in rows on a card, and the student is asked to rapidly name them.
- The rapid naming of objects, colors, digits, or letters requires efficient retrieval of phonological information from long-term memory. When reading, young readers presumably retrieve phonemes associated with letters or letter pairs, pronunciations of common word segments, and pronunciations of whole words. The efficiency with which individuals are able to retrieve phonological codes associated with individual phonemes, word segments, or entire words should influence the degree to which phonological information is useful in decoding printed words.
- Naming speed, particularly letter naming, is one of the best early predictors of reading difficulties. Therefore, it is often used as part of screening measures for young children. Slow naming speed results in problems with developing reading fluency. It also makes it difficult for students to do well on timed tests. Students with both the naming speed deficit and the phonological processing deficit are considered to have a “double deficit.” Students with the double deficit have more severe difficulties than those with only one of the two.
Please call Breakwater Associates at 843.388.4048 to schedule a dyslexia screening at our office or to set up screenings for your private school students at your school.
Breakwater Associates is a member of The International Dyslexia Association