About dyslexia

Worried about your child's reading, writing or spelling? We've been looking at literacy development and today's post looks at what to do when things are not going well.

Children and adults who have difficulties reading and writing are often said to have “dyslexia” but what does this mean and what can help?

The following is the definition of dyslexia adopted by the Research Committee of the International Dyslexia Association in August 2002:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterised 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 problems may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

So what does all that mean?

Difficulties with word recognition can result in difficulty recognising common sight words. This means that reading may be slow, inaccurate and lack fluency. Slow, inaccurate reading means that it is harder to understand what is read. Poor decoding abilities relate to a difficulty breaking down written words into sounds and blending those sounds to “decode” the written word into a spoken word. This means that as well as having difficulty with recognising whole words by memory, people with dyslexia may also have difficulty reading using a sound by sound approach. These two difficulties can also have an impact on writing and spelling.

Difficulty with the “phonological component of language” refers to a difficulty understanding the way sounds are organised to form spoken words. This then impacts on the ability to understand the way letters are organised to form written words.

Dyslexia is therefore considered to be a language based difficulty. Students with dylexia may have other language problems such as poor comprehension, reduced vocabulary and difficulties with grammar and these can also effect reading and writing skills. As children get older much of their language learning comes though reading. As people with dyslexia tend to read less often, read less complex texts and have difficulty understanding what they read this can slow their langauge development.

Each student with dyslexia is different. Because dyslexia has a language base, a detailed assessment of language and phonological awareness skills is recommended in order to determine the patterns of strengths and weaknesses. This then allows planning of an intervention program to target a student’s individual needs and to recommend support strategies for use at school.

Children with dyslexia may show the following:

  • Reading, spelling and/or writing below their age or grade level and general intelligence

  • Difficulty hearing beginning and ending sounds, rhyme and syllables

  • Difficulty learning the sounds associated with letters

  • Difficulty blending sounds together when reading

  • Difficulty breaking words into sounds when writing and spelling

  • Difficulty reading and writing basic sight words

  • Reading is slow and effortful

  • Difficulty understanding and remembering what is read

  • Difficulty with grammar, sentence construction and punctuation

  • Difficulty with organisation and time management

Key points about dyslexia:

  • Dyslexia is most often a language based difficulty.

  • Studies have shown from 5 to 10% of children have dyslexia.

  • It interferes with understanding and learning to use language

  • Difficulties are experienced with processing sounds in words, with reading, spelling and writing

A person who is dyslexic has difficulty with learning to read and spell that is not caused by:

  • Lack of or ineffective reading instruction

  • A general intellectual deficit

  • Researchers have found that a gene on chromosome #6 is involved. This gene is dominant which is why it runs in families.

So what causes dyslexia?

There are at least 4 major theories regarding the cause of Dyslexia that fit into 2 main groups of thought;

  1. Phonological theory

  2. Magnocellular theory

The Phonological theory has been the dominant theory for the last 20 years. In the years 2000-2003 the Magnocellular theory enjoyed a number of supporting papers from researchers, however since 2003 the tide again seems to be turning to support a Phonological Theory (Ramus, 2005).

Magnocellular theory

The research supporting the Magnocellular Theory acknowledges that children have difficulties with the way they process speech sounds in the same way that the supporters of the Phonological Theory do, but that in addition to that they also have difficulties with

  1. Processing auditory information (a difficulty processing what they hear)

  2. Processing visual information (a visual dysfunction in processing what they see)

  3. Cerebellar/motor function (relates to automaticity, time estimation and implicit learning.

Dyslexia is seen in this theory as a general sensorimotor syndrome. Research however has found that only 30% of dyslexic people have a sensory or motor disorder that might explain their reading disability. There is good evidence that the sensorimotor difficulties observed are features that often occur alongside developmental disorders, so may be occurring with the reading difficulties rather than causing the reading difficulties.

Phonological Theory

In the Phonological Theory, difficulties in reading are directly caused by the way in which children’s brains represent and process speech sounds. Unlike the Magnocellular Theory, phonological processing difficulties have been confirmed in 100% of participants in a 2005 study completed by Ramus, Rosen, Dakin et.al.In addition to phonological awareness difficulties dyslexics have at least two other major phonological problems: rapid naming (of pictures, colors etc) and verbal short-term memory.

There is still much research needed in the area in order to gain clearer answers, but what we do know from the research is:

  • Early intervention when children are experiencing difficulties with reading, spelling and writing, or have a family history of dyslexia is vital.

  • Children need to have sound phonological awareness (hearing the sounds) before having phonics instruction (matching sounds to letter symbols).

  • Children who are dyslexic require explicit phonological and phonemic awareness instruction, which is an area of speciality for speech pathologists.

What should you do?

If you have a family history of ‘dyslexia’ help your child to start right by developing their phonological awareness. Talk to a speech pathologist about what skills to target with your child. Download some phonological awareness information as well as activties to print and play with your child from our website.

If your child is struggling with developing their reading, spelling or writing, seek professional support from a speech pathologist. Speech Pathologists are reading, spelling and writing experts. To find out about speech pathology at Talking Matters in South Australia click here. If you are reading this from further away speech pathologists are listed in phone directories or you can speak to your doctor, school or child health worker about where to go.

Common questions:

If my child has trouble reading do they have dyslexia? Dyslexia is only one cause of reading problems. Reading problems can also be caused by language delays and disorders, intellectual disability or developmental delay, hearing and vision problems, emotional difficulties and lack of appropriate teaching and experience. Assessment of your child’s hearing and vision is recommended to eliminate these as possible causes. If there is a concern about overall development and learning an intellectual assessment with a child psychologist is recommended. A detailed, individualised assessment of your child's skills is a good place to start to find out what might be causing your child's difficulties. No matter what the cause an individualised program can help by targeting the skills your child needs to learn in a way that is effective for them.

Is there a cure for dyslexia? There is no “miracle cure”. Research suggests that the most ongoing benefit is gained from a phonics based literacy program that is structured and works through a logical sequence. For children who are not progressing in the classroom one on one support and practice can be invaluable.

How can a speech pathologist help? Speech pathologists can provide a detailed assessment of language, literacy and phonological awareness skills and provide individualised support to develop the needed skills. They can also recommend strategies for supporting the student in the classroom.

For more information about how a speech pathologist can help your child with literacy check Our website.

If you are a local professional who is committed to helping kids develop their full potential in literacy and language skills you may be interested in our upcoming workshops with Diana Rigg of "Promoting Literacy Development". Diana is a special educator and speech pathologist who has developed a range of language and literacy programs and resources for preschool and primary aged children. She will be presenting two workshops in Adelaide in April. Click here to find out more. To find out more about language and literacy visit Diana's webpage. Parents are welcome at the workshops too!

To keep up to date with new resources and information to develop children's language and literacy skills check our Pinterest page. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with new information, tips and resources.

Ref: http://www.speld-sa.org.au

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