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Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties
What are the types of reading problems?
Learning to read is a skill that involves both hearing and seeing. At the very basic level, we connect the speech sounds that we hear to the printedletters that we see. Beyond associating speech sounds to letters, we learn how those letters fit together to form words; and further, how those words create infinite sentences that represent our language.
Although reading requires visual processing of printed letters, it is a misconception that reading difficulties are a problem with vision, like reversing the letters “b” and “d”. Rather, it is generally accepted that it is an underlying problem with phonology, the sound system of our language. The most common known term for this problem, “dyslexia”, clinically refers to children that have problems with reading but have normal intelligence and development in other areas. Children with dyslexia have a problem with decoding words. Children with speech and language difficulties also have trouble learning to read because translating our printed language into spoken language requires facility with speech sounds and language structure. They may have trouble with not only decoding words but also comprehending written language. Oral-Written Language Disability (OWL) has been used to describe the difficulties faced by these children. Additionally, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have trouble with learning to read and comprehending what they read. These difficulties are most likely due to difficulty maintaining attention- for learning the underlying skills required to read and for carrying out the task of reading what is in front them. Whatever the root of a child’s reading difficulties, lagging behind in learning to read hinders their acquisition of new vocabulary words and knowledge.
Identifying a problem
Your child’s teacher might approach you and state that your child is reading “below level”. This may refer to your state’s guidelines for the literacy skills typically mastered in your child’s grade. It may also refer to a level designated by a commercially available reading system used by your child’s school. Either way it is important to understand how your child reads compared to his/her peers and what impedes progress.
If you or your child’s teacher has identified some obstacles to your child’s reading, the next step is to request an evaluation of your child’s skills. Find out what resources are available through your child’s school or district. A qualified professional such as a speech-language pathologist, educational psychologist, or literacy specialist, should work as a team with your family and your child’s teachers to uncover the causes of your child’s difficulty with reading. Once an evaluation has been performed and you receive a breakdown of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can discuss a plan of action with your child’s teachers. This may include intervention with a specialist and/or classroom accommodations. You may also elect to hire an outside professional to help your child keep-up with classroom assignments after school.
What you can do
As a parent there are many other things you can do to reduce the stress of reading for your child and help facilitate her skills. Try to encourage your child to read in a non-threatening manner, and encourage his skills by providing positive rather than negative reinforcement. Promoting daily family reading time also helps to increase the time-spent reading. When you read with your child, take your time. Go slowly and highlight important words and how they sound. Point out how some words look and sound similar or different from one another. It’s also important to focus on the meaning of the words. Stop every few pages and ask your child questions to make sure she understands what she read. However, reading does not have to be limited to books. Try playing games at the store or in the car by challenging your child to identify as many words or letters as he can. Perhaps ask your child to find words on labels or signs that “start with” or “end with” a certain sound.
Glossary of Terms
Visual processing: How the brain interprets what the eyes see.
Dyslexia: Clinical diagnosis for a reading impairment that occurs despite normal intelligence and development.
Phonology: The sound system of language.
Decoding: In reading, is simply translating print into speech. This requires applying knowledge of letter:sound relationships.
Oral-Written Language Disability (OWL): Description of an impairment that includes difficulty with both written and spoken language.
Below-level: “Level” may refer to your state’s standards for mastery of literacy skills. It may also refer to levels designated by a commercially available reading system utilized by your child’s school. A child who is “below-level” is not performing similar to peers on either or both systems.
Intervention: Remediation for reading difficulty. This may involve smaller group instruction, extra practice sessions, and specific exercises to target your child’s areas of weakness.
Accommodations: modifications to instruction and environment used in the classroom or during testing to support the child’s learning. Examples may include extra time to complete tasks or repetition of instructions.
Melissa Randazzois a licensed bilingual speech-language pathologist with an MS from Columbia University in New York. She has worked in New York and abroad on speech, language, learning, and swallowing with patients from birth through adult. Melissa has spent time over the past few years providing services to children and families in Siem Reap, Cambodia. She is a clinical educator, currently pursuing her PhD at Northwestern University in the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.