Reading Disorder (Dyslexia)

Reading disorders are the most common type of specific learning disability; approximately 80% of children with a specific learning disability have a reading disorder (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2013). Children with a reading disorder fail to master basic reading processes (e.g., letter recognition and sound blending), despite adequate intelligence and educational opportunities. These difficulties affect reading fluency (e.g., mastery over the surface level of text that one reads—the ability to decode written words accurately and effortlessly and then to give meaning to those words through appropriate phrasing and oral expression of the words) and comprehension, particularly when reading tasks become more complex and difficult.

Reading problems are often referred to generally as dyslexia; however, the term dyslexia is defined in various ways. Some definitions refer to a reading disorder only, while other definitions include spelling difficulties and/or speech processing difficulties along with reading difficulties.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as follows:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological 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.

Researchers have not yet discovered what exactly causes dyslexia, yet it is believed to be linked to genes and heredity (dyslexia often runs in families), brain anatomy and/or brain activity. For people with dyslexia, the brain has trouble recognizing or processing certain types of information, including matching letter sounds and symbols (such as the letter “b” making the “buh” sound) and blending them together to make words, while others may struggle with understanding what they read. It can be difficult for people with dyslexia to read in a way that is automatic or without effort.

Because dyslexia affects some people more severely than others, the symptoms may look different from person to person. The following are signs to look out for:

In preschool or kindergarten:

  • Trouble recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • Struggles to match letters to sounds (e.g., not knowing what sounds “b” or “h” make)
  • Difficulty blending sounds into words (e.g., connecting C-H-A-T to the word “chat”)
  • Struggles to pronounce words correctly (e.g., saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower)
  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Has a smaller vocabulary than other same-aged children
  • Has trouble learning to count or say the days of the week and other common word sequences
  • Has trouble rhyming

In grade school or middle school:

  • Struggles with reading and spelling
  • Confuses the order of letters (e.g., writing “left” instead of “felt”)
  • Has trouble remembering facts and numbers
  • Has difficulty using proper grammar
  • Has trouble learning new words and relies heavily on memorization
  • Gets tripped up by word problems in math
  • Has a tough time sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Has trouble following a sequence of directions

In high school:

  • Struggles with reading aloud
  • Does not read at the expected grade level
  • Had difficulty organizing and managing time
  • Struggles to summarize a story
  • Has difficulty learning a foreign language

Dyslexia is often confused with other learning and attention issues that cause similar difficulties. Dysgraphia causes difficulty putting words on a paper and spelling when writing, often because the individual struggles with the mechanics of writing. Dyscalculia causes problems with reading, writing and understanding numbers. Individuals with dyscalculia often experience reading numbers incorrectly, trouble with copying and writing math numbers and symbols, trouble with math concepts (e.g., counting, measuring and estimating) and struggle to master the “basics” (e.g., doing quick addition and subtraction in their head) which are key to working independently and efficiently.

Note: some reading difficulties are serious enough to meet criteria for diagnosis as a learning disability or specific learning disorder. In such cases, special education services may be available at school or in the community to help remediate the disability. However, some learning weaknesses may not meet state, district or individual school criteria for services, yet the student could still benefit from being provided with targeted help. Our staff help parents understand how to provide for the student’s needs in either circumstance. Our mission is to uncover each student’s unique profile of strengths, challenges, interests and goals, and to tailor recommendations to optimize learning and help achieve his/her full potential.

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