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Dyslexia: Helping Kids Who Struggle with Reading, Writing and Spelling

Jan 18, 2018

Children who struggle with reading, writing or spelling can be perceived as lacking intelligence or motivation, but they may actually have dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability resulting from deficits in phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming, working memory and processing speed.

Failure to detect the early signs of dyslexia can be devastating. Students who struggle to read and write are in a state of academic and emotional vulnerability. Between 25 percent to 40 percent of people with dyslexia have ADHD and affective disorders including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and suicidal ideation.

Considering the high stakes associated with early identification, it is important to understand the disorder and identify the early signs and risk factors. Dyslexia is hereditary and many children with dyslexia have a history of speech/language delays.

How is dyslexia identified?

Phonological processing, or sound processing, is the single most important predictor of dyslexia. If a child is showing difficulties in phonics or the ability to identify sounds (e.g. “What sound do you hear at the beginning, ending, or middle of a word?”), blend sounds, segment sounds or manipulate sounds (rhyming), they may be at risk for dyslexia.

Dyslexia is the most common cause of difficulties with reading but other difficulties such as spelling, handwriting, speech and memorization may occur. Letter reversals may or may not occur, but are not due to a vision problem.

Review the following questions to determine whether your child is at risk.

  • Is there a family history of dyslexia or reading, writing, or spelling difficulties?
  • Is there a history of speech or language delay?
  • Is there a history of ADHD or other affective disorders such as anxiety or depression?

In Pre-School

  • Does your child have difficulty learning common nursery rhymes?
  • Does your child have difficulties with learning the alphabet or phonics (letter/sound correspondence)?
  • Can your child rhyme words? (Give me a word that rhymes with “mop.”)
  • Does your child know the letters in his/her own name?

In Kindergarten

  • Does your child have difficulties identifying sounds in words (e.g. “What sound do you hear at the beginning of ‘map’?” or “What sound do you hear at the end of ‘dog’?”)
  • Can your child put sounds together to create a word? (m-o-p=mop)
  • Can your child tell what sounds he hears in words? (What sounds do you hear in “bat”?=/b/, /a/, /t/)
  • Does your child have difficulties with handwriting?
  • Does your child have difficulty memorizing?
  • Does your child have difficulties pronouncing words? (pacific/specific, renember/remember, pasgetti/spaghetti)
  • Does your child avoid reading or complain about how difficult reading is?
  • Does your child have difficulty reading simple one syllable (CVC) words? (map, hat, big)
  • If you have concerns regarding your child, contact your local schools, or speak with your pediatrician regarding a referral for additional testing by a psychologist or speech/language pathologist.

Early identification and treatment of dyslexia is important. Children progress faster through intervention and treatment when identified earlier as compared to older children and are at less risk of poor self-esteem that develops over the years as a child struggles academically.

Dyslexia is life-long, but individuals respond successfully to timely, evidence-based intervention. Extensive research supports the use of a structured literacy program that provides direct, intensive, multi-sensory instruction such as the Orton-Gillingham (OG) method or an Orton-Gillingham based program. These are clear and concise programs that follow a structured plan in a specific sequence.

For more information on Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Speech/Language Pathology Department, click here.

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Christine Johnson, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech and Language Pathologist

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