One of the early signs of dyslexia is reading failure. Even with research-based phonics instruction, dyslexic kids struggle to read. Without phonics instruction, however, dyslexic children may not learn how to read at all.
The definition of dyslexia has evolved. Some say it is a phonological deficit, meaning dyslexic kids have differences that involve sound processing. In other words, segmenting, deleting or blending phonemes is hard for a dyslexic child. If you ask a dyslexic child to segment “slide,” they might erroneously say “ssss-igh-d” instead of “ssssss-lllll-igh-d.” Dyslexic children struggle to identify all the phonemes in a word in order and they struggle to manipulate phonemes. [Phonemes are the smallest units of sound. For example, there are two phonemes in see: ssss-ee.]
Others say dyslexia can be a difference that impacts any area of the brain that we need for reading- attention, phonological processing, and memory, among others.
There is some debate on whether or not ADHD can impact reading acquisition. However, Erik Willcutt and Bruce Pennington studied hundreds of twins to determine the relationship between ADHD and reading difficulty. They found that, “students with reading difficulty were significantly more apt to have signs of ADHD…” (taken from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 46).
It might take some ADHD kids much longer to get through a reading lesson in comparison to a child without ADHD. A child without ADHD may need 45 minutes to an hour to get through a phonics lesson. In comparison, an ADHD child might need 2 hours to cover the exact same material.
This ample additional time ADHD kids may need can make learning to read very difficult. Thus, these children are very dependent on receiving research-based instruction. If ADHD kids don’t get systematic, explicit phonics instruction, the timeline they need to learn to read may become inordinately long. Thus, some researchers would argue that ADHD is connected to reading difficulty. To be clear, there is debate on this matter though.
Researchers have struggled to pinpoint an exact definition of dyslexia.
The word dyslexia comes from the Greek dys, which means difficult, and lexicos, which means pertaining to words. Learning to read and spell is hard, much harder than any of us adults can remember. However, dyslexic children face extreme difficulties in learning to read and spell.
The definitions of dyslexia range from vague (a language weakness) to specific (a phonological deficit).
For example, dyslexia has been viewed as a “language-based problem” (taken from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 33). This is a vague definition, but it accounts for various deficits that children may have. After all, a range of deficits may make learning to read extra challenging.
Other definitions of dyslexia try to pinpoint a more specific problem. For example, “One explanation of dyslexia is failure to construct complete inner models of the sound structure of words. The classic example is scrambling sounds in long words, such as saying, “aminal” for “animal” (taken from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 34).
This range of definitions of dyslexia can seem confusing. However, I view this ambiguity as helpful. Plainly, dyslexia is extreme difficulty in learning to read and spell. Dyslexic kids need research-based systematic, explicit phonics instruction, but even when given the type of instruction they desperately need, dyslexic children will still learn to read and spell at a much slower rate than their peers.
Dyslexia is not a developmental lag.
Sometimes it’s helpful to define a term via negativa. Dyslexia is not a developmental delay. A child with dyslexia will not grow out of the problem. Thus, they need research-based instruction as soon as possible.
“Dyslexia can be overcome to some degree through appropriate instruction, but it is not merely a developmental lag. Time will not take care of the deficit” (taken from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 49).
Dyslexia is also not a letter or word reversal problem.
All children flip letters. This is normal. Dyslexic children may flip letters longer, not because of any visual deficit, but because it simply takes them longer to learn to read. Dyslexic kids do not see mirror-images. The mirror-image definition of dyslexia has long been overturned and disproven, yet it annoyingly (and incorrectly) remains the most well-known definition of dyslexia in our culture.
Why do all kids flip letters? We use the object recognition area of our brain to recognize letters. In normal life, especially up until age 5, objects are the same no matter their orientation. A chair is a chair is a chair no matter from which angle you view it. This is not so with letters. “d” in reverse is “b.” “m” upside down is “w.” And so on. It takes a long time for all kids to understand that, when it comes to reading, orientation does matter.
Reading Elephant offers systematic, printable decodable readers in our shop.
Signs of dyslexia in preschoolers:
- speech delay
- difficulty forming words, child does things like deletes sounds
- slow to acquire new words
- difficulty with rhyming games
- struggles to remember new names or object names
- inability to rapidly name items (this rapid naming weakness was observed by researchers Martha Denckla and Rita Rudel, 1976, p 38 in Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction)
- “Most children who struggle to learn to listen and talk also struggle to learn to read and write” (from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 33).
Signs of dyslexia in kindergarten
- struggles to learn letter sounds
- struggles to blend sounds together to form a word
- difficulties with spelling
- struggles to remember sight words
- guesses at words
- difficulties with rhyming
- segmenting and phoneme deletion activities are very hard
- weakness in remembering and repeating back information. “Individuals with dyslexia have been found to perform less well than age-matched typically developing readers on tasks requiring them to repeat back information verbatim” (Mann, Liberman and Shankweiler, 1980, taken from Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction).
- speech-motor deficits. A child with dyslexia may struggle with speech, and this slow articulation rate can make learning to read difficult (Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction, p. 38)
Signs of dyslexia in grades 1 and 2
- guesses at words
- uses first letter of word as a clue, but does not decode the rest of the word
- looks at the pictures to guess at the words
- substitutes words when reading (for example, says “home” for “house”)
- struggles with segmenting (ex. can’t segment cramp into c-r-aaaaa-mmmm-p)
- difficulties with phoneme deletion (if you ask him to get rid of the /s/ in sled, he may not know that the phonemes “led” are leftover).
- struggles to read words with more than one syllable (ex. picnic)
- has major gaps in phonics knowledge
- slow fluency (reading speed)
- history of reading difficulties in family
- difficulties with spelling
If your child or student has dyslexia, he needs explicit, systematic phonics instruction. This type of instruction involves explicit introduction of the most common sound patterns. Research-based lessons involve explicit sound introduction, phonemic awareness activities, mixed lists of words for the child to read sound-by-sound and spelling activities that involve sound-by-sound segmentation and writing.
Dyslexic kids can benefit from decodable texts.
Reading Elephant offers printable decodable books in our shop.
Shaywitz, Sally. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia.
Uhry, Joanna & Clark, Diana. (2004). Dyslexia: Theory and Practice of Instruction.