What is dyslexia? It is a difficulty either with receptive oral language skills, expressive oral language skills, reading, spelling, or written expression. It is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in the USA, affecting about one child in five. There is a strong family link, although it has also been associated with prematurity, complications in pregnancy, and accidents. Typically, research shows there is a known difference between the two sides of the brain. Research indicates for dyslexic readers, certain areas of the brain may be “underdeveloped” even though higher order thinking skills for some of these “disabled readers” may be intact. (Dr. Jeff Stern, LDA Convention, 2000, Reno, Nevada.) Some say it is a “left-brain related” problem. It is usually based on congenital deficiencies in phonologic processing or phoneme awareness. This means inability to learn typical rules that govern English (such as adding prefixes, suffixes). It typically includes problems in auditory memory, distinguishing speech, memory of sounds and analyzing sounds – such as “what is the first sound in….” (“Critical Discoveries in Learning disabilities: A Summary of Findings by NIH Research Programs in L.D.,” Research Centers Report at the LDA 1996 conference,” Barbara McElgunn, Research Committee.)
Several reading programs have proven more successful in teaching reading to dyslexic students over the years. There is no one “magic bullet” for instructing children with dyslexia, and the best program for your child may be one that uses certain elements of more than one of these listed below. Some dyslexics, for example, have done well learning sight words with very little use of phonics.
Sometimes called VAKT programs (students work at the same time on as much of each sense modality as possible: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile)
- Orton Gillingham — The “classic” and best-known of the multi-sensory teaching programs for dyslexics.
- Wilson Program — 12-step remedial program (uses O/G) very systematic.
- Linnamood-Bell — Focuses on auditory (phonemic) awareness; not too much Research with a control group to compare results, appears to be effective.
- The Spalding Method — Total language arts aiming at spelling, writing, and reading all integrated together.
- Slingerland Approach — Follows the Orton Gillingham model. It is seen as both preventive and remedial in addressing reading. It is totally multi-sensory. It is not “curriculum specific” — rather it is an approach to handling a curriculum in the VAKT manner.
- A Beka — The primary model of phonics based instruction at the earliest levels — it is information intense and may move too quickly at upper levels.
- Open Court — Based on alphabetic and phonological awareness. Research shows positive effects on reading.
- SRA — DISTAR and Reading Mastery. Very effectively sequenced. Lays out phonological processing and builds on it. Research shows positive effects on reading achievement.
- Alphabetic Phonics — Multisensory (360 tapes). Aimed at dyslexic students. Structures patterns in English language. Research has shown consistently positive results.
- Sing-Spell-Read-Write — Popular for its use of VAKT, including effective motivational materials and music. There are some areas of concern, however, for dyslexic readers. First, the pace of newly introduced sounds becomes too rapid after the first few booklets, and students may become unable to get enough practice before getting new material. Secondly, the sequence of introduced sounds works with all 26 letters at first, which may prove an overload. Also, the first books are written with the short vowels “e” and “i” in back-to-back order, which frequently confuses children who have difficulty establishing a relationship between sound and print. For non-dyslexic readers, these concerns may be unimportant.
In March 2001, an article appeared citing research into the nature of dyslexia and the brain. It found that English, as a language, has proved very difficult for dyslexics. There are identical neurological signatures for dyslexics around the globe, but there is a difference in the level of difficulty encountered in cultures where one symbol represents one sound, and in English, where we have 1100 ways to spell our forty sounds. The test sample was small, but there are far fewer dyslexics in countries with consistent sound/symbol relationships than in the USA. The researcher concluded that having to learn to read the English language alone accounts for the increased difficulty dyslexic readers face. (Virginian Pilot, March 16, 2001, p. A1, A-14.)
When do you suspect dyslexia if a child is having trouble with reading? Typically by the end of first grade, children who fail to learn with traditional instructional methods should be evaluated – especially if there is any history of reading difficulty in any member of your extended family –uncle, aunt, parent, or siblings. There can certainly be additional factors to consider, such as immaturity, lack of ability to focus, or even allergies can contribute to a child’s ability to benefit from reading instruction. Recent findings, however, note that unless readers establish good fluent reading habits by age nine, most children will remain noticeably behind — even as late as high school. Drs. Stolhard and Hulne, in 1996, suggest “decoding predicts the volume of reading.” In other words – the ease of decoding that a child demonstrates is closely linked to the ease with which that child can read fluently and easily. Therefore, it is usually best to follow up suspicions of suspected dyslexia at an earlier age. (Merck Manual, Sect. 19 Ch. 262, “Developmental Problems.”)