Updated: Oct 14
How can you spot literacy difficulties in those children who have started school and are having their first reading and writing lessons? What exactly are they doing that alerts teachers, parents tutors that learning to read and write isn’t going as smoothly as it could be?
1. fluent reading is hard or isn’t really happening
Once young learners get on to reading short phrases or sentences, the ones on the dyslexia spectrum will be unlikely to read them fluently. That’s because all their mental effort is being put into sounding out words so they are not reading automatically, and therefore easily, like skilled readers. Private tutoring is a great way to get that extra practice in reading fluency.
2. reading one word as different but similar-looking word
Often, learners potentially on the dyslexia spectrum will read one word as another, similar-looking word. If that happens a lot, it’s a clue there are literacy challenges. One of the reasons for this is just the effort of reading words. Taking a best guess at what a word might be because it looks like another one lightens the reading load. Another reason is that dyslexic learners often do not comprehend what they read and so similar-looking words become interchangeable because that process of “hold on, this doesn’t make sense, let me read that again” doesn’t kick in for dyslexic learners.
3. sounding out irregular words
Sounding out words like c-a-t / cat is the first strategy children learn. But so many words in English are irregular that almost as soon as they learn to sound out, they learn it’s not always helpful. There are those “sight words” or “tricky words” like here and some and once that are impossible to sound out - they need to be read in one go, automatically. Children who keep trying to sound out words that cannot be sounded out are relying on the only strategy they know, and this can be an indication of dyslexia.
4. working so much harder than everyone else
There will be that child in class who is working so much harder than everyone else to compensate for their difficulties, but only ever gets poor to average results. This can be where dyslexia becomes a mental health and self-esteem issue and it is vital that the child is supported. Also be alert to when incredible levels of hard work get about the same results as the learners who are not on the dyslexia spectrum. That level of effort is exhausting and is hard to maintain, especially as work gets harder. If these learners are assessed, the results are often at the lower end of the spectrum but not low enough for a “diagnosis” of dyslexia because these learners are working so hard to compensate for their challenges.
5. not understanding the words they've read
There is a group on the dyslexia spectrum who are called “poor comprehenders” and while this tends to show up a bit later in the journey of learning to read, it’s one to watch out for. It’s those learners who read fluently, but fail to understand what they have read. This is because all their effort is used for reading the words so there is no capacity left over to understand what they have read. It’s easy to mistake fluent reading for reading with understanding, but they are often two very different things.
6. a family history of dyslexia
Dyslexia is inherited in so many cases. It may skip a generation, or it may only show up in one child and not their siblings. Because it was not fully recognized until fairly recently, clues are that older family members will tell negative stories about school because of the unrecognized difficulties they had. The chances are that they did not go into jobs that require lots of reading and writing. Once you know what you are looking for, it all falls into place pretty easily. Everyone has their own pattern of strengths and wekanesses, and if literacy is a weakness it's important to focus on and develop areas of strength.
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