How a Speech Therapist can assist a child with Dyslexia
For years it was believed that a child had dyslexia if they reversed the alphabet letters and numerals. HOWEVER, we now know that this is a misconception. Children who have dyslexia can reverse their letters and find it difficult to discriminate between the letter’s ‘b’ and ‘d’ as well as other letters, but this is a small detail to defining a child with dyslexia.
What is Dyslexia?
The word ‘Dyslexia’ means ‘difficulty with words’. Dyslexia is considered to be a neurological disorder where a person may have difficulty with all or some of the following:
The level of difficulty differs from one child to the next. These children require a different approach and most often a require working 1:1 or in a small group situation. In this situation the therapist can identify where the child is at in his / her learning and provide the correct feedback. The child also has the freedom to ask question and work at his / her pace.
Children, once they grasp spelling and reading, do not necessarily have comprehension issues. The comprehension difficulties can often stem from the fact the person has had to spend so much time sounding out each word that they cannot understand what it is they are reading. Once the person’s fluency and accuracy improve, so does their comprehension.
However, people with dyslexia can still learn, they just require literacy skills to be delivered differently so that they can understand how language works. Dyslexia can range from severe to mild, and no child is the same. With appropriate instruction people with dyslexia can go on to achieve and be quite successful.
The RED flags indicating your child may have dyslexia
The first signs can be detected as EARLY as KINDERGARTEN.
In Kindergarten they have difficulty with:
- Syllabification (e.g. How many syllables in the word ‘butterfly’ – ‘butt’ ‘er’ ‘fly’? Answer: 3).
- Compound words (e.g. Say ‘basketball’; now say it without ‘basket’. Answer: ‘ball’).
- Manipulation of sounds in words (e.g. Say ‘sat’; now say it with a ‘b’ instead of ‘s’. Answer: ‘bat’).
In Pre-primary they have difficulty with:
- All of the above (in Kindergarten).
- Hearing the initial sounds in words.
- Hearing the final sounds in words.
- Hearing the middle sounds in words.
- Hearing a sound and identifying the written representation of the sound spoken (which letter says the sound ‘s’?).
- Remembering the sounds that each letter makes.
- Saying the sounds in simple words and blending them together to make a word (e.g. r-a-t rat).
- Quickly learning the order of sounds in words.
- Sounding out slowly and inaccurate reading.
- Difficulty retaining visual representation of sounds.
Primary to High School Years
Children with dyslexia children continue to have difficulty understanding how sounds work together into the primary school and high school years. Adding to this, as they enter primary school they commence to learn the extended code. The extended code refers to learning vowel and consonant combinations that cannot be separated (e.g. ‘read’ consists of three sounds ’r’ ‘ea’ and ‘d’. The letters ‘ea’ represent the sound “E”).
The children may also have difficulty with:
- Spelling with accuracy, as they often cannot ‘hear’ what letters are represented by the sound they are hearing.
- Difficulty segmenting and blending longer words.
- Slow, inaccurate and laboured reading, which can severely impact their ability to comprehend text and stories that are read.
- Acquiring and using new vocabulary.
- Working memory (retaining spellings and order of letters to represent the word).
- Focussing on tasks (easily distracted).
- Rapidly naming colours, objects and letters in a set sequence.
If a child is showing these signs in Kindergarten, and continuing to struggle in Pre-primary, it is better to act sooner rather than later. The longer children are left to struggle, the harder it is for them to catch up to their year level. On top of this, these children begin to become frustrated, lose self-esteem and have less motivation to learn.
How Does a Speech Pathologist help Students with Dyslexia?
A Speech Pathologist has extensive knowledge about phonological skills. A speech therapist can deliver phonological awareness tasks to develop the skills listed above. They also know how to effectively teach children to name and say the different sounds and apply this knowledge to spelling and reading.
Children need to be assessed as to where their spelling knowledge is currently at, so that a tailored program can be developed that targets their specific need. A Speech Pathologist will teach children how to ‘hear’, recognise and write the different sounds, how to break words into syllables and then break the syllables into individual sounds.
The children will be taught how to read, spell, write the many different ways to spell words containing the same sound (e.g. said, gate, bacon, great). They will be taught to become fluent at decoding (breaking apart) and blending (putting sounds together) so that they can read any word they come across. They will also be provided with decodable readers that are targeted at their current phonic knowledge.
A Speech Pathologist will also be able to assess your child’s speech. Sometimes children will have difficulty spelling because they are saying a sound incorrectly or deleting a sound from the word (e.g. ‘stump’ may be pronounced and heard as ‘sump’).