By Glenda Thorne, Ph.D.
More often than not, people think that dyslexia is a problem with seeing letters or words backwards and/or writing letters or words backwards. Dyslexia is not a deficit in the visual processing system; however, it is a language processing problem. The hallmark characteristic of dyslexia is a breakdown in what is called phoneme awareness. In order to read the English language, a person must first make connections between the approximate 44 sounds in the English language and the 26 letters of the alphabet (i.e., sound -symbol associations.) Phoneme awareness refers to the understanding that our words are made of bits of sounds. This is an auditory concept. Let’s look at an example. The words bad and sad are alike because they both have an ad sound in them. They are different because there is a different sound segment in each word as well (the b and d sounds). Phoneme awareness allows a person to recognize that the ad sound is in each word and that the difference between the two words lies in the first sound segment.
Parents and teachers often say that a child is seeing backwards because they may read the word saw as was. It’s not that they are seeing the word backwards, however; it’s that they are not able to break the individual sounds into bits and order the sound bits correctly to say the word. That is, they can’t say the sounds in the correct order. The sound-symbol associations don’t make sense to them; they don’t have the auditory concept. Thus, often children with dyslexia are not only slow to learn sound-symbol associations, but even after they have acquired phonics they are unable to use this knowledge effectively to rapidly decode or read words. Their reading is often halting and laborious, and they do not like to read.
Dr. Reid Lyon, director of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at National Institutes of Health (NIH), reminds us that children who have dyslexia can be taught to read by teachers who are properly trained in appropriate teaching methods.
Signs of Dyslexia
- Phonological language processing problem
- Deficit in phoneme awareness
- Problems with learning names and sounds of letters
- Problems with sounding out words
- Problems with sight word vocabulary
- Problems with oral reading rate, accuracy and expression
- Problems with reading comprehension (deep)
- Problems with spelling