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Don’t Think You Have Dyslexia? Poor Reader? Atrocious Speller? Difficulty Retrieving Words? Ever Struggle with Word Pronunciation?

Frank Yee Feb. 12, 2016

Is your son or daughter an atrocious speller? Did the birthday card you received from your young niece contain a handwritten note that was barely legible because of the erratic letter formation, letter reversals, and letter and/or word spacing problems? Have you ever said to someone, “Hand me the …uh…uh..uh”_____ (insert word you clearly know),” but you simply could not remember the word without hesitating? Does your grandchild regularly mispronounce words (confusing the word specifically with pacifically)? Does your kindergarten age child seem to “guess” at words while reading, guessing who even though the correct word is what? If so, you may know a dyslexic reader.

Because dyslexia can range from mild to severe, many dyslexic readers go undiagnosed. However, the emotional pain suffered by even mildly dyslexic readers is very real. They see how effortlessly their peers seem to be able to spell, read, pronounce words, retrieve words, take notes, compose letters and memos and think, “I just must not be working hard enough” or “They must just be smarter than me.” Undaunted, these very same people, driven and desirous of success, oftentimes develop their own “compensatory strategies” to overcome their “issues,” enjoying considerable educational and professional success. However, their road to success is rarely an enjoyable one.

If you have always believed your grades never reflected your level of intelligence, believing “school was just not your thing” or you have enjoyed considerable educational or professional success despite the fact you have always known that you had done so despite not being a strong reader, I strongly encourage you to read the audio version of Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. Indeed, as my first audio book, it was amazing to me how easily I absorbed the very dense chapters related to the science behind dyslexia that I typically would have only “thumbed through” or skipped altogether because of my own reading challenges. Below I have included but a few excerpts from this very informative book.

Early Clues to Dyslexia

“You will discover the earliest and perhaps the most important clues to a potential reading problem by listening to your child speak.”

“The first clue to dyslexia may be a delay in speaking. As a general rule, children say their first words at about one year and phrases by eighteen months to two years. Children vulnerable to dyslexia may not begin saying their first words until fifteen months or so and may not speak in phrases until after their second birthday. The delay is a modest one, and parents often ascribe it to a family history of late talking…..While a delay in speaking may be familial, so is dyslexia.”

“Once a child begins to speak, difficulties in pronunciation-sometimes referred to as “baby talk”—that continues past the usual time may be another early warning. By five or six years of age, a child should have little problem saying most words correctly. Attempts to pronounce a new word for the first time or to say a long or complicated word can reveal problems with articulation.”

“Typical mispronunciations involve either leaving off beginning sounds (such as pisgetti for spaghetti or lephant for elephant) or inverting the sounds within a word (aminal for animal).”

“Children who demonstrate reading difficulties may show early signs of insensitivity to rhyme. Parents may notice that at the age of four their son is still not able to recite popular nursery rhymes and he may confuse words that sound alike. By the beginning of kindergarten, when most boys and girls are able to judge if two words rhyme, dyslexic children may still not be able to demonstrate that they hear rhyme.”

“A child may look at a picture of a volcano that she has seen many times, and the word she pulls up is tornado-close in sound but not in meaning.”

“Dyslexic children “may talk around a word” (by mumbling “um, um, um, I forgot”) or “point instead of speaking or become tearful or angry as they become frustrated at being unable to utter the word they have in mind.”

“As a child gets older, she may resort to using words that lack precision or specificity to cover up her retrieval difficulties, such as using vague words like stuff or things instead of the actual name of the object. Sometimes it is hard to follow the conversation of a dyslexic because the sentences are filled with pronouns or words lacking in specificity: “You know, I went and picked up the stuff and took it there. The things were all mixed up, but I got the stuff anyway.”…. This is a frequent pattern, but it not invariable; some dyslexic children may be quite articulate when they speak.”

“As a dyslexic child matures into adulthood, his speech continues to show evidence of the difficulties he has getting to the sound structure of words. His speech is littered with hesitations; sometimes there are many long pauses, or he may talk around a word, using many indirect words in place of the single word he can’t seem to come up with (technically referred to as circumlocution). He is neither glib nor fluent in spoken language.”

“Given a choice, a dyslexic can almost always recognize the correct word. For example, if asked whether a sudden ghostly appearance is an apparition or a partition, a dyslexic will invariably choose the correct response, apparition. However, when confronted on the spot to recall or come up with the word for a sudden ghostly appearance, the dyslexic may reach into his lexicon and pull out a word that sounds similar to the word he intended-in this instance, partition, instead of apparition.”

“Finally, and perhaps most critically, fuzzy phonemes interfere with the beginning reader’s ability to learn the names and the sounds of the letters of the alphabet. This series of accomplishments-learning the alphabet, learning the names of individual letters, and then learning the sounds that letters make–marks an important transition for the would-be reader. For the first time the child is expected to link the abstract squiggles that we call letters with their names and with their sounds. This is the beginning of reading. It is a necessary if not entirely sufficient accomplishment that must be in place in order to read. Conversely, difficulty in acquiring these skills is an early signal that the child may have a reading problem.”

“Certainly, by the time a child has had a full year of instruction in kindergarten, she should be able to recognize and name all of the letters of the alphabet, both uppercase and lowercase…and children generally leave kindergarten knowing the sounds of most of the letters of the alphabet.”

“Dyslexia runs in families; having a parent or a sibling who is dyslexic increases the probability that you are, too. Between one-quarter and one-half of children born to a dyslexic parent will also be dyslexic. If one child in a family is dyslexic, almost half of this sisters and brothers are also likely to be dyslexic. Not surprisingly, in cases where a child is dyslexic and his parents are then evaluated, in one-third to one-half of the cases a parent turns out to be dyslexic, too.”

“One of the most enduring misconceptions is that dyslexic children see letters and words backwards and that reversals (writing letters and words backward) are an invariable sign. While it is true that dyslexic children have difficulties attaching the appropriate labels or names to letters and words, there is no evidence that they actually see letters and words backwards….A related misconception is that mirror writing invariably accompanies dyslexia. In fact, backward writing and reversal of letters and words are common in the early stages of writing and development among dyslexic and nondyslexic children.”

Later Clues to Dyslexia

“To read effectively a child needs to pay attention to all the letters in a written word so they can link them to the sound she hears in the spoken word and then decode the word. Otherwise, she will confuse words that have the same initial and final consonants but different interior vowels (such as book and beak).”

“Children whose errors [matching letters to sound] indicated a lack of awareness of the relation of letters to sounds typically ended the year as poor readers (Such children might read like for milk, words that have some letters in common but do not sound the same.) These children were not flexing their phonologic muscles. Parents should be concerned when their children act in a similar way.”

“If our young readers were to stop here [merely associating letters with sounds], his reading would be very slow and laborious since he would have to read letter by letter. But as a [nondyslexic] child reads, he builds up his vocabulary and with it his storehouse of saved words, and now things begin to really accelerate. The child goes from storing images of individual letters associated with specific sounds to storing larger and larger chunks of printed material-common letters that frequently go together (-at, -gh, -th), the larger groups of letters that recur (-ight, -eight, -ought), and, finally after the child has read many books and successfully decoded thousands of words again and again, he has accumulated a storehouse of entire words. All the child needs to do now is look at the printed word on the page and a match is made with a word that is stored in his brain.”

“For dyslexic readers the process of learning to read and of becoming a skilled reader is tortuously slow. Benchmarks are significantly delayed. At the beginning, difficulties linking letters to sounds interfere with learning to read. Over time, as the dyslexic learns to read, he, too, begins to build up his own storehouse of letters and word representations. Unfortunately, the dyslexic reader may match only a few of the letters in a word to their sounds. As a result, the stored model of that word is a bit off and incomplete. Later on, when the dyslexic reader comes across that word again, he may find it hard to locate an exact stored match or to recognize the printed word at all.”

“Dyslexic readers require many more exposures to a printed word over a much longer period of time before the stored representation are clear and true to the printed word. In some instances, stored representations continue to be imperfect, impeding the read retrieval of words. As a result, even when dyslexic readers are able to decode words accurately, they are still not quick in their reading of these words. …As a [further] result, dyslexic readers are forced to continue to rely on context to get a word’s meaning; consequently, the benefit is limited to that particular situation.”

“Many dyslexic readers complain of difficulties in reading little words, such as in, on, the, that and an….Since dyslexic readers rely so much on context, it is often difficult to figure out a small, so-call function word whose meaning cannot be gleaned from the context. For example, a ball could be on, over, or under the table, which makes it difficult to decide which of these choices is the one the author intended.”

“A dyslexic often times has phonologic weaknesses surrounded by a sea of strengths:

  • A strong family history of dyslexia

  • Early language problems in articulation but not comprehension

  • Trouble learning the alphabet

  • Problems associating letters and sounds

  • Trouble sounding out words

  • Confusion of words that sound alike

  • Difficulty perceiving details in words

  • Absolute terror of reading aloud

  • Slow reading

  • Disastrous spelling

  • Immature pencil grip

  • Poor handwriting

  • Diminished self-esteem

  • Strong secondary test anxiety

  • Time as a critical factor in his performance

  • Extreme variable performance depending on the format of the test

  • Results of multiple-choice tests underestimate his knowledge

  • Superior learning capability along with deficient reading skills

  • Comprehension superior to rote memory

  • Grasps main idea much better than details”

“Writing (handwriting and composition) is challenging for dyslexic readers…..Dyslexic readers require and greatly benefit from being directly taught writing strategies and a structure to follow in constructing sentences and developing into paragraphs.”

For more information about dyslexia, I encourage you to visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Also, for parents and relatives of dyslexic children who want to share the success stories of famous dyslexic people, please read the “Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain” and visit the website Famous People with the Gift of Dyslexia. Finally, if you suspect a friend or loved one would benefit from audiobooks, please visit Learning Ally and Bookshare for details about gaining access.