Dyslexia – what is it?

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia was first noted in 1895 in the British Medical Journal. Reference was made to ‘Percy’ who was described as having ‘congenital word blindness’.

More recently, the Rose Report on dyslexia defined it as “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling”.

  • There isn’t one specific cause
  • Focus on reading and spelling difficulties
  • Moves away from the idea that dyslexia is linked to low intelligence – the mechanism for reading is separate from issues of intelligence. High-achieving, and low-achieving children have been shown to experience the same issues in memory and decoding in reading
  • There is no one test for dyslexia – dyslexia is best identified by ongoing teacher assessment
  • Dyslexia is a continuum – everybody has difficulties with reading/spelling to one degree or another

In order to read and write effectively, children must be able to do the following five things:

  1. Synthesise, and segment, phonemes
  2. Progress in their knowledge of graphemes-phonemes from individual letters to letter combinations
  3. Recognise high frequency words
  4. Make correct spelling choices (a visual memory issue)
  5. Apply these skills in context (fluency)

So we need to assess abilities in all of these areas. Teachers, or psychologists, will look for the following things when making a dyslexia assessment:

Reading aloud

  • Is the child fluent, or is their reading laborious?
  • What strategies is the child using? (pictures/context? Grammar? Partial phonic/visual information?)
  • Does the child apply phonics to all words? Ruth Miskin – different colours used to highlight sight words
  • What is causing their errors?
  • Does the child understand what they are reading? Decoding without understanding is pointless.

Underlying visual problems

  • Pattern glare caused by contrast eg black on white (again, this is a continuum)
  • Fixation difficulties
  • Tracking abnormalities
  • Fusional disturbance where words jumble or move

Behaviour around reading/writing

  • Any task avoidance?
  • Issues with concentration/attention to reading/writing?
  • Issues with motivation/interest/disaffection?
  • Fear of taking risks with reading/writing?

Child’s view

  • What do they think about their reading and writing?
  • What do they find difficult?
  • What makes it easier or is helpful?
  • Are the books they read at the moment too difficult, too easy, just right?

Parent’s view

  • Issues around homework?
  • How does the child view reading/writing at home?
  • Find out about outside interests/strengths
  • History of glue ear or speech and language difficulties?
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