Both of my children required speech therapy starting at 3 years of age, one for primarily articulation errors and the other for primarily an expressive language disorder. I remember the speech language pathologist commented that many kids with speech problems later have problems learning to read. I didn’t really understand this connection between speech/language problems and learning to read, and in hindsight wished she would have taken the time to connect the dots for me because both my boys struggled with learning to read. I couldn’t help but feel like I failed them in the sense that had I understood the connection between receiving speech therapy services and reading, that maybe I would have addressed their difficulty in learning to read sooner.
So what is the connection between speech and language problems, reading, and dyslexia? Let’s first take a look at the definitions of dyslexia.
The World Health Organization defines dyslexia as “a disorder manifested by difficulty learning to read, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and socio-cultural opportunity.”
The Health Council of the Netherlands defines dyslexia as “present when the automatization of word identification (reading) and/or word spelling does not develop or does so very incompletely or with great difficulty. The term automatization refers to the establishment of an automatic process. A process of this kind is characterized by a high level of speed and accuracy. It is carried out unconsciously, makes minimal demands on attention and is difficult to suppress, ignore, or influence…” (Source: Dyslexia: Definition and treatment. The Hague: Health Council of the Netherlands, 1995.)
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines dyslexia as “characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems with reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12. 2002. This Definition is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
Ohio defines dyslexia in the Ohio Revised Code 3319.80 (B) (1) as “a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities, which difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language.”
Based on the definitions above, it seems that the common underlying theme is that dyslexia is a problem in reading and spelling. To complicate matters, the symptoms of dyslexia vary from person to person which seems to justify the belief of many in the educational system that dyslexia is a vague term. It is true that no two persons’ experiences with dyslexia are exactly the same and this is due to an individual’s strengths compensating for the individual’s weaknesses. Not only does this make the identification of dyslexia difficult, but there is no single test or score that identifies dyslexia.
The key identifier of dyslexia is unexpected in relation to an individual’s ability. The general pattern of dyslexia is average to above average in understanding concepts but low in skills. Dyslexia becomes more apparent when looking at the patterns of errors and difficulties. Margaret B. Rawson, past president of the Orton Society (now known as the International Dyslexia Association, IDA) and author of The Many Faces of Dyslexia, succinctly described dyslexia as:
- The differences are personal.
- The diagnosis is clinical.
- The treatment is educational.
- The understanding is scientific.
“Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from that employed in most classrooms. They need to be taught, slowly and thoroughly, the basic elements of their language – the sounds and the letters which represent them- and how to put these together and take them apart. They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for the conscious organization and retention of their learning.”
- Part 2: Highlights of Recent Research
- Part 3: A Different Approach to Learning Language
- Part 4: Connecting the Dots
For more information on the history and definitions of dyslexia, please read Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention.