The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) places reading disorders under the umbrella of a language based learning disability. Language based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing. It is important to note that this disorder has nothing to do with overall intelligence. Most people diagnosed with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence. Reading disorders occur when a person has trouble with any part of the reading process. These disorders are present from a young age and usually result from specific differences in the way the brain processes language.
According to ASHA some symptoms of a language based learning disability include:
- Expressing ideas clearly, as if the words needed are on the tip of the tongue but won’t come out. What the child says can be vague and difficult to understand (e.g., using unspecific vocabulary, such as “thing” or “stuff” to replace words that cannot be remembered). Filler words like “um” may be used to take up time while the child tries to remember a word.
- Learning new vocabulary that the child hears (e.g., taught in lectures/lessons) and/or sees (e.g., in books)
- Understanding questions and following directions that are heard and/or read
- Recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
- Understanding and retaining the details of a story’s plot or a classroom lecture
- Reading and comprehending material
- Learning words to songs and rhymes
- Telling left from right, making it hard to read and write since both skills require this directionality
- Letters and numbers
- Learning the alphabet
- Identifying the sounds that correspond to letters, making learning to read difficult
- Mixing up the order of letters in words while writing
- Mixing up the order of numbers that are a part of math calculations
- Memorizing the times tables
- Telling time
Because a language based learning disability affects both written and spoken language we can begin to identify areas that would benefit from intervention in preschool.
For preschool students, the SLP may do any or all of the following:
- Evaluate the child’s ability to understand verbal and written directions and to pay attention to written information on the blackboard, daily plans, blackboard or daily planner.
- Look for awareness of print
- See if the child recognizes familiar signs and logos
- Watch to see if a child holds a book correctly and turns the pages
- Determine if the child recognizes and/or writes name
- Evaluate whether the child demonstrates pretend writing (writing that resembles letters and numbers)
- See if the child recognizes and/or writes letters
- Have the child tap or clap out the different syllables in words
- Evaluate if the child can tell whether two words rhyme or give a list of words that rhyme with a specified word
For the older child, the SLP may also do any or all of the following:
- Observe whether the child can read and understand information on handouts and in textbooks.
- Assess the student’s ability to hear and “play with” sounds in words (phonological awareness skills).
- Have the child put together syllables and sounds to make a word.
- See if the child can break up a word into its syllables and/or sounds (e.g., “cat” has one syllable but three sounds c-a-t).
- Assess the older child’s phonological memory by having him or her repeat strings of words, numbers, letters, and sounds of increasing length.
Types of Reading Disorders
Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. Individuals with dyslexia typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding. Dyslexia can be inherited in some families, and recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose an individual to developing dyslexia. Examples of specific types of reading disorders include:
- Word decoding-People who have difficulty sounding out written words; matching the letters to sounds to be able to read a word.
- Lack of fluency-People who lack fluency have difficulty reading quickly, accurately, and with proper expression (if reading aloud).
- Poor reading comprehension- People with poor reading comprehension have trouble understanding what they read.
There are many different symptoms and types of reading disorders, and not everyone with a reading disorder has every symptom. People with reading disorders may have problems recognizing words that they already know and may also be poor spellers. Other symptoms may include the following:
- Trouble with handwriting
- Difficulty reading quickly
- Problems reading with correct expression
- Problems understanding the written word
Milestones to look for in phonological awareness development:
- Engage in rhyme play and nonsense words implicitly
By age 5 (beginning kindergarten)
- Awareness of the worse as a discrete unit
- Awareness of the syllable as a discrete unit
- Identify rhyme- particularly if given examples to judge
- Match initial consonant (bat and ball have the same sound at the beginning!)
- Segment two phonemes (“up “has two sounds “u” and “p”)
- Blend two phonemes (“a” and “t” make “at”)
By age 6 (beginning first grade)
- Match final sounds (“hat” and “rat” have the same sound at the end)
- Segment simple spoken words CVC (hat is “h” “a” “t”)
Somewhat later-end of first grade beginning second
- Blend three phonemes CVC or CCVC (“cat” or “trip”)
- Complete phoneme segmentation: saying, tapping, counting phonemes
By age 8
- Advanced phoneme segmentation-consonant clusters(str, bl) may still be difficult
- Phoneme manipulation tasks-requires segmentation plus deletion, reversal or substitution (pig-Latin)
** Reversal of letters (confusing b/d) is typical up until age 7
Intervention with children with reading disorders is a joint effort-between the client, the parents, the teacher and the SLP. Research has shown that a multi-sensory, phonetic based approach is most effective. Programs that follow these methods include, but are not limited to, Orton-Gillingham and Slingerland. These approaches use structured, direct instruction in the rules and phonetics of the English language.