What's the Word?



What is dyslexia?
There is no universal definition of dyslexia. The Canadian Dyslexia Association defines it as “a difficulty with the alphabet, reading, writing and spelling in spite of normal or above normal intelligence, conventional teaching, and adequate sociocultural opportunity.” “Characteristics of dyslexia vary greatly from one individual to another, and can include such examples as difficulties with the appropriate sequencing of letters, confusion with math symbols, difficulties with memory and with the expression of ideas, etc.”

Is dyslexia just a reading disability?
The challenges with dyslexia often start with reading problems and written output; however, many children struggle with organizational abilities and as a result may miss deadlines and forget to study for tests. They often need structure and reminders in order to keep on top of school work.

Is dyslexia the same for each child?
There are no two children that present the same way. Just as we are all individuals, we are all individual in how we process information. Problems may appear in sequencing, phonemic recognition, processing speed, comprehension, or any combination. Some young students may appear to be able to read due to their ability to memorize words, though this becomes increasingly difficult as language becomes more complex.

What does poor memory retrieval mean?
A child’s memory may appear to be good – he may know all the hockey players or words to rap music. In the average person information goes in, is stored and then is retrieved for specific tasks. With dyslexia, when non-meaningful information goes in it is not efficiently stored. Therefore when specific information is required, it is difficult to retrieve and the individual may become frustrated or appear lost. When information is meaningful on an emotional level, it is often more readily available.

Is this learning disability a genetic based trait? How did my child catch this? Is there anything I could have done to prevent it?
The causes are neurobiological and genetic, therefore, the individual is born with it. There is no cure.

Why doesn't my child do well after so much help is given in studying for tests and examinations?
Many factors can create obstacles for the child’s success; one is the inability to retrieve information on cue. Children with dyslexia try to memorize all the information as opposed to attaching meaning to the information so that it can be recalled more easily. Relying on memory alone requires so much more work and that can cause fatigue and failure. Anxiety or a state of panic can disrupt the flow of information. And focus that a child has in a quiet space of study can be easily lost in a busy classroom.

My son’s teacher says wait for an assessment because he is too young and not reading yet? How early should you assess?
Red flags can be seen as early as kindergarten. Through a proper assessment one can see how the child is organizing information, and if there are processing weaknesses. They can be assessed for memory deficiencies and how they hold a pencil and create formations. Delaying assessment puts the child at a disadvantage since the rest of the class moves on and the child must catch up. This can create behavioural issues. Research has shown that early intervention is the key to having greater success.

I am afraid of my child being labelled with an assessment.
Chances are that your child is already being labelled in the school system by teachers, learning assistants and other staff. A child who struggles with dyslexia may be inaccurately labelled as suffering from Attention Deficit or may be thought of as “lazy” or “an underachiever”. Having the wrong label applied is not going to increase a child’s success in class. A good assessment will point out the specific areas of concern so that appropriate interventions can be used.

What is the difference between a private assessment and a school-based assessment?
Not all assessments are created equal. A preferable assessment addresses processing speed and memory retrieval; both immediate and delayed memory, as well as verbal and non-verbal skills. Ideally, assessments include a plan of action.

What are the differences between modifications and adaptations in the BC school curriculum and how does this relate to the dyslexia diagnoses?
Most students diagnosed with dyslexia require some help in approaching the school curriculum. Most often they are put on an IEP (individual education plan) to provide assistance with learning. Adaptations allow a student to learn the curriculum but with support or considerations given, such as reduced spelling lists, a scribe or more time on examinations. However the school may recommend modifying the child’s learning which significantly changes the educational outcomes. The child is no longer learning the B.C. Curriculum and expectations are radically different. The child will not complete his or her Grade 12 or Dogwood, but instead achieves an Evergreen certificate.

Why tutoring?
Studies have shown that 65% of all students are being tutored in one form or another. For whatever reasons the child is not succeeding in the classroom, tutoring offers:

• One on one instruction;
• Individualized lesson plans that target areas of specific concern;
• Opportunities to “over-learn” known material so gaps in the student’s knowledge remain closed;
• Advocacy from one school year to the next that establishes consistency in his or her learning experience; and
• The opportunity to reassess, in a timely manner, the progress and directions that need to be taken.

How soon can we see a difference in the classroom when a tutor is involved?
When a child feels properly supported, success can develop fairly quickly. Dyslexia holds many challenges and often the successes are tempered with the understanding of what may always be a struggle in the classroom. Therefore, tutoring may need to continue in the way of subject support.

How long will my child need to have a tutor?
This is a challenging question to address given that every child’s needs are unique. A qualified tutor finds the gaps in the child’s learning and then uses a proper sequence structure to fill those gaps. There are times when a concept or spelling can require more over-learning and practice which take time. If there is collaboration with the parents, the school and the student to commit to the program and if the learning disability is identified early, the time frame may be reduced.

What is the difference between whole language and phonemic learning?
This remains for some educators, a debatable subject. Whole language learning encourages the child to guess a word in the context of a story using pictures as a reference. Words are allowed to be expressed in an incorrect manner with the expectation that a child will develop vocabulary and correct word recognition naturally. Whole language proponents argue that it makes reading motivational when language is not overly corrected. Phonemic learning stresses the need to recognize the sounds letters make and to decode words properly by sounding out the parts in a sequential manner. Research has shown phonemic learning is a more successful tool for decoding language in young school age children.

Why isn’t Orton-Gillingham offered in the school system?
Time, resources and training are often seen as a problem for most teachers. Orton-Gillingham (O-G) requires individual one-on-one teaching however there are organizations that are offering O-G for the classroom structure.

Questions from family members:

As grandparents what can we do to help?
The best place to start is speaking with the parents and working cooperatively to achieve the best outcome for the child. Financial support is a wonderful way to assist. Bringing time and energy to help with transportation and babysitting needs is valuable.

Grandparents can facilitate the learning by creating a space that allows the child to relax. Games, for example, whether they are team sports or just board games are challenging for a child with learning disabilities, and so he or she needs encouragement and time to learn. Grandparents have a special role within the family dynamic and they can provide stability and support.

Facilitating the natural family relationship is vital. Parents need to be supported in order for them to support the child. Ensure there is open communication and understand what is required to assist the child.


Auditory discrimination: assuming normal hearing acuity, the ability to hear likenesses and differences in phonemes or words.

Consonant digraph: two adjacent consonant letters in the same syllable used to represent one of the primary phonemes of English, such as ch, th and sh.

Decoding: a process of recognizing unfamiliar written words by sequentially segmenting the sounds represented by the letters of the word and then by blending the sounds into a meaningful word or in to syllables which are then combined into words (reading).

Digraph: two adjacent letters representing a single speech sound.

Diphthong: a phoneme that begins with a vowel sound and, by change of tongue position, glides into another vowel sounds, e.g. ou as in ouch and oy as in boy.

Dyscalculia: difficulty in learning to calculate or to remember easily and to work accurately with number facts.

Dysgraphia: difficulty in learning the physical act writing.

Dysorthography: difficulty in learning to spell.

Encoding: in spelling, a process by which students segment sounds of a word, translate each phoneme into its corresponding letter, and then spell the word (writing).

Kinesthetic memory: a remembered pattern of voluntary movement; an integrated pattern of activity which the student can recall after repeated practice and training.

Kinesthetic perception: sensory experience derived from muscles, tendons, and joints which is stimulated by body movements and tensions. It is often applied to the student’s feeling of letter shapes while moving parts of the body through space without relying on visual guidance.

Mnemonic: pertaining to the memory.

Morphology: the study of the structure of words; the component of grammar which includes the rules of word formation including derivation, inflection, and compounding.

Multisensory: the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways to reinforce learning in the brain.

Phoneme: smallest unit of speech that serves to distinguish one utterance from another in a language or dialect (as in the /b/ of bat and /m/ of mat). English is made up of 44 or 45 phonemes (depending on dialect).

Phonetics: the study of speech sounds, how they are produced (articulatory phonetics), how they are perceived (auditory phonetics), and what their physical properties are (acoustic phonetics).

Phonics: a teaching approach that gives attention to letter-sound correspondences in the teaching of reading and spelling. Phonics is a teaching approach and should not be confused with phonetics.

Therapeutic environment: refers to the total learning environment to be established by the clinician or teacher, in accordance with established psychological or clinical protocols, which fosters healing and promotes cognitive, emotional, and social growth.

Visual memory: involves the encoding, storage, and retrieval of visually presented information.

Visual discrimination: assuming normal visual acuity, the ability to distinguish slight differences in visual stimuli, especially in letters and words that have graphic similarities.

Visualization: a teaching technique to increase reading comprehension by teaching readers to form images or pictures in their minds to help retain the important points of a passage.

Vowel digraph: two adjacent vowel letters in a single syllable which represent a single long sound, such as ea in eat; ue in argue; oa in boat.

Reference: The Gillingham Manual, Anna Gillingham Bessie W. Stillman, Educators Publishing Service, Inc Eighth Edition Revised




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