Last Update – June 2021
These answers were originally prepared by Dr Vincent Goetry, who had designed this programme and was its Course Director for a number of years. Dr Goetry compiled these answers after analysing the feedback from users of the online courses in both English and French. These answers were also reviewed and critiqued by Professor Stein of the University of Oxford, UK, and member of Dyslexia International’s Scientific Advisory Panel. EDA periodically updates courses’ content as per research findings and practices.
This document uses gender-inclusive language.
Can you explain why people with dyslexia have difficulties in orientating themselves in space but have superior abilities for representing objects in three dimensions?
When the dyslexic learner needs to orientate themselves in space, they use the cortical representation of their body which is typically less developed. All the spatial notions relative to the body (left-right, before-behind, etc) are very difficult to master for dyslexic learners. On the other hand, when the dyslexic learner needs to represent external objects within space, this representation is not involved. In these circumstances, dyslexic learners often show superior abilities compared to their non-dyslexic peers.
2. Learning a foreign language
What about dyslexia and learning a foreign language? Is it more difficult for them than for non-dyslexics?
In spite of many discouraging learning a foreign language, there is no research which concludes such an assertion. Further, most research deals with learning English as a foreign language and that is a limitation. Therefore, one cannot conclude that persons with dyslexia should not learn a foreign language. One needs to take into account the Multiple Intelligence Model and the teaching techniques. Unfortunately, most foreign language teaching includes reading and writing at the early stages, and that puts persons with dyslexia at a disadvantage. The diversity of bilingual settings also needs to be discussed and first, we must distinguich at least three difference scenarios:
- Submersion: the learner is schooled entirely in the target language amongst learners for which this language is their mother tongue. The teaching programme is not adapted to the linguistic needs of the non-native learners, who need to learn the language of their instruction through the interaction with their teacher and peers, as well as through the lessons.
- Immersion: the learner acquires a foreign language with other learners who are in the same situation, and the teaching programme is adapted to their educational and linguistic needs;
- The learning of a mandatory additional language at school.
We should remember the many children, often newly arrived in a country, who speak their native language at home and have sometimes learnt to read and spellit, but whose school language is the foreign language.
The acquisition of the spoken and the written language
It is very important to distinguish between oral language and written language.
At the level of the oral language, the dyslexic learner will have to learn a series of other names of objects in the target language to be associated with the objects they already know in their first language.
In this, dyslexic learners do not generally have more difficulties than non-dyslexic learners. Dyslexic or not, some learners have more abilities in learning foreign languages than others. Their verbal intelligence would be a strong aspect in their profile.
However, if the target language has phonemes or phonemic contrasts which do not exist in the native language of the dyslexic learner, they will have more difficulties in learning these phonemes and contrasts given their overall difficulties in building abstract and generalized representations of phonemes.
A classic example is Japanese speakers learning English. English has two consonants which belong to the family of liquid consonants, namely /l/ and /r/. Japanese only has one liquid consonant, whose pronunciation is an intermediate between the English /l/ and /r/. Hence, Japanese speakers learning English will show particular difficulties distinguishing /l/ from /r/, and will keep on confounding those two phonemes and graphemes both orally and when writing.
Being confronted by the written foreign language will often be very problematic for dyslexic learners. To recap, one of the major characteristics of dyslexia is the difficulty in associating graphemes with their corresponding phonemes for reading, and vice versa for spelling.
When confronted with the written system of a foreign language, the dyslexic learner will have to acquire a whole new set of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, amongst which many do not even exist in their native language (especially the vowels). Moreover, in many cases some of these correspondences conflict with those with which the learner has to cope in their native language (e.g. the sound of ‘u’ in English /u/ and Itlaian /oo/).
Let’s consider, for example, the phoneme /ow/, which appears in the word “cloud”. Working now in French, the learner will discover that this same grapheme is pronounced /ou/, as in the word “trou” (meaning hole). What is more, in French the learner will discover that the phoneme /ow/ does not exist, and that in English the phoneme /ou/ is spelt with two vowels which never come together in French, namely “oo” (as in “good”). The complexity of this paragraph mirrors the classroom experience.
This example is far from unique. When exposed to the orthographic system of a foreign language, the dyslexic learner will be required to master many new correspondences -which is exactly what is very difficult for them.
Therefore, the best advice is to avoid, as much as possible, contacts with the written system of the foreign language first, whilst insisting on the learning of the oral language
3. Are some languages easier to learn than others?
At the oral level all the languages of the world are equally complex. Some languages have more phonemes than others but these differences are sufficiently negligible not to affect their acquisition.
Things are very different with written systems. Every language displays a written system which can be more or less complex.
Some languages have transparent written system: words are written as they are pronounced and pronounced as they are spelt. In these languages the correspondences between graphemes and phonemes are bi-univocal: each grapheme always corresponds to the same phoneme and vice versa.
Amongst the languages displaying a transparent orthographic system, we find for example Finnish, Italian and Spanish, and, to a lesser extent, German and Dutch.
In contrast, other languages have so-called opaque orthographic systems, such as English and, to a lesser extent, French. English is hybrid and embodies words and spellings originating from Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and romantic languages origins, for example.
In these orthographic systems, the correspondences between graphemes and phonemes are complex and multiple: the same grapheme can be pronounced in different ways and the same phoneme can be written with several graphemes.
Dyslexic learners will show more ability to read and write languages with transparent orthographic systems than languages with opaque systems. This is actually true for all the children, but even more so for dyslexic learners.
However, in real life, things need to be nuanced. It would be foolish to advise dyslexic children to learn Italian or Spanish rather than French because the orthographic systems of the former are more transparent than the latter.
A central element to take into consideration is obviously the motivation of the learner. If a dyslexic learner absolutely wants to learn French, it is probably better to let him do so, whilst warning them of the written difficulties they will face, and foreseeing the extra help which will allow then to master the orthographic system of that language.
4. Should dyslexic learners experience Immersion?
There is no unequivocal answer, given the diversity of the contexts of immersion. In some immersion programmes, learners learn to read and spell in their second language first, whilst in others they acquire literacy in their native language first, and so on.
Another important factor is whether one of the parents speaks the language of immersion or not.
Dyslexic or not, some learners display more ability to learn one or several foreign languages than others.
The dyslexic child faced with the immersion language is confronted by the double difficulty of having to learn the vocabulary of that language and its written system. This double task is more difficult for them than for a non-dyslexic learner.
However, in some circumstances, immersion in a transparent language, like Finnish, Spanish and Portughese, could be beneficial. Indeed, Canadian researchers (Da Fontoura & Siegel, 1995) have compared reading and spelling skills of poor Portuguese-English bilingual learners to those of English monolinguals. The bilinguals were schooled in English but also learnt to read and spell in Portuguese for 30 minutes every day. Contrary to what was expected, the bilinguals showed better performance than the monolinguals on some tasks (e.g., pseudo-word reading and spelling). To explain these results, the researchers noted that the writing system of Portuguese is far more transparent than the one of English. They therefore hypothesised that reading in Portuguese could especially help dyslexic learners to develop and train the phonological decoding procedure of reading. This can be paramount in the development of all the mechanisms of word identification and comprehension of the written language. Those learners would then have transferred their phonological decoding abilities to English, thus facilitating tasks such as reading pseudowords.
Therefore, it could be possible that immersion in a more transparent orthographic system than English, facilitates the development and, especially, the automatization of the phonological recoding route to reading and therefore reading development in general.
In all cases, the learner will have to master two orthographic systems throughout this curriculum, which can prove challenging for dyslexic learners.
5. What is the relationship between dyslexia and other learning difficulties?
As already noted in the introductory note to this course. co-occurence of dys-profiles is more then norm than the exception. This is why the course is embracing a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. Whislt we focus on dyslexia, we would like to state that al strategies presented in this course are inclusive and beneficial for all children. This is necessary not only because it is a philosophy that EDA embraces, but also because a profile of dyslexia is rarely found in isolation and is often accompanied by other learning challenges. To note is that dyselxia is the most common in neuro-diverse profiles.
In the past, researchers tended to study learning difficulties in isolation. There is now a growing consensus that various learning difficulties share common features and usually do not manifest themselves in isolation.
Habib (2003) termed this “constellation of DYS”, or “DYS-constellation”. A term that now seems to be gaining ground this decade is neuro-diverse profiles. Habib (2003) pointed out that all DYS learning difficulties share two common elements:
- the frequency of their co-occurrence – the difficulty in question is nearly always associated with one or several other difficulties (co-occurence); and
- their independence of the global intellectual functioning of the learner.
Other studies have likewise concluded this phenomenon (e.g. Carroll, Maughan, Goodman & Meltzer, 2005; Monuteaux, Faraone, Herzig, Navsaria & Biederman, 2005; Willcutt, Pennington, Olson, Chabildas & Hulslander, 2005), now also embraced by the DSM-5 and ICD-10.
The various DYS difficulties, of which some often coexist within the same learner, are the following:
- Speech Sound Disorders (SSD) – Motor difficulties of articulation that makes it difficult to pronounce some phonemes. It includes pronunciation difficulties such as stammering, lisping and hissing. SSD has replaced the term Dyslalia
- Dysphasia – structural and lasting challenges with oral language development
- Dysorthographia – concerns the acquisition of the rules for spelling and grammar. it is often, but not always, part of the profile of dyslexia
- Dyscalculia – difficulties with numerical and mathematical skills. the terms Math Learning Disorder or Math Learning Difficulties (MLD) are also used.
- Dysgraphia – challenges with fine motor skills affecting the graphical gesture and the optimum formation of letters. Persons with dysgraphia might not have difficulties with drawing or sketching.
- Dyspraxia – difficulties executing the voluntary sequences of movements to interact with the environment (e.g., riding a bicycle, tying shoelaces, getting dressed, etc.). In other words, challenges carrying out planned actions.
- Attention Deficit (ADD)/ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADhD) – persons with ADD have challenges concerntation and focusing. If they are also hyperactivie then one uses the term (ADhD). Teachers need to be aware that slow processing is sometimes mistaken for ADD. The child would seem out-of-focus and not attending to what you are saying then they would actually still be processing what you said before. One therefore needs to be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusion.
6. At what age can dyslexia be detected and what are the early indicators?
The practice in most countries is to conclude a profile of dyslexia around the age of seven. This practice arises from the concept that children develop at a different pace and that this is much more pronounced in the early years, due to the fast rate of development during this early stage in life.
Notwithstanding, children’s learning and behaviour may alert us to at-risk behaviour. This at-risk behaviour is also addressed using the inclusive strategies discussed in this course. If teachers use inclusive strategies to access learning and to teach literacy, then children with a profile of dyslexia can start benefitting before a formal diagnosis.
Dyslexia is a developmental profile characterized by a different cerebral organization, which is part of a person’s profile from birth.
Research indicates that there are predictive tests which can identify at-risk children, not necessarily due to dyslexia. For example, the number of words a child enters school with is a strong predictor for academic success. This may range from 50 to 500 words. However, such a predictor cannot relied upon for all children as research indicates that bi- or tri-lingual children tend to start talking later than mono-lingual children.
Carsten Elbro and colleagues suggest three predictive tests that can be administered with kindergarten pupils for at-risk dyslexia behaviour: (1) naming the letters of the alphabet; (2) rapid naming of familiar objects (Rapid Automatised Naming – RAN); and (3) metaphonological skill – the ability to represent and manipulate the sounds of the language. You would need to use these tests according to your culture. For example: if in your school system you do not name the letters of the alphabet, then you cannot use this as a possible prediction. Further, some school systems may start school later (at age 6 rather than age 4).
Thus, research findings indicate that some elements or “risk factors” allow prediction of a potential profile of dyslexia. Being attentive to these risk factors is essential because the sooner a risk of dyslexia is detected and the sooner intervention is made, the better the prognosis both at the academic and emotional level. Further using inclusive strategies discussed in this course, allow to address learning challenges.
Main risk factors you should be attentive to are:
- dyslexia or difficulties with the written language within the family: the parents or grandparents have encountered themselves difficulties when learning to read and write. In many cases parents/grandparents would not have been diagnosed because learning disabilities were still largely unknown when they were schooled;
- Delay or slowness to establish laterality (manual preference): the learner uses one hand, then the other, to execute the same activity and commits to laterality later than expected;
- Persistent confusions between left and right and for objects in the environment;
- Difficulties with orientation in space and time: the notion of time does not make sense to the learner, including concepts such as “before”, “after”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow”, and “next week”. Some learners also confound “morning” and “afternoon”;
- Inability to appreciate rhyme in nursery rhymes or in songs: the learner is not aware that the end of sentences finish with rhyming words;
- Difficulties following or reproducing rhythm: the learner claps or marches out of time;
- Great difficulties learning and reciting nursery rhymes, songs, or verses of poetry by rote: the learner memorizes the main ideas but is unable to repeat the precise words that make up the verses;
- Difficulties in naming familiar objects rapidly– Rapid Automatised Naming (RAN) : This refers to retrieval challenges and not a problem with learning vocabulary. The learner knows perfectly well the names of the objects to designate but they have difficulty retrieving them from long-term memory. As they are speaking, learners may replace one word for another. For example referring to a ‘spoon’ as a ‘fork’, or to a ‘doctor’ as ‘nurse’.
- Difficulties following multiple verbal instructions given one after another (Auditory Sequential Short-term Memory (ASM): Faced with a series of verbal instructions, the learner seems totally lost and does not know what to do.
- Difficulties expressing the sounds of words: the child confuses sounds when pronouncing some words and may change the sequence of sounds in a word: ‘parcark’ instead of ‘carpark’; ‘disonaur’ for ‘dinosaur’; ‘roombed’ instead of ‘bedroom’.
- A striking level of disorganization,
- frequent loss or lapse of memory for personal objects.
Challenges with regard to literacy:
- Inability to learn the name and the sounds of the alphabet letters: the learner confuses the names and the sounds of the letters, and assigns wrong names or sounds to letters despite intensive exposure. This is relevant to school systems which teach the names and the sounds of the alphabet letters.
- Inability to blend letters to read a word: the learner mixes up the sounds and pronounces them in a wrong order or omits some of them.
- Inability to easily and quickly recognise words by sight (sight word reading). This is the objective of fluent reading. Fluent readers recognise words instantly (not decode). Alphabetic systems which use decoding allow early literacy learners to amass a large number of sight words due to their ability to decode. Children with no difficulties usually only need to come across/decode a word for ten times for it to become a sight word. This is the rationale for early readers’ library books which include the same words repeatedly. However, children with dyselxia usually need to come across/decode words around 40 times for them to become part of their sight word vocabulary. Thus, children with difficulties would only have significntly few words they can sight-read, compared to their peers.
- Children with dyslexia may recognise some words like logos, pictures or drawings, and can recognize them thanks to their visual memory. However, they would not have analysed these words into their constitutive letters. If one then uses a font which changes the global shape of the word (confguration), the learner can then no longer identify the word.
- Difficulties writing their name.
- Mirror writing. Some studies indicate that this is more prevalent when the child with dyslexia is left-handed.
- Letter reversals – Confusing b/d, p/q, n/u, t/f, h/t for example
- Sequencing – writing ‘was’ instead of ‘saw’, reading ‘forg’ instead of ‘frog’
A word of caution: Teachers need to be aware that children will exhibit such behaviour as part of their development. For example: from birth, children learn that object orientation does not change object identification. However, when they start school, they come across letters which conclude the reverse (b/p/d/q). Children will adjust to this perception reality at different rates. It is thus important not to conclude a profile of dyslexia but rather focus on the learning and behaviour you want to address. Further, children will sometimes write their name in mirror-writing spontaneously for this same reason. Remember that children are also adjusting to a two-dimensional reality when dealing with literacy.
Some children will also be much slower than others to establish manual preference. This does not mean that they will automatically have to be dyslexic. To gauge a risk of dyslexia one must observe a combination of risk factors which occur frequently despite teachers’ corrections and training, and which will persist over time beyond the age at which such errors should normally disappear. Notwithstanding, using inclusive strategies promoted in this course, will support all children.
Dyslexia is a profile which does not go away or disappear. However, there are strategies which allow person to cope if intervention is employed. Further it is mostly visible during the schooling period but also affects careers, employment, and day-to-day living. Further, mental wellbeing is affected due to negative school-experiences. Whilst literature can indicate ambivalent results on self-esteem, research findings agree that persons with dyslexia experience low academic self- concept. Self-esteem and self-confidence are also affected, but the home and school environment help address this. Kannangara’s model from Languishing to Thriving Dyslexia (2015) offers solutions to unnecessary suffering.
Dyslexia is neurobiological in nature and is now also referred to as a neuro-diverse profile. This means that the brain of dyslexic learners develops and functions differently from the brain of non-dyslexic learners. Nevertheless, with proper intervention, inclusive teaching techniques and support, the dyslexic brain can activate hemispheric regions which will make reading, writing and spelling more successful, thus gaining skills over time in these domains.
Our Yout tube https://www.youtube.com/c/InternationalDyslexiaAssociation offers videos for your perusal.
Dyslexic adults have to put in place some strategies to compensate for their challenges with concentration, auditory sequential short-term memory, orientation in space and time, and reading and writing fluency.
For example, the use of modern technology may allow access to printed matter and electronic agendas allow the adult to take notes at any time so that nothing is forgotten. Programme alarms may be used to remember appointments and other engagements.
8. What should be done when dyslexia is detected during adolescence or later?
Whether dyslexia is detected earlier or later the learner can always be helped.
Support programmes are the same whatever the age of the learner, in particular the practice of tasks aiming at reinforcing phonological and especially phonemic representations.
Other parts of support programmes are more specific. Nowadays, some intervention/specialist teachers specialize in the support of dyslexic adolescents. They help the learner to adopt coping strategies which will allow them to keep up with the tempo of the classroom, the biggest challeng for the dyslexic adolescent.
One of the major unnecessary difficulties for dyslexic adolescents is taking notes. This can be address from a UDL persepective. Teachers should change their pedagogy to include giving notes and using the learning time to discuss notes. Today, many universities have embraced the practice of giving students powerpoints and notes before lectures. This allows the students to focus on learning and discussion during lessons, with the possibility of preparing for the lesson.
Within this framework, it is also important to allow all learner, irrespecive of their abilities and chalenges, to use technology within the classroom and for assessment purposes.
You will find other adaptations in Section 3 of the course.
9. What marketed programmes for dyslexic learners should one trust?
lhere area a number of programmes which are marketed, some of which are very expensive. The literature agrees that structured multi-sensory learning is the best strategy for all learners. One should therefore seek professional advice from their national associaitons or relevant professional before investing in any marketed programme.
10. What can teachers do for dyslexic learners during language learning?
Whatever the age of dyslexic learners, easy inclusive strategies can be employed:
- When evaluating spelling isolated words, draw a circle round the correctly spelt words rather than crossing out the mistakes. This is more encouraging.
- When organizing dictations/spelling games, modify the task for dyslexic learners. For example, if you ask the students to prepare 20 words for the next day’s dictation ask the dyslexic learner, when starting the dictation, not to write down the 20 words but to spell the words they think they can remember. Then divide the number of words correctly spelt not by 20 but by the number of words the learner has written. There obviously needs to be a quota of words to write down for the dictation (for example, ask the learner to spell at least 10 words out of the 20).
- Teach patterns of spelling: try to compose sentences with words which display the same phoneme.
- When correcting essays, mark spelling with caution. Essays should be marked for content, creativity, use of language, spelling, grammar. punctuation. Students should be informed of the marking scheme. In class some may be good at spelling but not at creativity, whilst others can be good at creativity but not spelling. Creating an enviornment which promotes human diversity can help all children’s motivations and self-esteem.
- Allow all learners to use technology for written work. Remember that you do not need to know how to spell to produce a good piece of literature. Translation your thoughts into words others may find interesting and intrguing to read is a totally different skill than spelling
- Allow the dyslexic learner to plan their essay as they deem best. Dyslexia learners tend to like using Graphic Organsiation of Information (GoI). The most popular of these seems to be Buzan’s MindMaps.
- Allow the use a dictionary in all circumstances
- When you ask the dyslexic learner to write an essay, encourage them to proofread their work, ideally four times:
- A first time, paying attention only to the content (did I write down all the ideas I wanted to express?)
- A second time, paying attention only to spelling (reading the work backwards helps as they cannot predict the next word and omit checking)
- A third time, paying attention to grammar
- A last time, paying attention only to punctuation
11. What can be done for dyslexic learners in other subjects?
Particularly in secondary schools, each teacher should be responsible for teaching the spelling of words that are specific to their subject.
The most important thing is not to penalize dyslexic learners for their spelling and writing mistakes. Keep in mind that you are evaluating knowledge and competence related to your subject and not spelling skills. Students are already sufficiently penalized in the English class not have to undergo additional penalties for the same reason in other classes.
For all subjects, including languages, teachers need to be cautious with regard to too many corrections. It is wise to choose what you want to focus on. Parents need to be aware of this strategy and that this is done to keep learnets motivated. Further, unless it is the specific choice of the child, teachers should avoid using red to correct. Green is a better and more respectful colour to use when correcting.
The use of technology should also be utilised for ‘writing’ tasks that students need to submit as reading material. Wethe need to embrace the fourth human revolution and understand that the use of technology has changed how we view writing. Writing is the ability to translate your throughts into a language others will understand and enjoy accessing in a different time and space. This ability has nothing to do with spelling and this needs to be embraced in school systems for all learners. Thus, teachers, even for language, should accept typed assignment which the students could have typed or produced using voice-activated material. COVID-19 has seen schools and universities increasing the use of technology and accepting typed scripts. This should be a strategy continued after COVID-19. Such strategies should be viewed as an option not a concession, as much as one choose to write with a blue instead of a black pen.
Other strategies which are beneficial for all students and in particular for students with a profile of dyslexia are discussed in this course.
12. How to improve the self-esteem of dyslexic learners in the classroom?
Self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth are developed through our interaction with the environment and feedback from people around us. Thus, a nurturing and encouraging environment is of utmost importance through children’s development. Psychologists such as Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow have explained this thoroughly. With regard to the dyslexia population, the literature is ambivalent and one cannot categorially state that all dyslexic learners experience low self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. However, the literature seems to agree that this population will experience low Academic Self-Concept (ASC). The body of literature indicates that this is due to how the child is supported by family, school and educaitonal and assessment systems.
Students with dyslexia compare themselves with their non-dyslexic peers and notice continuously that they have to make much more effort than their peers for lower results. This menttends to lead to lack of motivation, self-helplessness and in extreme cases depression and more serious mental health outcomes. This can be avoided if schools embrace inclusive learning which circumvent barriers to learning due to literacy. Studies which address students who have experienced such school learning in mainstream and school specific for this popluation, support this assertion. Kannangara’s model From Languishing to Thriving Dyslexia explains this clearly:
Scientific studies also evidence that dyslexic learners often show stronger abilities compared to their non-dyslexic peers in particular domains (see Section 1 of the course). However, these domains are rarely esteemed or assessed at school. Thus, teachers should explore students’ abilities to exploit them during learning processes.
Due to low ASC, students with dyslexia tend not to participate in class. If a caring learnign enviorment is created, where correct answers are appreciate as are incorrect answers, the student will eventually feel comfortable to participate. Teachers can also create communication codes (e.g., a nod, a wink) where the student can indicate that they know the answer.
13.Are gestures/tactile strategies beneficial for dyslexic learners?
Multisensory teaching means using more than just hearing and vision. Thus, multisensory includes tactile – the use of touch. This allows learners to also use left and right brain, aiding memory. Memory for movement is the strongest, and using this in teaching would help memory and retrieval. The movement would trigger retrieval.
Multisensory examples when addressing literacy include:
- tapping out letters.
- tapping out sounds.
- air writing.
- sand/salt tray writing.
- say sound as you write.
- create a picture association.
- teach diacritical marks for vowels, consonants, and syllables.
The use of multisensory learning for all subjects is also powerful. For example Math learning has to include tactile and the mathematical experience must also be as close to real life as possible. For example, when teaching money, one must use REAL, not plastic coins, when teaching numeracy, objects in the environment must be used. When the concept is understood using real objects, one can then move to the use of pictures.
Teachers must use the principle of multisensory learning across all subjects and grades. The use of technology is also of great value in this pedagogy.
14. How should one decide whether dyslexic learner should pursue schooling in a mainstream or specialist school?
Such a decision needs to be include the learner themselves. The better option is usually considered to be mainstream schooling. However, sometimes a combination of the learners challenges, schools’ understaning and management of their challenges, and other social issues including being accepted or bullied, may lead families to choose to send their children to specialist schools.
Research carried out by Burden and Burden & Burdett, concludes that students attending specialist schools felt better once they moved to such schools. This should not be taken as a generalised conclusiong that all students with dyselxia should attend specialist schools. Rather, these school are available for those whose experiences are so negative that they need different school experiences. Such decisions should be taken on an individual basis.
Research concludes that most dyslexic learners can learn to read and write efficiently in mainstream classrooms if the teachers are trained to use multisensory strategies and are aware of profiles of dyselxia. What concerns us is that this is more often not happening due to teachers’ and schools’ lack of awareness and skills.
15. How can pre-school help at-risk learners?
Question 5 has already address possible at-risk behaviour and noted that using inclusive strategies for learning and UDL will help address all profiles in the classroom.
Dyslexic learners display a core phonological deficit, which means that they have difficulties representing and manipulating phonological units such as syllables, onset-rime units (cat, fat, mat; bin, fin, tin) and especially phonemes. However, the abilities to represent and manipulate these units constitute an essential prerequisite for the successful development of literacy skills.
So, not only for these learners, but also to the benefit of other children in the classroom, it is paramount to carry out activities that help develop metaphonological abilities – abilities to represent and manipulate phonological units, phonemes in particular. It is important this this is carried out without verbal-visual cues (the use of letters) and to use pictures as a memory aid. These activities have proven to be beneficial for all children in the classroom and so are useful preparation for reading and spelling. The best schedule for this training is 20 minutes a day.
Activities addressing metaphonological competencies are presented in Section 2 of the course.
Obviously, such training and tasks need to be presented age-appropriate, in a playful way. For example: Introduce a doll or teddy bear who “comes from another planet and wants to learn English”, as illustrated in the French film “Dyslexia – How to weave a solid structure of support”.
Pre-reading and pre-spelling activities help learners-at-risk be better prepared to undertake the written language.
If you are already teaching the alphabet, do it in a multisensory way: ask the children to trace the letters in big, in the air, in sand, on the back of their classmate who has to guess the letter, etc. Teach them to “live” the letters by asking them to physically take their shapes with their bodies. Teach them to write the letters with their eyes closed, asking them to concentrate on the graphical gesture and on what they feel in their arm and hand when writing.
Whenever possible, use a wooden or plastic alphabet whose letters can be touched and manipulated. The tactile sense compensates for and reinforces the visual sense.
All of these multisensory activities and others are described in Section 3 of the course.
16. What is the best font for dyslexic learners?
It is very important to distinguish reading from spelling.
Where reading is concerned, use the fonts they see in the reading materials you give to them.
Literature indicates that there is no one font which is best. Research findings. however, conclude that one of the worst fonts to use it Times New Roman, due to the regularity of its likes (see Publications by Arnold Wilkins). Thus one has a number of fonts one can use such as Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Comic Sans, Tahoma, Antigua.
For writing, the joined (cursive) script has been recognized as most suitable for dyslexic learners, especially if they display difficulties with motor control. The movement is also an aid to spelling.
The major advantage of this script is that it you do not have to lift the pen so often from the page, which makes it a fast and automatized writing system with a minimum of loss of time in trajectories and liaisons between letters.
Moreover, this script allows them see the words as separate entities. It is beneficial for all the children of the classroom.
The chosen joined alphabet should be as close to manuscript alphabet as possible, and a style which allows one to write the whole word without taking the pen/pencil off the paper.
Touch typing should also be introduced from a young age, as one is teaching cursive writing.
17. Do the indicators of dyslexia differ from one language to another?
Whatever the language of reading and writing one will observe similar difficulties across languages. These include additions of letters and syllables, omissions, repetitions, inversions, substitutions, sequential challenges and reversals.
Nevertheless, the structural characteristics of the language of instruction will induce specific difficulties which are not observed in languages with other characteristics. For example, the English-speaking dyslexic learners tend to mix up suffixing rules. Such errors are seen less in other languages like French. Further the more transparent a language is, the less likely the presence of illegible misspellings.
To address self-esteem one can refer to standard rather than correct spelling. Then, the errors can be referred to as non-standard spelling, rather than incorrect spelling.
18. What do think about the software available for dyslexic learners?
A widespread conception is that the compensation software developed to help dyslexic learners may be harmful because they “do the work instead of the learner”. This is not the case. Compensation software is very efficient for teaching new strategies. For example, many programmes are equipped with simple tools that allow learners to build Graphic Organisation of Information (GoIs), such as Buzan’s MindMap. They are also equipped with tools which help editing. Some of them display predictive dictionaries which suggest words depending on the context of the sentence. Such a tool enriches the vocabulary of the dyslexic learner, who will learn and use words which they would otherwise not have thought of.
As early as in primary schools the use of compensation software must be encouraged. Such use can only be beneficial and prepares learners much better for secondary schooling, where compensation software is absolutely necessary to allow them to keep up with the tempo of the classroom. Such software should be available for all students to reflect the reality of the World of Work.
19. Whom do I need to talk to when I suspect that a learner in my class is dyslexic?
Schools may have their own referral system. Your first contact should always be the direct superior or the School’s Management Team (SMT). Some school systems may have: Inclusion Co-ordinators (INCOs), Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs), school psychologists who co-ordinate all learning challenges, pastoral teams, or Special Education Needs (SEN) services. It is therefore important to be familiar with your school’s system. Further, your local/national association would also give your further guidelines and support with regard to whom to refer to, should you suspect a profile of dyslexia in any student. The parents are also a resource which should not be neglected.
You should encourage parents to consult dyslexia specialists or child/educational psychologists either within your school system or privately. These specialists will be able to assess the child with standardized tests and draw up a diagnosis of the learner’s difficulties to determine whether they are dyslexic or not. In some countires Speech and Language Therapists/Pathologists (SLTs/SLPs) also assess for such a profile. The report should also include a Plan of Action and inclusive strategies that teachers and parents may use.
Teachers of early learners may need to be aware that sight word reading may comouflage a profile of dyselxia as the child would be managing to read logographically (words as pictures) and coping because the amount of words would be few. However as the amount and complexity of vocabulary increases, this system would fail the child and the difficultes would emerge later on (usually when pupils are about eight years of age). Alternatively, the child may be unable to accumulate a sight word vocabulary and try to decode every word. This leads to lack of fluency in reading irrespective of how transparent or opaque a language is. Significantly faster development in Math when compared to literacy development is also another alarm bell of possible risk for dyslexia.
This is why EDA promotes inclusive strategies for learning.
20. What is orthoptics and when is it recommended for dyslexic learners?
Orthoptic professionals (orthoptists) detect, re-educate, rehabilitate and explore functionally visual impairments.
Researchers estimate that about 25% of dyslexic learners display visual processing disorders. The most comment terms association with dyslexia are Visual Stress, Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS), which refer to the same experience when letters seem to be moving for the learners or script seem blurred and the solution includes coloured glasses.
In such situations, one should be particularly attentive when the learner complains about frequent headaches, nausea, seeing colours. noting that the letters “are dancing” on the page, that the lines of a text “merge into each other”, and when the the contrast of black font on a white page is extremely uncomfortable for the reader.
These visual processing challenges would be related to the fact that some pathways between the eyes and the brain, especially the so-called magnocellular cells, would not be optimally developed. This would impede the ability to fixate words properly in order to extract the necessary information from words properly. The magnocellular theory of dyslexia is supported by the impressive amount of research published by Professor John Stein and his colleagues. Larger fonts would help such learners.
For children with visual processing difficulties, orthoptic support is necessary and often very beneficial. The orthoptist will examine, among others, the ocular movement during reading and the sensitivity to the various wavelengths of the different colours.
Intervention for visual processing disorders includes prism spectacles/lenses which will favour ocular fixations on words. Some learners will also wear coloured spectacles/lenses, which provide the ideal coloured background for the individual. A colorimeter would determins the precise background colour the learner would require. The use of spectacles/lenses is much better than coloured overlays.
21. Is a dyslexic learner also always dysorthographic?
Learners can be
1. Good readers and good spellers;
2. Good readers and bad spellers;
3. Bad readers and good spellers; or
4. Bad readers and bad spellers.
Some dyslexic learners display a very good visual memory, which will allow them, despite their difficulties with reading, to memorize the correct spelling of words, even if less rapidly than their non-dyslexic peers.
The reverse situation is also possible. Some learners would show important orthographic difficulties whilst their reading abilities would be satisfactory. These are learners who are are dysorthographic without being dyslexic. This is not so common.
Most dyslexic learners present challenges with both reading and spelling, which then affect reading comprehension and writing (if using traditional methods of writing).
22. Why can visualization be useful for dyslexic learners?
Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. This technique relies on the fact that when an area of the brain is in use, blood flow to that region also increases. This technology allows research to conclude that even when dyslexic readers are as fluent as non-dyslexic readers, what is activated in the brain is different. For example dyslexic learners activate their left hemisphere less and their right hemisphere more than non-dyslexic learners. Further, activation between lobes may be less in dyslexic learners (Figure below).
The right hemisphere is just where mental imaging and visualization in three dimensions takes place. This explains the narrative that dyslexic learners read in pictures rather than in words. For example, a dyslexic learner reading the sentence “The cow is lying in the meadow.” will be able not to visualize a cow lying in a meadow whereas a non-dyslexic learner will be able to access this semantic information and integrate it with the rest of the text without necessarily activating the mental images which correspond to the words they are reading.
The techniques of visualization and Graphic Organisation of Information (GoIs), the most known of which are Buzan’s Mind Maps make the right hemisphere work. Hence, by using these tools, you will stimulate the cerebral regions that are already spontaneously activated by the dyslexic learners. Teaching visualisation skills significantly enhances understanding and memorization skills for texts amongst both dyslexic and non-dyslexic learners. Traditionally, this has already been in use with the techniques of, for example sight-word reading and Look-Cover-Write-Check for spelling.
23. Are there adaptations for dyslexic students after secondary school?
This depends on the country but more and more often in universities and higher education institutions there is a specialized service which tests to determine the needs of the dyslexic students and the adjustments to be made for evaluation. This is very important as research indicates that many university students with dyslexia become aware they have a profile of dyslexia whilst at university.
In some countries, students can use assistivee technology both in class and during examinations. This increased and became the common practice during COVID-19 when, universities switched to online teaching and assessment and this became available for all.
Students may also have more time to complete their assignments and examinations, and sometimes they receive extra support from tutors.
24. Are there more and more dyslexic learners in our classrooms?
Although this is what we might think because we talk more and more about dyslexia, it is unlikely to be the case. Epidemiologic studies suggest that the ratio of dyslexic people in the population remains stable (between 10-15%). Moreover, no factor would explain why we should see an increase of dyslexic learners in these last years.
Teachers and parents are more aware about dyslexia than in the past. Thirty years ago, the word “dyslexia” itself was neither well known nor discussed a lot. More awareness has led to more intervention for dyslexia children. This is of course not enough and there is still more awareness to be carried out, hence the importance of this course you are reading.
The combination of scientific advancement and the media awareness has made dyslexia more visible but not more frequent. Further, the traditional teaching pedagogy used to teach reading and writing is not helpful, which is why we promote the use of Structured MultiSensory Literacy Instruction.
25. Who should explain dyslexia to the dyslexic learner?
Parents and families should take the lead for such disclosure. One may also consider the support of counsellors and other helping professionals. Ideally one should focus on behaviour to then lead to the word. For example: “All children have different abilitites. You are very good in Math but not so good in reading and spelling. We will help you improve your reading and spelling with special ways to remember. when children have this difficulty, the word we can use is dyslexis.” It is importnat that this is first discussed with parents.
Section 3 of this course provides more detail for your consideration. Section 3 also addresses how dyslexic learners can disclose their profile to their peers.
It is paramount that the dyslexic learner is aware of the neurobiological origin of their profile. The message is that “this is not their fault”, and more, that everyone individual has strenghts and weakneses in their profile.
It is important to develop a class atmosphere of mutual respect. This is also enhanced by inclusive teaching strategies which do not allow literacy to be a barrier to learning.