Is My Child Dyslexic?

Young Children:

Delayed speech and other speech and language difficulties (Rose 2009 p32): This is a strong predictor of risk for subsequent decoding problems and should alert all parents, health and education professionals that without high quality phonics teaching a child may have difficulty becoming literate. ''In fact, studies show that between 75 and 100 percent of children with pre-school language delays have trouble with reading'' (Hall/Moats p140) This disquieting news needs to be tempered by the fact that, ''(D)yslexia' doesn't exist in several European countries'' and, ''If language development really played a causal role in learning to read one would expect to find the same incidence of reading problems everywhere, because human language is a biological trait''. (D.McGuinness. LDLR p206) ''Overall, a broad range of studies from a variety of disciplines show that no child, short of being **deaf, mute, or grossly mentally disabled, is prevented by a language delay or deficit from learning 'reading mechanics'' (D.McGuinness. LDLR p12)

- 'Glue ear' or intermittent hearing loss (otitis media) : The NHS estimates that eight out of every ten children between the ages of four and ten suffer from undiagnosed glue ear. If children with hearing difficulties receive limited or faulty decoding instruction, and have to work in a noisy classroom, they are in serious danger of failing to learn how to read. If, as is likely, they have a problem with hearing individual phonemes, they will depend heavily on their teacher providing them with explicit synthetic phonics teaching, using phonemes and letters together; essential if they are to master the English Alphabet Code and the skills of segmenting, blending and phoneme manipulation.

Those with hearing difficulties need to be seated at the front of the class, facing the teacher, so they can see the teacher's mouth and lip movements and hear his/her voice as clearly as possible during phonics lessons.

Without high quality synthetic phonics teaching from the start, pupils with hearing difficulties can
come to depend predominantly on the visual aspects of words, text illustrations, and other guessing strategies to decode. An embedded guessing habit can be hard to shift when the child is older despite the hearing problems, in most cases, having disappeared. Unfortunately, in order to read and spell competently using an Alphabet Code, children need to be adept at phonemic processing (able to hear, recognise and manipulate the Code's phonemes), linking phonemes rapidly to their spellings and vice versa.

Dr.Lindsay Peer says, ''My research with a sample group of one thousand young people shows that the number of dyslexic people with a history of ear infections and Otitis Media (OM) is significantly higher than in other groups of the population'' (Peer. Linking glue ear and dyslexia)

A summary of recent research demonstrating impact of even mild deafness on literacy.

''Unless the teacher’s voice is well above the ambient sound in the classroom they will be unable to follow lessons. Lessons such as phonics that rely on excellent listening skills will be extremely difficult.''

Background noise and classroom design

“To understand almost all speech that is intended for us, say the experts, the speech must be at least 15 decibels louder than other interfering sounds. Most classrooms exceed this level by 10 times'' (www.cllrnet.ca)

Studies of the **profoundly deaf (Aaron et al.'98 -see link below), who have no phonological sensitivity, have found that they are incapable of learning to spell phonemically complex words because they cannot utilise the alphabet code's phoneme-grapheme correspondences. Instead, deaf students rely on the visual matching of spelling probabilities (the statistical repetition of visual spelling patterns in words). This is something the brain does automatically, and we are not aware of it. 

Spelling without phonology: a study of deaf and hearing children.
''Rote visual memory for letter patterns and sequences of letters within words, however, appears to play a role in the spelling by deaf students...but phonology is essential for spelling words whose structure is morphophonemically complex''

Additionally, research by Share, Siegel and Geva revealed that struggling readers and spellers behave much like deaf readers, relying mostly on visual information to decode and spell as they lack knowledge of the phonological information contained in words. (D.McGuinness ERI. pp338-347)

- Has a close relative with 'dyslexia' or decoding difficulties (Rose. 2009 p11&36,37): As the ability to decode written words accurately is not a biological trait it cannot be transmitted genetically, but a familial trait can be transmitted culturally. ''Thus, contrary to what practitioners may sometimes suppose, family relationship (familiarity) alone is not a reliable indicator of genetic heritability'' (Rice/Brooks p32)(Muter p3) The main cultural factors related to accurate decoding ability are the transparency of a country's spelling code and the method used by its schools to teach and to practise reading. In English-speaking countries, where, every year around 20% of children leave school functionally illiterate, nearly everyone has a relative (or several) who failed to learn to read.

- Poor rhyming skills (Rose 2009 p32): *Soft sign. ''Sensitivity to rhyme has not been shown to be a strong predictor of reading skill'' (D.McGuinness. WCCR. p148)

- Poor sense of rhythm: *Soft sign

- Poor short-term (working) memory: *Soft sign. ''In a highly regarded study conducted by Joseph Torgesen, a psychologist at the University of Florida, out of 60 children with severe reading difficulties, only eight had poor short-term memories, while almost as many – seven – had very good short-term memories'' (Mills)

- Missing out the crawling stage of learning to walk: *Soft sign

- Left-handed or inconsistent hand preference: *Soft sign

- Frequent use of letter reversals: *Soft sign

Older Children:

Slow and inaccurate word reading and spelling (Rose. 2009 p32) Inaccurate word reading is rarely seen in countries with transparent spelling codes e.g. Italy, Spain, Germany and Finland. In fact it is so unusual to find inaccurate word readers in these countries that their tests only measure reading speed and comprehension (RRF49 McGuinness. p19 & The Science of Reading. Philip Seymour p297)

In English-speaking countries, in schools using mixed methods, children with excellent visual memories may seem to take to reading easily and appear to read competently during their early primary years but, if they are relying almost entirely on whole-word memorisation and other visual strategies, reading ability is likely to stall at some point, commonly 7-10 yrs ('the 4th grade slump'), sometimes later if they have good general knowledge and a wide  vocabulary - see 'Teenagers'.

- Unable to remember common word sequences such as the months of the year and the times tables. *Soft sign

- Problems with 'naming' and word finding / verbal processing speed (Rose. 2009 p32) *Soft sign. ''The fact that RAN [rapid automatic naming tasks] using digits and letters predict reading so much better than RAN colours and objects do, means that naming speed per se is not a factor in learning to read'' (D.McGuinness LDLR p388) ''Naming objects and colours is a truer reflection of natural or biological based ability'' (D. McGuinness. WCCR p131) ''Rapid naming, phonological awareness, and reading. A meta-analysis of the correlational evidence. The results suggested that the importance of RAN and PA measures in accounting for reading performance has been overstated'' (Swanson/Trainin/Necoechea/Hammill. Review of Educational Research.73. 2003)

- Organisational difficulties. *Soft sign. Many excellent readers have poor organisational skills.

- ''Visual stress'' (Rose 2009. p115) *Soft sign. ''There are a lot of abnormalities of the eyes that normal readers have as well, so tinted lenses and overlays have no foundation as a bona fide treatment for reading problems in any research that I'm aware of'' (Vellutino quote in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth)

''SpLD practitioners must no longer conduct coloured overlay tests or diagnose visual stress, but should refer those with visual symptoms for full assessment by registered optometrist'' (James Gilchrist)

''Teams from Bristol and Newcastle universities carried out eye tests on more than 5,800 children and did not find any differences in the vision of those with dyslexia''

The Role of Vision in Reading

- Immature social skills. *Soft sign

- Reluctance to attend school ''disaffection and disengagement from education'' (Rose 2009 p38)

- Low self-image

- Anxiety when asked to read aloud

''Do Poor Readers Feel Angry, Sad, and Unpopular?''

*All descriptions of 'dyslexia' include many 'soft' signs i.e. they are not based on data that is readily quantifiable or amenable to experimental verification. Soft signs ''are found in some people without learning problems and absent in others who experience learning difficulties'' (Rice/Brooks p22) Furthermore, ''Soft signs are not additive in the traditional sense: ''the presence of more than one soft sign does not make a hard sign''(Encyclopedia of Special Education.Vol 3 p1887)

Common Co-occurring Difficulties:

- Lack of concentration / disruptive behaviour / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), BUT frustration, stress and boredom can also cause or increase an inability to attend. ''When children are highly distractible, overly disruptive and unable to stay 'on task', this usually means they can't do the task'' (D. McGuinness. WCCR. p188) "Hospitals are complaining that their clinics are being filled with kids who are being referred for things like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder," said Dr Rowe, who was last week appointed by the federal Education Minister to run the inquiry. "But once the pediatricians sort out the children's literacy problems, the behaviour problems disappear. What is essentially an education issue has become a health issue.” (Milburn.Children in crisis:The real diagnosis)

In her chapter in Fisher and Greenberg's The Limits of Biological Treatments for Psychological Distress, Prof. Diane McGuinness refers to ADHD as "the emperor's new clothes." She observes, "It is currently fashionable to treat approximately one third of all elementary school boys as an abnormal population because they are fidgety, inattentive, and unamenable to adult control." She concludes that, "(T)wo decades of research have not provided any support for the validity of ADD" or hyperactivity. Neither clinical studies nor psychological testing has been able to identify such a group''. The problem, according to McGuinness, is how to get professionals to give up such a vested interest in the use of this powerful label''.

Recommended reading: Book 'When Children Don't Learn' Diane McGuinness. Ch.9. Hyperactivity: a diagnosis in search of a patient.

Distinguishing cause from effect – many deficits associated with developmental dyslexia may be a consequence of reduced and suboptimal reading experience’

Psychiatric fads, overdiagnosis, and 'epidemics'

- Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): Where commercial and clinical interests collide: ''Given the lack of agreement on diagnostic criteria and lack of recognition in formal guidelines, it’s impossible to find sensible epidemiological data on APD''

- Developmental Coordination Disorder (dyspraxia / clumsy-child syndrome): severe difficulties with gross and/or fine motor skills such as handwriting or learning to ride a bicycle (see 'Exercises for Dyspraxics' page). ''There's really no evidence that improving co-ordination is going to make it easier for you to learn to read. (Prof. Bishop quote in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth)

Professor of Psychology, Dr.Galen Alessi, asked 50 school psychologists to list the causes of the learning difficulties of about 5,000 students. According to the psychologists, zero percent of the 5,000 students’ problems were the result of bad teaching, while 100% were the fault of the students.

Important: In all cases of literacy difficulty, vision and hearing must be thoroughly checked. It is possible that an auditory or visual weakness may be causing the problems or be adding to them. Many children have mild visual impairments or unstable eye control.