All parents want their child to be able to read well and it really feels like the roof falling in when you realise that your child is not able to do this. You wonder whether they will ever be able to read well, and whether they will ever enjoy reading. The good news is that the answer to both of these questions can be yes!
First, you need to understand the three processes which make a child a ‘reader’.
They must be able to identify letters by their shape and the sounds the individual letters make.
They must be able to map sounds onto combinations of letters, for example bag, and be able to differentiate speech sounds so that they know when one word ends and another starts.
They must understand what they have read.
Identifying Letter Shapes
Most children can recognise the 26 letters of the alphabet and then tell you the individual sounds they make. Every time I check this with a new student (ranging between 6 and 16 years old), there are always a few of the letters where they don’t know the sounds. Therefore, this is always the place you should start and of course make sure you know all the different sounds too).
Some children confuse certain letters, particularly b and d. Where this happens, try and teach them the differences using several different methods – for example you can use the speech therapist method of showing them the position of their mouth, teeth and tongue when making these sounds. Also, when you make a ‘b’ sound you can feel air being expelled from your mouth but not with a ‘d’. There are visual ways of showing the difference, pictures with a bed – the ‘b’ is where you rest your head and ‘d’ is where your feet go.
Mapping Sounds onto Letters
This is a key difficulty for dyslexic students, the technical word for this is phonological awareness. Here, you need to know what sounds are represented by combinations of letters. There are 44 different sounds in the English language, which are made up by using the 26 letters of the alphabet. It would be a lot easier if we had 44 letters but unfortunately we don’t!
There is, in fact, a fair amount of regularity to the English language but the difficulties arise because our language evolved over time borrowing from other languages such as German, French, Scandinavian languages as well as Latin and Greek. Often, we have maintained the original spellings.
There are many programmes available which will teach a child how the letters are put together for the different sounds ( Jolly Phonics, Nessy to name a few). It is well worth investing time and effort into these programmes to help your child read better.
The other side of this problem is that dyslexic children may not ‘hear’ when a word starts and finishes. This means that they won’t be able to tell you when a word starts (or identify its start sound) or tell when a word ends (or tell you the end sound). They may also not be able to manipulate sounds in words because they are not hearing the speech sounds ( for example tell you what word you have if you take away the ‘r’ sound in ‘stream’). To rectify this, you will need to follow a phonological programme such as the ‘Sound Linkage’ programme.
The final part to being a ‘reader’ is being able to understand what you have read. To comfortably understand a piece of text, you need to know about 98% of the words on the page, which means that about 1 or 2 words per paragraph will be unknown. You also need to understand the links between sentences , for example:
‘The weather is sunny today. It will be hot and therefore you need to wear shorts and a t-shirt’
In this example, you are linking the first sentence about it being sunny to the second sentence which is looking at what you should therefore wear. Another example is:
‘Ben was stung by a wasp. His Dad ran to the medicine cabinet.’
In this example, we understand that Dad is running off to get some cream to stop the sting from hurting Ben – even though the sentence doesn’t say this.
A dyslexic child will not always make the connections between sentences or be able to infer information which is not there. To help them do this, they will need to follow a good comprehension programme which helps them to ‘picture’ what is happening in a story.. You may also need to help them develop their vocabulary so that they will recognise a lot of words they read. The best way to do this is by reading, which don’t forget can be reading that you do together.
When your child has mastered these three areas then they will be a better and fluent reader. In my mind, the difference for dyslexic children is that they need to be taught these skills explicitly and can’t just ‘pick them up’ as others seem to do.
If you would like to know more about how dyslexia affects reading, click here to enrol in my course which will arm you with a lot more information about why your child is having problems and how you can help them.
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