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What is Dyslexia?

This page breaks down the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia. It explains some of the words educators use regarding dyslexia and how a visual impairment and dyslexia can co-exist. It also shows how effective instruction for dyslexia looks at TSBVI.

¿Qué Es La Dislexia?

The International Dyslexia Association definition states:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.

Dyslexia is a brain-based disorder. MRI’s of the brain show that the brains of dyslexic students use different and less efficient pathways than those of typically developing readers. The brains of proficient visually impaired readers who use either print or braille activate these same efficient pathways. The good news is that effective intervention can improve these pathways for struggling students. However, students with visual impairments may require even more direct and intensive support to acquire reading skills.

It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition…

These two areas are hallmark traits of dyslexic readers. They tend to struggle with reading words accurately; even words they have seen many times and often words they just read on a previous line.

Due to the effort it takes students to repeatedly sound out words, their reading is often slow and halted.

…and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language…

Phonology refers to hearing the sounds of language. That is why dyslexia is language-based and not related to a vision problem. Students with dyslexia typically have difficulty hearing the individual sounds in a word. Since reading involves matching a letter such as d to the sound /d/, if a student cannot hear the three sounds separately in the word “dog,” they cannot understand the meaning of the individual letter d.

Phonological tasks include rhyming words, identifying individual words in a sentence, “playing” with words such as saying “mask” and changing /m/ sound to /t/ to say “task,” and saying the four separate sounds in the word “lamp.” Dyslexic students often struggle with these activities, but these skills can be directly taught.

…that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

The “unexpected” phrase in the definition means that the student has an aptitude for learning but is not making the progress we would anticipate in reading.

The struggles are also considered unexpected if the child has been provided with appropriate reading instruction but has not made the progress of his or her peers.

Referral and Evaluation Procedure

At TSBVI, we follow mandated guidelines for identifying and serving students with dyslexia. The state mandates screeners be given to all students in kinder, 1st, and 2nd grades as well as to all 7th graders who did not pass the 6th grade STAAR test. For younger students we can often get the results of these screeners from their LEAs. But if teachers observe any of our students at any time reading a year or more below grade level, the teacher will initiate the referral process. We take into consideration if a change of reading medium could be the cause (such as changing from print to braille), or if we need to conduct a full evaluation. If so, we obtain parental permission before the LSSP (Licensed Specialist in School Psychology) and the Educational Diagnostician begin formal testing. After they have completed the testing, the LD/ Dyslexia team, composed of the LSSP, Educational Diagnostician, and our Dyslexia Specialist, will meet to discuss the results and determine if they see the student as demonstrating many of the characteristics of dyslexia. Then an ARD meeting will be held to present the data and the entire committee will determine if the child qualifies as a student with a Learning Disability with the qualification of Dyslexia. If so, the appropriate instruction outlined on this website will be provided to the student. We will progress monitor the student in areas including reading accuracy, fluency, phonological awareness skills, and reading grade level. 

How Can We Best Teach Struggling Readers?

The 2021 Texas Dyslexia Handbook sets out the guidelines for the components and delivery of effective dyslexia instruction (pp. 40–43). Whether your child has been formally diagnosed as having dyslexia or is struggling with his or her reading with no official title, the guidelines described here are research-based approaches that help all students. 

Instruction should be simultaneous and multi-sensory. In our intervention lessons, this may look like a student:

  • naming a letter each time he/she writes it.
  • looking in a mirror and/or identifying the feel of a letter’s sound as it is introduced, such as /p/ being blocked by both lips but short /a/ is made with an open mouth.
  • using hand motions for short vowel sounds, base words, and suffixes, etc.
  • writing a new letter in sand or brailing it while naming the letter and listening to the strokes or dot numbers.

Instruction should be direct, explicit, systematic, and cumulative.

Instruction will:

  • start with basic concepts.
  • carefully introduce new concepts such as letters and syllable types with plenty of repetition and practice.
  • include only those concepts already introduced.
  • gradually build upon new letters and patterns directly taught.
  • allow the student to be successful and gain confidence.

The Big Message

Our lessons teach students to learn about our language in ways most adults do not know. They can explain why a, e, i, o, and u are vowels and why the letter a is pronounced differently in “cap” than in “capable.” They also learn why /k/ is spelled with the letter k in “kitten,” but with the letter c in “crust.”

We directly teach these concepts and give them lots of practice. Students soon realize they can learn to read, that there is a reason for the different sounds and spellings, and that they are learning complicated things about English!

They feel smart because they are smart, and it is a relief to them to unlock the reading code.

What is Included in Good Instruction for Struggling Readers?

The 2021 Texas Dyslexia Handbook states the components that good reading instruction should include (pp. 40-41).

There are many good reading programs being used. Those that are considered “Orton-Gillingham” based usually include many of these elements. Some programs are designed more for the regular classroom, and some are more intensive than others.

TSBVI uses the Basic Language Skills program for our students with dyslexia, as it meets the Dyslexia Handbook standards and allows us to adjust the pacing and intensity to each student’s needs. Our lessons may include the following elements:

  • Direct instruction in phonological awareness skills (all done orally—no print or braille involved):
    • Rhyming practice
    • Identification of words in a sentence and syllables in a word
    • Breaking a word into its individual sounds
    • Blending sounds into a word
    • More advanced skills such as changing a sound or deleting a sound in a word
  • Phonics Instruction — direct instruction in what sounds match up to letters.
  • Syllable Practice — teaching students how to divide words into syllables for both reading and spelling tasks.
  • Spelling Practice — teaching the written patterns in words.
  • Word Parts — teaching parts such as prefixes and suffixes to improve reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills.
  • Grammar skills — word order, parts of speech, and sentence structure.
  • Reading Comprehension skills — helping students monitor their understanding and become more active in the reading process.
  • Fluency — Using activities such as repeated readings and modeling good expressions to help students improve their ability to read passages in a smoother and more natural way.

Research shows that these instructional strategies work! Students with phonological awareness struggles respond very well to direct instruction. This improvement sets the foundation for students to improve their phonics and spelling skills.

There is not a “quick fix” for dyslexia, and it never goes away. But given ample time and practice, students with dyslexia or other reading challenges can improve. MRIs show that their brain activity can begin to resemble those of more typical readers.

Contact

If you have questions regarding the identification of and/or services for dyslexia, please contact TSBVI’s dyslexia specialist, Leah Read, at [email protected].

Helpful Links

2021 Texas Dyslexia Handbook: Learn more about your child’s rights and the laws regarding the identification and services for students with dyslexia and related disorders.

2021 Dyslexia Handbook Updates (English) & 2021 Dyslexia Handbook Updates (Spanish): Important changes to help families understand what to expect if they have a child with dyslexia, suspect their child may have dyslexia, or have a student in a grade where dyslexia screening happens for all students.

Talking Book Program (TBP): Provides free library services to qualifying Texans with visual, physical, or reading disabilities. TBP is part of the National Library Service to the Blind and Print Disabled, a program administered by the Library of Congress. The TBP collection consists of more than 100,000 titles, including hundreds of titles in Spanish, and some in French, German, Russian, and other languages. Here is a link to the Talking Book Programs’ application.

Special Education Family Resources: Includes a fact sheet about dyslexia as well as other resources for families. The information is in both English and Spanish.

Texas Education Agency, Dyslexia and Related Disorders

Texas Education Agency, IDEA Fact Sheet (English) & Texas Education Agency, IDEA Fact Sheet (Spanish)

SPEDTex Special Education Information Center

State Dyslexia Helpline: 1 (800) 232-3030

Questions?

Contact Leah Read, M. Ed., Licensed Dyslexia Therapist, TVI

The best way to contact me is by email.