My daughter was reading, “The cat saw catnip,” and she read, “The cat was catpin.” She does this all the time, and she can’t tell the difference between “b” and “d” no matter how many times I teach her. What’s going on?
There could be many causes.
Vision problems. Some children have subtle vision problems not detected by distance charts. You might have her vision tested by an eye doctor.
Directional confusion. This is a particular vision problem. Can your child mimic your arm movements when she stands facing you? Does she mix up down and up, and top and bottom? Does she mirror write letters and numbers—writing a “b” for a “d”?
Sequencing problems. Does she say “felt” when she reads “left” or “form” when she means “from”? (I still do that when I am stressed.)
When a word ends with an “s,” does she say the word as if it begins with an “s,” such as saying “slow” when she reads “lows”? Does she move words around in sentences, changing the word order?
Mixing up little words. Does she stick in articles (a, an, and the) where they don’t belong, or omit them entirely? Does she substitute one small word for another, such as “and” for “a” or “for” for “from”?
Maturity. How old is your daughter? Every youngster I have taught reading to has had the problems you mention. I gently correct the child when she makes a mistake, or I say “d” or “b” before she can read a word to help her. Usually by the age of seven, these problems disappear. If your child is four or five, these reversals are probably developmental. However if your child is in first or second grade, you should ask to have your child tested for dyslexia. Most public schools have reading experts who are trained to deal with these problems.
So you suspect your preschooler has dyslexia. What can you do?
- Realize that the younger a child is when identified as dyslexic, the sooner help can begin. If possible, you want to identify the situation before the child becomes frustrated and discouraged, and before the child is labeled as “different.”
- Ask your school district to test the child. Because of the child’s age, the district might balk, and say he will be tested when in kindergarten, or first grade, or later. Sometimes the district will become involved if you have some “proof” that the child is dyslexic. This might require private testing at your expense by some recognized expert.
- From the school district, find out what services your child will receive and when.
- If the school district “officially” won’t help, make an appointment with your elementary school’s reading specialist. She will probably have ideas you can start with, and she might be able to lend you materials or at least identify materials that will help.
- Consider hiring a reading tutor, one with experience teaching children with dyslexia. A good tutor will use many strategies, particularly game-like, hands-on approaches that will appeal to a preschooler.
- If someone else in the immediate family has dyslexia, there’s a good chance your child has the same kind of reading problem and can be helped the same way. What worked for your other relative?
- Check out ideas on the internet. Use keywords such as dyslexia, preschooler, reading and learning strategies.
- Begin working with your child yourself. Focus on the sounds of the language first, and make sure your child can hear them and pronounce them properly. Only then match sounds with letters.
- Is letter recognition difficult? Buy an ABC puzzle or letter tiles or a Scrabble game. Use the letters to play games forcing the child to identify letters. Unfortunately, most sources for letters use only capital letters, and it is generally lower case letters which cause problems.
- Work on printing letters properly. If fine motor coordination is difficult, use a computer keyboard instead. But again, most keyboards identify the keys with capital letters.
- Use music. Teach your child the ABC song. Sing songs together which rhyme or read nursery rhymes.
- Teach directions. Up, down. Left, right. Inside, outside.
- You may find it takes longer for your dyslexic child to master certain skills when compared to a child without reading difficulties. Be patient. If a younger sibling is catching on faster than the dyslexic child, work with each child independently and out of earshot from one another. If at all possible, conceal from your child that he is having reading difficulties. Find ways for him to succeed at learning.
How about pulling your child out of preschool, or stopping all reading instruction for a year or until the child is seven or until the child reaches first grade? These are not good solutions. In pre-K students are expected to know their letter sounds and to match them with ABC’s. In kindergarten children are expected to read CVC words, high frequency words, and some two-syllable words. A child who can’t keep up with his classmates develops low self-esteem which can intensify reading problems.
Be proactive. If you think your three or four-yer-old shows signs of reading difficulty, act as soon as possible for the best outcome.
Yes. Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey. But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic. For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d. But a child showing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell. That child should be tested.
Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability. Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic. The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.
A key indicator is family history. If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.
According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:
- delayed speech
- trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
- difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
- lack of interest in stories and books
- mispronouncing words
- difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
- trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
- struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme
Reading indicators could include:
- difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
- problems matching letters to their correct sounds
- scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
- trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
- difficulty blending letter sounds within words
- trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
- confusing letters and words that look similar
- losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
- avoiding reading tasks
Writing indicators could include:
- problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
- confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
- spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
- a tendency to spell phonetically
- poor ability to proofread and correct written work
- handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement
Social / emotional indicators could include:
- Lack of motivation about school or learning
- lack of confidence in learning
- negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
- expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
- exhibiting anxiety or frustration
Other indicators could include:
- poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
- performing inconsistently on daily tasks
- appearing distracted and unfocused
If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged. Most children show some of them. And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently. In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.
How can you help a child with a poor working memory to increase reading comprehension?
- Play memory games. Lay face down a deck of cards and find pairs. Or play “In my suitcase.” The first person says, “I packed my suitcase, and in it I put a ____.” The next person repeats what the first person said, and adds a second item to the suitcase. Now the first person repeats what the second person said and adds a third item. The internet offers plenty of other kinds of online games.
- Give directions one step at a time. You might say, “Put your pencil down,” and wait until the child does that. Then say, “Put the book inside your desk.” Again wait for compliance before giving the next direction.
- Use simple sentences when giving directions. Also, use transition words like “first,” “next,” and “finally.”
- Choose children’s books written mostly in simple sentences or compound sentences. If there are complex sentences, make sure they are limited to one subordinate clause and are clear.
- Ask the child to explain a complex sentence. Ask him to describe the relationship between the two parts of the sentence–cause and effect, for example, or time order.
- Eliminate distractions. At home, have the child do her homework in a quiet place with plainly painted walls and draperies. Settle the dogs down. Turn off all electronics. Even a ticking clock can interfere with a child’s concentration.
- Don’t rush a child. That stress might distract her, her working memory.
- Remind the child that she needs to remember what she reads. Later, ask her questions about what she read so she gets in the habit of remembering.
- Question a child about what she has just read. After each paragraph, or after a short conversation, ask what those sentences mean. If the child has trouble remembering the beginning part, question the child after she has read less information.
If you notice a child is having trouble reading, intervene as soon as possible, even in preschool.
So conclude researchers who looked at the reading achievement of students for twelve years. The researchers concluded that struggling readers should receive help as early as possible.
Their research shows that struggling readers are obvious to teachers in first grade (the earliest grade included in the research). Without help, these kids will not improve over time.
In short, there is no advantage in waiting to intervene. Start now.
Many children do not receive help until third grade–too late, according to the researchers. This might be because many states have passed laws saying that all children should be reading by third grade.
Participants in the study were 414 people in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study who were assessed annually every year in elementary, middle and high school.
For more information, read “Achievement Gap in Reading Is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists through Adolescence” in the November 2015 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.
Predicting means anticipating ahead of time what might happen in a story. As adults, we do it all the time. We read a murder mystery and we predict “who done it.” We read a romance and predict how the couple will get together. We read a thriller and predict if the characters will escape.
Predicting is more than making a guess. It is using what we already know and applying it to a new situation. When children predict, they make a connection between what they know and what they don’t know yet. They increase the likelihood that they will comprehend what they read. Wild guesses are not predictions.
Predicting focuses little children on what they are about to read. By looking at pictures, titles, subtitles, charts, photos, cartoons and other graphics, they grasp an idea about a story. Predicting attracts the child to a story. She wants to know if her prediction is correct. Predicting forces children to use visual or word clues to create meaning.
The Common Core State Standards include predicting in the reading standards.
However, predicting does not come naturally to all children. Children with dyslexia might be able to predict in a real life situation when there is no reading involved, but because they struggle deciphering the phonics code, they lose track of the meaning. Some children with dyslexia also have trouble sequencing. If so, predicting what will happen next is difficult.
Autistic children may also have trouble predicting since they have trouble interpreting social clues. The text might say that a character froze and was unable to talk, but the child might not know that the character is scared. How then can he predict what will happen next?
Here is a method of predicting that can be used with children of all ages. It combines vocabulary with predicting.
- Go through a picture book or reading selection before the student reads it. Write down a dozen or more vocabulary words important to understanding the meaning of the text. Choose words which the child is likely to already know plus one or two new words.
- Write or type the words clearly on a paper, and then cut apart the words. Have one set of words for each pair of children if children are working in pairs. Put the words in plastic sandwich bags.
- Explain to the child that he will be predicting what a story is about. He will be acting like a detective by using word clues.
- Let the child pull out one word from the bag, read it aloud it and tell you what it means. If the child can’t read yet, tell him what the word says. If he doesn’t know the meaning, explain it to him. Lay the word on the desk or table in front of the child.
- Ask him what he thinks the story will be about based on that one word. Accept his answer.
- Let the child pull a second word, repeating the previous two steps. Continue until all the words are read aloud. Encourage the child to change his mind about the prediction, or to become more convinced with each word.
- Now ask the child to sort the words into categories or groups. (This step might be too advanced for some preschoolers.) Again, ask what he thinks the text might be about. Accept all answers, but gently steer the child into a prediction related to the text.
- Now read the text. As you or the child read, note words the child pulled from the bag. Ask if the child still thinks his prediction is correct, or if he has changed his mind.
- When the reading selection is complete, remind the child of his prediction and ask if he was correct. Look at the words again. Talk about what words helped and what words didn’t. Ask what other words might have made the prediction closer to the truth.
Dyslexia (the brain’s inability to read, write and spell with ease) has many causes, not all of which apply to every impaired reader.
In people with dyslexia, nerve cells in the brain are thought not to work well together in order to achieve reading. Or those cells might cooperate, but at slower rates than for average readers. Why?
What might cause dyslexia?
problems connecting sounds to symbols
blockage of brain pathways
using the right hemisphere for left hemisphere functions
unskilled reading teachers
- Genetics might play a role for some readers. Defects in a gene known as DCDC2 and its interaction with another gene, KIAA0319, have been identified as related to dyslexia, according to researchers at Yale University.
- Physical problems in certain parts of the brain might cause dyslexia. Sections of the brain specializing in language or vision, in particular, are needed to see letters; to associate those letters with sounds, syllables and words; and to derive meaning by combining words into sentences. If one part of the brain used in reading is damaged, dyslexia could result. Injuries to parts of the brain might have occurred before birth—a stroke, for example—or they might have happened after birth—a fall, for example.
- Problems identifying sounds within words and connecting those sounds to letters or to letter patterns is the most studied possible cause of dyslexia. Children with this problem have trouble sounding out c-a-t. When they hear words like “Tyranasaurus Rex,” they don’t hear syllables or individual letter sounds; they hear words. No problem. But when they learn to read, they must take the sounds inside words apart and attach letters to those sounds and put the letters back together again to know words. For some people, this is hard.
- Failure (blockage?) of the pathways normally used in reading could be a cause of dyslexia. Or weakness at connecting points along the brain’s pathways could cause slow processing.
- While most readers use the left hemisphere of the brain in a dominant way when reading, it is thought that some dyslexic readers might use the right hemisphere more dominantly, or they might use both hemispheres equally. If so, reading becomes a labor-intensive undertaking.
- Some researchers think that when the brain is developing, neurons that should be part of one section of the brain “migrate” to another spot in the brain and develop there. When a reader tries to access those cells, they are not where they are supposed to be, hampering the reading process.
- Young children who have hearing problems might develop a life-long problem associating sounds with symbols for those sounds, resulting in dyslexia.
- A well trained reading teacher who can identify anomalies in a child’s struggle to read can’t undo the above problems, but she can suggest strategies to lighten or even overcome some of these problems. However, if a child’s teacher is not savvy concerning strategies in the field of reading, the child might flounder. A teacher isn’t the cause of dyslexia, but her lack of skill can make the child’s struggle to read harder.
Reading is about a 6,000-year-old activity for human beings, a new activity in the evolution of the brain. The brain is not programmed to read any more than it is programmed to sing opera. Rather, in learning to read, we humans use parts of the brain which our non-reading ancestors used for something else—seeing and speaking, for example. Those same pathways which evolution streamlined for one purpose are now being used for additional purposes relating to reading, writing and spelling.
Work with brain imaging technology is revealing to researchers the parts of the brain involved in dyslexia. Work with the genome is revealing gene interactions which might have an effect upon reading. The answer to your question—What causes dyslexia?—is the brain and the complicated way in which the brain works.
For detailed information on some of these causes, read expert Maryanne Wolf, Ph.D., author of Proust and the Squid; The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.