Category Archives: dyslexia

Increasing interword spacing may help students to read better

Both versions of the above paragraph are shown in the same size type and with the same spacing between lines. What is different is that the first version is the normal (default) way words are shown while the second version is the expanded version with additional space between letters.

The research, conducted by Elizabeth Sacchi at Binghamton University, State University of New York, is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Reading Brain Project.  The project studies how children’s brains behave as they read.  Sacchi’s research is the first of its kind in the US to look at what happens inside the brain as children read letters which are spaced variously.

Researchers think the improved reading of children who read words with letters spaced farther apart is not due to visual processing.  Children at the very beginning stages of reading don’t show much change in reading ability when letters are spaced farther apart.  But as the reading gets more advanced, reading improvement can be seen.

This US study backs up a European study of six years ago which showed that more space between letters can help children identified as dyslexic read 20% faster.  In that study, not only was the space between letters expanded, but the space between lines was expanded.

The Italian researchers think increased spacing helps dyslexic children overcome an effect called “crowding.”  Crowding makes letters hard to identify when the letters are placed close to other letters.

Children without reading problems showed no benefit when reading the more widely spaced letters and lines in the European study.

For more information on the American study, go to Elizabeth Sacchi et al, An Event-Related Potential Study of Letter Spacing during Visual Word Recognition, Brain Research (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.01.028.  For more information on the European study, go to the Proceedings of the American Academy of Science, 2012.

The X factor in type faces

[Another way to increase the readability of words is to increase the size of the half-space letters, as in the first example above.  For more information, see an earlier blog.]

This Kid Can’t Read

Before you can help students to read, you need to know why they can’t read. An umbrella statement like, “This kid can’t read” is too broad to be helpful. You need to be more specific in identifying the problem. For example,

• Does she know how to read maps, charts, graphs and political cartoons?

• Can she decode CVC, CVCe and other one-syllable words?

• Can she segment and pronounce two-, three-, and four-syllable words?

• Does she struggle so much with decoding English sounds that she cannot take in meaning?

• Is her English vocabulary limited?

• Does she recognize prefixes, suffixes and root words?

• Does she apply punctuation when she reads?

• Does she read in a monotone without inflection or expression?

• Does she monitor her understanding as she reads, rereading whenever she realizes she doesn’t understand?

• Does she know how to use context clues?

• Can she predict what will happen next as she reads?

• Does she make inferences?

• Can she identify the main idea in a reading passage?

• Can she summarize a passage, paraphrasing?

• Can she distinguish between important details and less important details?

• Can she detect author bias?

• Does she know how to think deeply?

• Does she believe she can read?

Reading problems can be divided into dozens of smaller, specific problems. And those smaller problems can be tackled—and usually solved—by a skilled teacher using appropriate strategies.

Help! My daughter reads words backwards

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?

Young child writing C-A-T.

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”?Two fists with thumbs up and knuckles touching make letter "b" and "d" with a BeD visualized between the two thumbs.

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.

Facing dyslexia in a preschooler

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.”child making letter T with his body
  • 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.baby reading a book
  • 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.boy sees a T in STOP
  • 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.mother works with child reading story book
  • 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.Mother shows child spelling of her name Kelly
  • 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.A teacher says the first part of a rhyme, and the child says the rest of it.

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.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

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 EPSON MFP imageshowing 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.

 

Ways to strengthen children’s working memory

How can you help a child with a poor working memory to increase reading comprehension?

child playing card memory game

  • 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.

For a struggling reader, intervene as early as possible, says new research

child with adult helping to readIf 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.