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What are the Main Risks for Developing Dyslexia?

For children living in countries where English is the spoken language, the greatest risk for developing dyslexia is to attend a primary school where early reading is taught through the balanced word reading approach. Hearing and speech difficulties add to the risk, as do noisy classrooms and delaying the teaching of high-quality phonics much past the age of five:

Hearing difficulties:

Virtually all pupils in English-speaking countries require around three years of high-quality phonics teaching, starting early in Reception year, in order to become fluent decoders and accurate spellers. For pupils with (intermittent) hearing difficulties*, it is particularly important. Without excellent phonics teaching from the start, they will quickly find themselves needing to depend heavily on the visual aspects of words, text illustrations and other guessing strategies to read. A noisy classroom will further exacerbate their difficulties -see below. Most deafness in the early years due to otitis media (glue ear) eventually disappears, but an embedded guessing habit can be very hard to shift.

*The NHS estimates that eight out of every ten children between the ages of four and ten will, at some point, suffer from undiagnosed glue ear.

All pupils should sit facing the teacher during phonics lessons to ensure that they can easily see their teacher’s mouth and lip movements. Those known to have hearing difficulties should be seated at the front of the class in order to hear their teacher’s voice as clearly as possible during lessons.

Seeing the mouth: the importance of articulatory gestures during phonics training:
”Results provide strong evidence of the importance of students having visual access to their teachers’ articulatory gestures during GPC training.”

”The audiologist who screens reception children’s hearing in school told me that on any day there could be as many as ten children in reception/KS1 suffering from glue ear which wouldn’t necessarily be identified by a hearing check. It’s why facing the teacher is important.”
(Y1 teacher & SENCo)

”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. L. Linking glue ear and dyslexia)

”A child with a hearing impairment can access phonics. The teacher needs to be aware of the child’s auditory profile so provision can target where sounds are absent or indistinct.”
(Ann Sullivan SEND teacher)

Teaching phonics to deaf children: Guidance for teachers

Research by Share, Siegel and Geva revealed that children who struggle to read as a result of inadequate phonics instruction, 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)

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, profoundly deaf students rely on the visual matching of spelling probabilities (the statistical repetition of visual spelling patterns in words). This statistical learning 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.”

Classroom Noise:

Influence of classroom acoustics on learning.

”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.”
(Milstone C. 2005. Classroom acoustics -sometimes the answer to ‘are you listening?’ is ‘I can’t’)

Loudness and Intelligibility of Irrelevant Background Speech Differentially Hinder Children’s Short Story Reading: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mbe.12264
”Students read more slowly and understand less amidst background noise, with the greatest effect on the weakest readers.”

Delayed Speech and other Speech Development Difficulties:

This is a strong predictor of risk for decoding problems, especially if your child is taught using the balanced literacy approach: ”Speech difficulties predict problems learning an alphabetic writing system. Equally predictive are the teaching methods currently used in most classrooms. If your child has a speech problem, he or she is in double jeopardy.” (McGuinness. WCCR. p160)

”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.” 
(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.” (McGuinness. LDLR p12. italics added)

For research on the links between speech development difficulties and learning to decode, see
D. McGuinness’ Why Children Can’t Read pp154->160

Why is it risky to delay teaching high-quality phonics much past the age of five?

Go to https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/teaching-all-children-to-read-and-spell/
Scroll down to the heading ‘Beginning Reading Instruction Around Europe’