Home » Who is Most at Risk for Developing Dyslexia?

Who is Most at Risk for Developing Dyslexia?

Virtually all pupils in English-speaking countries require around three years of high-quality phonics teaching 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 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.

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 p154->160

For research on the links between phonics decoding and reading comprehension, see McGuinness’ Why Children Can’t Read p293->4

Soft Signs:

Descriptions of ‘dyslexia’ usually include many soft signs i.e. they are not based on data that is readily quantifiable or amenable to experimental verification. Soft signs ”are found in some people without learning problems and absent in others who experience learning difficulties.” (Rice/Brooks p22) Furthermore, ”Soft signs are not additive in the traditional sense: (T)he presence of more than one soft sign does not make a hard sign.” (Encyclopedia of Special Education. Vol 3 p1887)

– Has a close relative with ‘dyslexia’ or decoding difficulties (Rose. 2009 p11&36,37). Soft sign.
As the ability to decode and spell is not a biological trait, it cannot be transmitted genetically: ”Thus, contrary to what practitioners may sometimes suppose, family relationship (familiarity) alone is not a reliable indicator of genetic heritability.” (Rice/Brooks p32/Muter p3) As McGuinness explains, ”The cross-cultural comparisons reveal that the source of English-speaking children’s difficulties in learning to read and spell is the English spelling system and the way it is taught. These comparisons provide irrefutable evidence that a biological theory of “dyslexia”, a deficit presumed to be a property of the child is untenable…”
(McGuinness ERI p3)

– Poor rhyming skills (Rose 2009 p32). Soft sign.
”Sensitivity to rhyme has not been shown to be a strong predictor of reading skill.” 
(McGuinness. WCCR. p148)

– Poor sense of rhythm. Soft sign

– Poor short-term (working) memory. Soft sign.
”In a highly regarded study conducted by Joseph Torgesen, a psychologist at the University of Florida, out of 60 children with severe reading difficulties, only eight had poor short-term memories, while almost as many – seven – had very good short-term memories.” 

– Missing out on the crawling stage of learning to walk. Soft sign
”This myth states that babies must crawl, and do so for some period of time, in order to cause the brain to develop properly.”

– Left-handed or inconsistent hand preference. Soft sign

– Frequent letter reversals. Soft sign

– Unable to remember common word sequences such as the months of the year and times tables. Soft sign

– Problems with ‘naming’ and word-finding / verbal processing speed (Rose. 2009 p32). Soft sign.
”The fact that RAN [rapid automatic naming] using digits and letters predict reading so much better than RAN colours and objects do, means that naming speed per se is not a factor in learning to read.” (McGuinness LDLR p388) ”Naming objects and colours is a truer reflection of natural or biological based ability.” (McGuinness. WCCR p131) ”Rapid naming, phonological awareness, and reading. A meta-analysis of the correlational evidence. The results suggested that the importance of RAN and PA measures in accounting for reading performance has been overstated.” (Swanson/Trainin/Necoechea/Hammill. Review of Educational Research.73. 2003)
For more research on RAN, see Elliott’s The Dyslexia Debate. p49->56

– Organisational difficulties. Soft sign.
Many excellent readers have poor organisational skills.

– ”Visual stress” (Rose 2009. p115). Soft sign.
”There are a lot of abnormalities of the eyes that normal readers have as well, so tinted lenses and overlays have no foundation as a bona fide treatment for reading problems in any research that I’m aware of.” 
(Vellutino quoted in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth)

”Teams from Bristol and Newcastle universities carried out eye tests on more than 5,800 children and did not find any differences in the vision of those with dyslexia.”

The Role of Vision in Reading

– Immature social skills. Soft sign

– Reluctance to attend school
”(D)isaffection and disengagement from education” (Rose 2009 p38)

– Low self-image

– Anxiety when asked to read aloud

Common Co-occurring Difficulties:

– Lack of concentration / disruptive behaviour / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, BUT frustration, stress and boredom can also cause or increase an inability to attend. ”When children are highly distractible, overly disruptive and unable to stay ‘on task’, this usually means they can’t do the task.” (McGuinness. WCCR. p188) 
“Hospitals are complaining that their clinics are being filled with kids who are being referred for things like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” said Dr Rowe, who was last week appointed by the federal Education Minister to run the inquiry. “But once the paediatricians sort out the children’s literacy problems, the behaviour problems disappear. What is essentially an education issue has become a health issue.” (Milburn. Children in crisis: The real diagnosis)

In her chapter, in Fisher and Greenberg’s The Limits of Biological Treatments for Psychological Distress, Prof. Diane McGuinness refers to ADHD as “the emperor’s new clothes.” She observes, “It is currently fashionable to treat approximately one third of all elementary school boys as an abnormal population because they are fidgety, inattentive, and unamenable to adult control.” She concludes that “(T)wo decades of research have not provided any support for the validity of ADD” or hyperactivity. Neither clinical studies nor psychological testing has been able to identify such a group”. The problem, according to McGuinness, is how to get professionals to give up such a vested interest in the use of this powerful label.”

Recommended reading: When Children Don’t Learn. D. McGuinness. Chapter 9. Hyperactivity: a diagnosis in search of a patient.

Distinguishing cause from effect – many deficits associated with developmental dyslexia may be a consequence of reduced and suboptimal reading experience.

Psychiatric fads, overdiagnosis, and ‘epidemics’

– Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): Where commercial and clinical interests collide: ”Given the lack of agreement on diagnostic criteria and lack of recognition in formal guidelines, it’s impossible to find sensible epidemiological data on APD.”

– Developmental Coordination Disorder (dyspraxia / clumsy-child syndrome): Severe difficulties with gross and/or fine motor skills such as handwriting or learning to ride a bicycle, but ”There’s really no evidence that improving co-ordination is going to make it easier for you to learn to read.” (Prof. Bishop quoted in Mills. The Dyslexia Myth)

Important: In all cases of decoding difficulty, vision and hearing should be thoroughly checked. It is possible that an auditory or visual weakness may be adding to the difficulty – but note caution on ‘Visual Therapies’ -see Room 101 https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/resources-and-further-reading-room-101/