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Is My Child Dyslexic?

Hearing difficulties:

Virtually all pupils benefit from high quality phonics teaching from the very beginning of instruction, but for pupils with hearing difficulties (the NHS estimates that eight out of every ten children between the ages of four and ten suffer from undiagnosed glue ear), 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. Unfortunately, in order to read and spell competently using an alphabet code, children need to be adept at phonemic processing (able to hear, recognise and manipulate the code’s phonemes), linking phonemes rapidly to their spellings and vice versa. An embedded guessing habit can be hard to shift when the child is older despite the hearing problems, in most cases, having disappeared.

Children with (intermittent) hearing problems, who receive insufficient or poor quality phonics instruction in the early years, are at serious risk of failing to learn how to decode and spell. A noisy classroom will further exacerbate their difficulties -see below.

Pupils with hearing difficulties need to be seated at the front of the class, facing the teacher, so they can easily see the teacher’s mouth and lip movements and hear his/her voice as clearly as possible during phonics lessons. Frequent keep-up phonics tutoring sessions are likely to be required too.

”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)

A summary of recent research demonstrating impact of even mild deafness on literacy.

Dr. Lindsay Peer writes, ”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. Linking glue ear and dyslexia)

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

Research by Share, Siegel and Geva revealed that struggling readers and spellers 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)

Classroom Noise:

Influence of classroom acoustics on learning.

Loudness and Intelligibility of Irrelevant Background Speech Differentially Hinder Children’s Short Story Reading
Students read more slowly and understand less amidst background noise, with greatest effect on weakest readers.

Delayed speech and other speech and language difficulties:

This is a strong predictor of risk for reading problems. ”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.” (D. 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.” 
(D. 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.” (D. McGuinness. LDLR p12)

Schools should measure oral language early and often to identify children with language disorders and inform differentiated instruction to improve reading comprehension for all.

For research on the links between speech, language and reading, see ‘Why Children Can’t Read’. D. McGuinness p154->160

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). 
As the ability to decode written words accurately is not a biological trait it cannot be transmitted genetically, but a familial trait can be transmitted culturally. ”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) The two cultural factors most closely related to accurate word decoding are the transparency of a country’s spelling code and the way early reading is taught in its schools. In English-speaking countries where, every year, around 20-40% of children leave school functionally illiterate, nearly everyone has a relative (or several) who failed to learn to read.

– Poor rhyming skills (Rose 2009 p32). Soft sign.
”Sensitivity to rhyme has not been shown to be a strong predictor of reading skill.” 
(D. 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 the crawling stage of learning to walk. Soft sign

– Left-handed or inconsistent hand preference. Soft sign

– Frequent letter reversals. Soft sign

Inaccurate word reading (Rose. 2009 p32). 
Inaccurate word reading is rarely seen in countries with transparent spelling codes e.g. Italy, Spain, Germany and Finland. In fact, it is so unusual to find inaccurate word readers in these countries that their tests only measure reading speed and comprehension. 
(RRF49 D. McGuinness. p19 / The Science of Reading. Philip Seymour p297)

– Unable to remember common word sequences such as the months of the year and the 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.” (D. McGuinness LDLR p388) ”Naming objects and colours is a truer reflection of natural or biological based ability.” (D. 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 ‘The Dyslexia Debate’. Prof. Elliott 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 (ADHD) 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.” (D. 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 pediatricians 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. Ch. 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 literacy difficulty, vision and hearing should be thoroughly checked. It is possible that an auditory or visual weakness may be causing the problem or be adding to them – but note research on ‘Visual Therapies’ in Room 101.