What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is defined in the literature as a particular form of Specific Reading Disability. It is characterized by a longstanding underlying (core) deficit in phonemic awareness despite receiving evidence-based interventions. The problems with phonemic awareness lead to significant difficulty with phonics (lettersound relationships in word reading and spelling) and reading fluency. Dyslexia is frequently associated with letter reversals and many people believe that reversing letters means dyslexia, but reversals are


diagnostic of dyslexia. Dysfluent reading very frequently impacts reading comprehension.

The core skills involved in fluent reading are: oral vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and letter-sound knowledge (phonics). Phonemic awareness is the most advanced skill within phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sound properties of spoken words: syllables, rhymes, alliterations, initial sounds and phonemes. Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the individual

Phonics relates to printed language, connecting letters and letter combinations to the various sounds represented by those letters. Phonemic awareness has nothing to do with letters. Phonemic awareness is about the oral sounds (phonemes) in spoken language. It is critical to understand the difference between phonemes (sounds) and phonics (letters) in order to successfully teach phonemic awareness, which is critical to successful reading. Written letters (or letter combinations) represent oral phonemes.

Good phonemic awareness increases our capacity to store words for instant retrieval, which increases reading fluency, which leads to increased reading comprehension. If we have phonemic awareness, we can connect letter combinations to pronunciation, creating a bank of meaningful letter sequences which are recognized immediately as a unit (e.g., a-l-k as representing the sound /awk/ in words like walk, talk, calk, balk, etc.).

Orton-Gillingham-type interventions address segmentation and blending activities, but do not typically extend to the individual sound level of phonemes. Examples of evidence-based programs that build necessary

phonemic sounds

in spoken words.

awareness include Lindamood, Earobics, PhonoGraphix, ReadSpell, Equipped for

Reading Success, Rosner Auditory Motor Program, and McInnis Assured Readiness for Learning.

Typically, older students who have struggled with phonics and dysfluent reading develop habits that interfere with good reading. Once phonemic awareness is addressed sufficiently, they need to be retrained in how to approach words, away from their habitual and painful single-letter decoding. Use word study to teach them to attend to the details of the structure of the written word relative to the oral word.

Do we assess for dyslexia?

Of course we do. We assess word reading, phonics, spelling and reading fluency. We sometimes assess for phonological awareness. We have phonological awareness assessments in many of our achievement tests, as well as DIBELS and AIMSWEB. However, most of these assessments are sufficient only for younger students (up through about first grade into early second grade). Speech

Pathologists have access to assessments that address phonemic awareness. These assessments are appropriate for older students with suspected word-level and fluency-related reading disability, but don’t need to be done with the younger students, since other assessments are available.

*Most of this information is from comments made by David Kilpatrick, Ph.D, (SUNY Cortland) on preofessional

Listservs and in personal communication.