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Introduction to Reading Difficulties and Assessment Cont’d

Reading Disabilities
  Educators have known for more than 100 years that some children have difficulty reading because of a learning disability. In 1896, P. Morgan diagnosed a patient with “word-blindness” because he was unable to learn to read. Of course, information about learning disabilities has increased substantially since that time.  There are really two broad categories to consider when one investigates learning disabilities related to reading:

  • Dyseidetic
  • Dysphonetic

As you may have guessed, these disorders are part of a more familiar disorder called dyslexia. The prefix –dys means difficulty and the root word lexia means words or language. Therefore, dyslexia means difficulty with words or language.  Dyslexia is a developmental reading disorder that affects a person’s ability to read and write. This is a neurological disorder that is often genetic in origin. Dyslexia is known as a spectrum disorder meaning that children can experience such difficulty to varying degrees ranging from mild to severe. It is important to note, however, that children with dyslexia enjoy normal levels of intelligence.  

While there are different types of dyslexia, there are some common symptoms of the disorder.  Many individuals with dyslexia report problems interpreting print because the orientations of letters on the page are erratic. Some see letters as jumbled up or moving about the page.  Others see letters backwards, upside down, or in the wrong order. Oftentimes,  readers with dyslexia experience blurred vision, headaches, or feel nauseous after reading.

Dyseidetic dyslexia is characterized by the ability to sound out individual letters, but the inability to put those letters together to make unique sounds such as blends or diagraphs, onsets or rimes.  A dyseidetic reader will usually spell words in phonetically accurate ways, ignoring common spelling patterns.  Transpositions and letter reversals are commonly seen in this disorder.  Interestingly, the letters accurately match the sounds in the word. Because dyseidetic dyslexics have problems with decoding or spelling whole words, this disorder is often referred to as visual dyslexia.

Dysphonic readers must rely on their memory system to read as they are unable to associate letters with sounds. Reading,  then, is dependent upon the efficiency of their memory storage and retrieval systems.  Dysphonic dyslexia is sometimes called auditory dyslexia because the student has difficulty identifying the sounds in words. Spelling is especially problematic for these readers and is sometimes characterized by random letter selection.

Remediation for dyslexia varies according to the type and severity of the condition.  Typically, students with dyseidetic dyslexia benefit from word analysis and decoding strategies apart from phonics. Dysphonic readers, on the other hand,  often require instruction related to phonetic principles. It is important to note that effective remediation begins as early as possible and is intense,  systematic, and explicit in nature.

If treatment for reading disabilities does not occur early enough, students’  academic outcomes suffer.

There are, of course, other learning impairments that effect reading ability. These include autism, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, and attention deficit disorder.  If accurate diagnosis is made early and appropriate instructional goals are set, teachers can work to find methods and materials that support each student’s potential for reading success.

Sensory Impairment

According to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (1997), Sensory Impairment includes the loss of vision or hearing to the extent that learning is compromised. Vision is, of course, central to the ability to read printed text. Students’ vision is assessed in relation to the extent of visual acuity. With corrected vision,  students develop reading skills normally. However, such problems often go undiagnosed.

Many children suffer mild to severe hearing loss each year. There are a number of causes for hearing loss. These include:

  • birth trauma
  • heredity
  • prenatal damage
  • illness
  • injury

The relationship between reading and hearing loss depends, in large part, on when the hearing loss occurred.  Hearing loss that is present at birth is termed prelingual hearing loss. These children are born without the capacity to receive information aurally.  Other children suffer postlingual hearing loss. This is usually a result of chronic or severe illnesses such as Otitis Media, or inner ear infection,  and Meningitis, which is a viral infection accompanied by high fever. 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (2002),  1.3% of school age children are deaf or hard of hearing. While most of these are educated in general education classes, many receive specialized instruction through special education services. Children with hearing impairments tend to develop reading more slowly than their hearing peers because reading is essentially a language system. Typically, children develop a language system through hearing language in their environments.   A student who encounters hearing loss after this language system is established will fare better in becoming a skilled reader than one whose language development was interrupted, delayed, or nonexistent.

Poor Motivation

Many students are at risk for reading and academic failure because they lack the motivation to learn.  Low-achieving students are often those that “fall through the cracks” of the school system. These students must be distinguished from students with learning disabilities or learning differences.  View the presentation, Learners with Special Needs, to learn more about these students.

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