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Dyslexia: An Overview and How Speech Therapy Can Help

Dyslexia is a disorder that affects all forms of communication, spoken and written. People with dyslexia have trouble with reading fluently, and may also have difficulties with language and verbal comprehension. Dyslexia is a common learning disability which can respond well to intervention, and the

sooner it is diagnosed, the more favourable the outcome tends to be.

Possible Signs of Dyslexia

There is a range of speech and/or language difficulties a child could experience, which may be indicators of dyslexia. Signs that may be evident in pre-schoolers and primary school children include problems with:

  • Learning to talk.

  • Pronouncing longer words.

  • Rhyming.

  • Learning the alphabet sequence, days of the week, colours, shapes, and numbers.

  • Learning letter names and sounds.

  • Learning to read and write his or her name.

  • Learning to identify syllables ("cow-boy" in "cowboy") and phonemes (individual sounds such as "b-a-t" in "bat").

  • Reading and spelling words with the correct letter sequence (“top” versus “pot”).

  • Handwriting and fine-motor coordination.

Older kids, teenagers, and adults might have these same signs of dyslexia, but in addition will also be likely to read and spell far below their year level, tend to avoid reading where possible and work slowly on assignments or tests of reading or writing.

Diagnosing Dyslexia

Dyslexia is usually formally diagnosed by a Psychologist, or for children, by an Educational Psychologist. However, diagnosis requires supporting information from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. For example, in order for an Educational Psychologist to diagnose a five-year-old with dyslexia, he or she will be likely to collect a thorough background history from the parents, reports from school teachers, assessment results from a Speech-Language Therapist and possibly additional information from other professionals such as an Occupational Therapist.

As our part of the assessment process, a Speech Language Therapist will carry out tests of the areas of language that are likely to be affected by dyslexia. These include the following:

  • Listening comprehension.

  • Semantic flexibility (i.e. the ability to adapt language, identify synonyms, antonyms and more).

  • Sequencing ability.

  • Short-term memory.

  • Grammar.

  • Vocabulary.

  • Phonological and phonemic awareness.

  • Word retrieval skills.

  • Reading fluency and recall.

  • Reading comprehension.

There are a number of organisations in New Zealand who provide Psychologists and other professionals who specialise in the assessment of Dyslexia – take a look at the NZ Dyslexia Foundation’s list of providers to get started.

Treating Dyslexia

Treatment for Dyslexia involves the use of educational tools and techniques to enhance a person’s written and spoken language. The earlier it begins, the better! Starting treatment when a child is young can improve their reading and may even entirely prevent reading problems in the early years of school. One of the core roles of Speech-Language Therapists is to develop or re-train a person’s language skills – accordingly, they are one of the primary professionals involved in treatment of dyslexia.

Another important professional in New Zealand is a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO). SENCOs work within schools. When a school-aged child is identified as having Dyslexia, it is important that their school’s SENCO is made aware. When this happens, the SENCO can then work with teachers to create an individual education plan for the child, detailing appropriate teaching methods, goals and objectives for the child’s schooling. Additionally, a SENCO will collaborate with Speech-Language Therapists and other supporting professionals.

How Speech-Language Therapy Helps

A Speech-Language Therapist is an expert in oral language development, which serves as the foundation for literacy. Most people think that dyslexia primarily causes people to reverse the letters in words. However, a more significant issue is the dyslexic person’s trouble recognising phonemes – i.e. the fundamental sounds of speech, such as the “b” sound in “bat”. When children struggle identifying speech sounds, it becomes hard to make the connection between the sound and its letter symbol. Therefore, the meaning of the written sound or word is often lost, and reading comprehension suffers. A Speech-Language Therapist will help build a child’s literacy by treating and supporting their phonemic awareness skills, among other areas such as:

  • Oral language comprehension and use: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics.

  • Auditory processing skills.

  • Articulation (the production of speech sounds).

  • Fundamental letter/sound knowledge.

  • Word-retrieval skills.

  • Short-term working memory.

Most children with dyslexia can learn to read, and many even excel in the classroom, but they will need help to do so. As a parent who may be concerned about your child, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Doctor, the NZ Dyslexia Foundation, or even a Speech-Language Therapist. If your child does have Dyslexia, early assessment is the best approach to ensure he or she thrives academically.

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