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Reading & Dyslexia

Reading or learning how to read, involves a combination of several skills. While some children may struggle with reading difficulties, they do not necessarily have a diagnosed disability such as dyslexia, now referred to as a specific learning disorder (reading). These children may just lag behind their peers, requiring more time to learn certain things and more specialised reading instruction. When reading difficulties do exist, it is usually related to a difficulty in one or more of the underlying skills needed to be a competent reader. The component skills of reading include:

1. Phonological & Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize that words are made up of a variety of sound units. A child with strong phonological awareness should be able to recognize and use rhyme, break words into syllables, blend phonemes into syllables and words, identify the beginning and ending sounds in a syllable, and see smaller words within larger words. Ages and stages.

Reading & Dyslexia

Phonemic awareness is just one aspect of phonological awareness. It involves the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds, known as phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that has meaning. A child who is phonemicallyaware is able to isolate, manipulate, blend and segment sounds orally and in written words. For example, if a student knows that 'bat', 'bar', and 'bag' all have the same sound at the beginning of the word, they have phonemic awareness. In addition to knowing that the word, for example 'mat'', has three separate sounds (/m/ /a/ /t/, phonemic awareness is also the ability to blend these three sounds together to form the word 'mat', and separate and manipulate the sounds within the word. For example, if I replace the /m/ in 'mat' with the sound /c/ I get 'cat'

Phonics and decoding words

2. Phonics & Word Decoding

Phonics is the understanding that there is a systematic and predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters that represent those sounds). Children use these relationships to recognise familiar words and decode (apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships) unfamiliar ones

To benefit from phonics instruction, children need phonemic awareness. This is because children who cannot process the phonemes/sounds of spoken words will have a difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to letters when they see them in print. However, even with good phonemic awareness, phonics instruction does have limitations, especially since English does not have a pure phonetic base. The most obvious example of this is sounding out the words cough, though, tough, and through! 

3. Vocabulary

Vocabulary refers to the words we must understand to communicate effectively. Four types of vocabulary include:

  • Listening vocabulary: the words we need to know in order to understand what we hear

  • Speaking vocabulary: the words we use when we speak

  • Reading vocabulary: the words we need to know in order to understand what we read

  • Writing vocabulary: the words we use when we write


Vocabulary development is very important for beginning reading. When a child comes to a word and sounds it out, they are also determining if the word makes sense based on their understanding of the word. If a child does not know the meaning of the word, there is no way to check if the word fits, or to make sense of the sentence. Vocabulary development also plays a crucial role in reading comprehension. Readers cannot understand the content of what they are reading unless they understand the meaning of the majority of words in the text.

4. Reading fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read words and text accurately and efficiently. It is another key measure of overall reading ability and is made up of 3 main components including: speed, accuracy, and prosody (expression). Fluent readers can visually scan 3+ words ahead when reading aloud, and maintain smooth visual tracking line to line. When reading fluency is an issue however, performance can be affected in the following ways:

  • the child reads less text than their peers and has less time to remember, review, or comprehend the text

  • the child expends more cognitive energy trying to identify individual words, which can impact on their understanding of what they are reading

  • the child retains less text and is less likely to integrate those segments with other parts of the text

  • the child finds reading laborious and tends not to want to read at all

  • the child has trouble meeting the reading demands of their grade level.

Reading fluency and comprehension

5. Reading comprehension

Reading comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read. It is a culmination of all of the reading skills and the ultimate goal of learning to read. The purpose of mastery of each of the four previous skills is to enable comprehension. Likewise, reading comprehension facilitates mastery of the other four skills. To be able to accurately understand written material, children need to be able to:

  • Decode what they read accurately and efficiently

  • Have a sufficient vocabulary or knowledge of words to make sense of what they read

  • Use prior knowledge and make connections between what they read and what they already know about the subject

  • Have adequate memory to retain and integrate what they have read with what they already know

  • Be able to visualize the concepts/ideas presented in the text

  • Use higher order thinking and language skills to recognize story structure, make predictions and inferences, draw conclusions, and understand the main idea ('the gist') of the story.


Other sources of reading difficulty

For some students, the problem may be the result of a combination of factors – a weakness in one or more of the above and an underlying processing and/or cognitive deficit such as:


  • MEMORY: A competent reader needs to be able to efficiently move back and forth between what they see in print and what is stored in their memories, as well as hold words and sentences in the mind until there is enough information to complete an idea. Alongside short term and working memory, the information stores of long-term memory and access to that information, are also extremely important in reading and reading comprehension.


  • ATTENTION: Children must be able to focus their attention in order to decode words, maintain reading fluency, and understand what they read. Children's attention problems can range from mild trouble focusing to severe difficulty maintaining or focusing attention, with or without high degree of activity or impulsivity (see attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).


  • PROCESSING :Successful reading and writing requires that a student is able to process several types of information. Children with a difficulty in auditory processing, phonological processing and/or language processing will often struggle with aspects of reading and writing. Orthographic processing, the ability to visualize the identity, number, and sequence of sounds and letters within words, is also an essential skill that underlies fluent reading and accurate spelling.


Assessing your child's reading skills

At Brain & Language Connections, we provide a comprehensive assessment of your child’s:

  • reading skills (decoding, fluency/rate and comprehension)

  • vocabulary knowledge & language processing skills

  • phonological processing skills - phonological awareness, phonological memory and rapid automatic naming (RAN)

  • phonics skills 

  • orthographic processing 

  • short-term and working memory

It is through this comprehensive assessment, that therapy options best suited to your child's needs can be determined.

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