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Specific learning disorder (reading)

A specific learning disorder (SLD) in reading (previously referred to as 'dyslexia') is neurobiological in origin, meaning that the problem is located physically in the brain. Research indicates that as many as 15-20% of the population as a whole, have some of the symptoms of SLD, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. SLD is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment (i.e. visual dysfunction), or inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, but it may occur together with these conditions. Individuals with SLD often have average or above IQ.


Brain imaging techniques show that individuals with SLD (reading) have a larger right-hemisphere than those of non SLD individuals. This may be one reason why people with SLD often have significant strengths in areas controlled by the right-side of the brain such as: artistic ability, musical ability, 3-D visuo-spatial skills, vivid imagination, intuition, good people skills, and creative problem solving skills.

In addition to this unique brain architecture and unusual wiring, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - a type of specialized MRI scan - studies have also shown that typical readers consistently use the same part of their brain when they read. Individuals with dyslexia however do not use that part of their brain when reading; in fact there appears to be no consistent part used among SLD readers. It is therefore assumed that people with SLD are not using the most efficient part of their brain when they read.


Signs & Symptoms of SLD

While everyone can struggle with learning at times, a SLD is consistent and persists over time. It also occurs on a continuum from mild to severe, with no two learners the same. The following is a list of common warning signs in children in middle primary to secondary school: Difficulties can include:


  • Understanding verbal instructions or directions

  • Repeating verbal instructions or directions

  • Staying on topic and getting to the point

  • Naming people and objects

  • Speaking with precise, accurate language, proper grammar and a varied vocabulary

  • Distinguishing between words that sound similar

  • Pronouncing words correctly

  • Speaking fluently, without a lot of pausing or use of “filler words” (like “um”)

  • Understanding humour, multiple meaning, and idioms


  • Reading words and letters in the correct order/sequence (may read  numbers '12' for '21' or word 'was' for 'saw')

  • Accurately decoding unfamiliar words (tends to guess words instead)

  • Reading aloud or silently with good understanding/comprehension

  • Remembering and retaining sight words and other printed words

  • Learning and remembering new vocabulary words

  • Feeling confident and interested in reading



  • Mastering spelling rules

  • Spelling the same word consistently and correctly

  • Writing letters, numbers and symbols in the correct order/sequence

  • Proofreading and correcting their own work

  • Expressing ideas in an organised way (older children)

  • Listening and taking notes at the same time.


  • Interpreting people's non-verbal cues, “body language,” mood and tone of voice

  • Dealing with peer pressure, embarrassment, and expressing feelings appropriately

  • Maintaining positive self-esteem about learning and getting along with others

  • Maintaining confidence about “fitting in” with his classmates and other peers


  • Learning/remembering new skills; relies heavily on memorization

  • Remembering facts and numbers (often slow to learn times tables)

  • Sense of direction/spatial concepts (such as left and right)

  • Performing consistently on tasks from day to day

  • Applying skills from one situation to another

Assessing your child for a SLD

There is no one single test which can identify a specific learning disorder. Speech Pathologists are able to determine whether or not a student presents with language and/or literacy difficulties consistent with the DSM-V framework of specific learning disorder (reading). A cognitive assessment, completed by a Psychologist, is also part of the diagnostic process.


What treatment is appropriate?

At Brain & Language Connections, we avoid the “one-size-fits-all” approach and instead design programs to fit the individual learning needs of the child. All treatment programs incorporate explicit, direct, systematic and multi-sensory instruction in in the five components of reading.

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