Teaching Him to Read Pt. 2: Dyslexia?

See Part 1 here: https://thepoliticsofreading.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/teaching-him-to-read-pt-1-intro-whole-word-approach/

Last semester, I was in a linguistics class about language deficits and disorders.  Though most of the class focused on spoken language, the professor touched on written language for a bit.  In one lesson, he offered two explanations for certain reading difficulties:

  1.  seeing (or saying) a letter/word incorrectly
  2. “storing” a letter/word incorrectly

The distinction between seeing and storing could be key in understanding a person’s struggles with reading.  In scenario 1, the problem is more external.  For instance, a person who has poor vision may misread a word if he isn’t able to see it properly.  Someone else may be able to see the word correctly, but still might accidentally misspeak.  If this poor vision or misspeaking is prevalent enough hinder someone’s overall reading, then the issue demands attention.  Teachers and therapists would likely recommend glasses or speech therapy, respectively.  But what do they do if the issue goes deeper?

Not long after the professor’s lecture on this topic, I visited home.  The course afforded me a new perspective on literacy, and I tried to use its tools to understand my brother’s reading.  I sat down with him at the computer and pulled out some flashcards.  I asked him if he could copy what the flashcard said onto a Word document.  The flashcards were a bit dull, mostly just simple household objects like bed, toothbrush, chair…

Wait a minute.

I looked at the screen and checked what he’d typed.  He had written “ded” and “toothdrush,” but the rest of the words were right.  When I asked him to read the flashcards, he pronounced them (to the best of his ability) completely correctly.  In my class, the professor explained that dyslexia would likely only affect written language, not spoken.  Could Josh have dyslexia?  The “d” and the “b” would be very easy to confuse, since their lowercase forms are mirrors of each other.  However, when I looked at our keyboard, I noticed that the letters were uppercase.  “D” and “B” don’t look alike at all.

This brings me back to the 2nd explanation from earlier: storage.  A storage processing issue is more inward than sensory. The primary difference between explanations 1 and 2 is that with the former, the concept is correct is someone’s mind, but the person has trouble accessing it.  With the latter, the concept itself is damaged.  If Josh only had trouble telling “d” and “b” apart, it would be reasonable to assume that the problem could be visual.  But since the keyboard was uppercase, I wondered if he had stored the concept of “b” in his mind as “d.”  I isolated the letters and asked him to identify them.  He read the d’s correctly, but he also said that that b’s were d’s.  This vocal task seemed to confirm the storage hypothesis.


Alphabet inside of men’s heads face to face contrasting order and chaos


I visited home again this weekend and got to work with him more on his reading.  He picked out a Clifford the Big Red Dog book, which apparently was part of a phonics program.  (Josh has learned reading through the whole word method, though.  There is more background on that in Part 1.)  As he read, I noticed it was difficult for him to distinguish rhyming words.  He would read “bake” as “cake” and vice versa until I prompted him.  Without the phonics foundation, it would make sense for him to confuse words that look almost identical.  He also added letters that were not there, like reading “oh” as “uh-oh,” because he recognized the whole, not the part.  I decided to take this opportunity to look at individual letters again.  I brought out an ancient laminated keyboard I pointed to letters for him to read.  We started with “D” and “B.” He identified them correctly, so maybe it wasn’t a storage problem after all? Or perhaps it was, but he fixed it with outside guidance?  As he went along the keyboard, most letters were right, but did need some help.

  • He read “S” as “Q” and then as “R” (proximity in the alphabet?)
  • He read “E” as “A” (both vowels?)
  • He read “F” as “U” (????) but then as “R” and “T” (look similar?)

While deciphering his reading has provided some answers, it has definitely raised more questions. I look forward to exploring and unlocking more.

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One Response to Teaching Him to Read Pt. 2: Dyslexia?

  1. madisongoers1 says:

    Jordan, I found this post to be absolutely fascinating. It is interesting how you were able to put these concepts that were described in your linguistics course into practice when working with your brother on his reading. In many cases of developmental disabilities, there are problems with the encoding and storage of specific phonemes, words, etc. and I think you are spot on when you question whether this is a deeper-rooted issue. It is so interesting how you took the initiative to test these hypotheses with your brother and identify specific instances where he is mixing up the “b” and “d” graphemes. I would be interested to see if he was just mixing up the initial sounds of words (as in bake/cake and bed/ded) or if this is frequent in all places in a word? And because he learned to read with the whole word approach, I wonder if it would be challenging to work with him on segmenting words, like “’Bake’ without the ‘/b/’ is ____?” with the answer being “ake”? Being that dyslexia is very common, I would love to strive to identify and target this in early readers in order to work on interventions and strategies that may help to improve overall reading and avoid delays in the classroom. I wonder in what ways we could encourage this in schools? I would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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