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Supporting dyslexic pupils with reading

As dyslexia is widely linked to difficulties with phonological processing, it should not be surprising that reading is one of the areas with which dyslexic individuals may struggle. Phonemic awareness is often cited as one of the most powerful predictors of success in learning to read (see, for example, Adams, 1990).

Although dyslexic children from all linguistic backgrounds are likely to experience some degree of difficulty with reading, it is recognised that the greater the orthographic complexity of the language, the greater the problems that dyslexic learners will face (Paulesu et al, 2001; Landerl et al, 2012). Thus, children learning to read in English encounter greater challenges than those learning to read a more orthographically transparent language such as Italian or Spanish.

Teachers should be aware that visual stress issues may be at the root of reading difficulties. Many dyslexic individuals with visual stress issues find that their reading skills are greatly helped when they use a coloured filter or tinted paper. Use of a dyslexia friendly sans serif font can also help dyslexic pupils (see BDA Style Guide for advice on dyslexia friendly ways of presenting information). Providing materials in an electronic format allows students to change font type and size, background colour, and even to use text-to-speech software to listen to the text being read.

Prior to learning literacy, children can be helped to develop phonological skills through activities such as reciting poems and nursery rhymes, singing and clapping along to songs, or playing word games.

Difficulties for dyslexic children are likely to become apparent at the alphabetic stage of reading, when they are required to learn the phonemic code. At this stage, a range of difficulties may have an impact on a child’s ability to learn literacy skills. For a child who is struggling, it will be necessary to check if difficulties are associated with visual issues, hearing difficulties, or speech and language problems.

For all dyslexic children, a learning programme which is structured, cumulative and multisensory will be essential. Progress for dyslexic children is likely to be much slower than for their peers, and a great deal of repetition and over-learning is likely to be required in order to achieve automaticity in decoding.

The implications of slow, laboured reading are far-reaching. Dyslexic children who read less than their peers are likely to have a narrower knowledge of vocabulary; therefore, for older learners, explicit vocabulary instruction may be necessary when preparing to read a more linguistically demanding text. To help dyslexic learners cope with longer words, a focus on syllabification and morphology will be useful so that they learn to break these words into smaller units (‘chunking’ skills).

Equally, students whose reading speeds are slow are likely to find it more difficult to take in the meaning of text, and these difficulties will be exacerbated as levels of complexity increase. Therefore, teachers should be prepared to allow dyslexic pupils extra time to read texts in preparation for lessons. It will also be useful to teach techniques such as skimming to understand the gist of a text or scanning to find key ideas and vocabulary; highlighting key ideas; looking out for signposting words (e.g. therefore, however); or drawing diagrams or mind-maps to create a visual representation of the text.

Many of the difficulties associated with reading can be helped by using appropriate technology. Information on technology for reading: A guide for learners and their families can be found here.

For further information on how to support dyslexic pupils with reading, see the following links:-