How do you teach a child to read that has dyslexia?
For most kids, there is a part in the brain that takes over when reading, which makes the process quickly become automatic. For children with dyslexia, it doesn’t work that way. When reading, they don’t use this part of the brain. Instead, brain scans show that the activity in their brain hops around to lots of different sections. This makes the reading process much less efficient. It also explains why they read slowly, have to work so much harder, and get so fatigued when reading. Their brain is working nearly ten times harder than the average child’s.
The good news is that brain scans also show that with the right remediation, children can “retrain” their brain” to use more effective pathways. This is done through a very specific type of instruction. It is vital that kids with dyslexia get instruction that is structured, explicit, cumulative, systematic and multisensory. (Orton-Gillingham programs like Wilson and Barton Reading both fall into this category).
Structured: Kids with dyslexia have trouble making the association between speech sound and print. Sounds are just not as crisp and clear. A person without dyslexia, for instance, can think of a word like a shark and quickly pull the various sounds that make that word together in their head and create that word. For dyslexics, they need a structured program that teaches them this connection, teaches them the basic structure of the language, does it thoroughly, and provides plenty of practice to make the process automatic.
Explicit: For most kids, the patterns and rules of the English language are picked up intuitively as they gain more exposure to print. For children with dyslexia, they need to be explicitly taught these rules and given plenty of opportunities to practice them. In Orton-Gillingham programs, the child is not expected to know anything that has not been explicitly taught. They work on mastering isolated skills before combining them with other aspects of the language. Controlled text is a vital part of the process and helps to solidify those skills before moving on to more advanced topics.
Cumulative: Reading programs for children with dyslexia need to start with basic knowledge about the English language and build on that solid foundation. Too many other reading programs go too fast or start with advanced concepts when the child has never been taught even the more foundational elements of the language.
Systematic: Orton-Gillingham programs employ a systematic, methodical approach. The goal is to make the process as automatic as possible so that the child doesn’t have to expend so many resources and so much energy decoding words. Just as with anything we do over and over, the more practice they have at this approach, the more automatic their decoding skills become.
Multisensory: Since we know that kids with dyslexia don’t use the most efficient pathway in their brain for reading, the goal of remediation is to create new, more efficient pathways through different modalities. The most effective, research-based method is through instruction that is visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. This part of the process is vital. A child should be hearing a sound, seeing the letters that represent the sound and using their motor memory (through motion) to help them remember the association between the two. This enhances memory and learning of the written language.