Disorders that Impair Reading Comprehension
When it comes to being productive in school, being able to read and write is crucial. But what happens when students have a disability which affects one or both of these areas? In this video, we will cover three learning disabilities that can impact a student’s reading and/or writing skills. Let’s get started!
The most common learning disability is dyslexia, which impacts 15%-20% of the total population. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects a person’s ability to read. Many people wrongly think that dyslexia simply causes people to mix up letters, but dyslexia is actually a disorder which affects many aspects of the reading process, including phonemic awareness. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing phonemes, the basic sounds of speech, when they see them in print. They may have difficulty connecting sounds and letter symbols, which can make sounding out words challenging. When each word takes a long time to sound out, it’s hard to hold on to the meaning of one word when you move to the next, which affects reading comprehension. This can be a problem not only when reading a book, but also when trying to understand a word problem in math or directions for a science experiment. However, students with dyslexia don’t struggle when they hear information, just when they are expected to decode words themselves.
Dyslexia is not an indicator of a person’s overall intelligence. Signs of dyslexia look different depending on how old a person is. For example, in preschool, it may look like trouble rhyming words, or difficulty remembering things in order, like the alphabet song. In elementary school, students with dyslexia can mix up similar letters, like b and d, or struggle to recognize common words. By the time they get to middle and high school, it can look like students reading very slowly or skipping over smaller words in a sentence. Sometimes, if a student shows a lot of anxiety around reading, or begins to feel sick when asked to read out loud, it’s worth considering dyslexia, as it can cause a lot of stress around the topic of reading. In addition, spelling and writing can often be pretty difficult.
Next up is a learning disability referred to as dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that impairs writing ability and fine motor skills. Kids with dysgraphia may have trouble putting their thoughts on paper or knowing which way to spell certain words. Sometimes, they can write their letters backward or forget when to use lowercase or uppercase letters. Although children with dysgraphia can speak easily, their writing can be hard to read and understand, and they often leave out things like grammar and punctuation. They also tend to write slowly or have difficulty copying things down.
Of course, in early elementary school, it is normal for kids to have difficulties first learning to write, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is cause for concern. Because of this, dysgraphia can be hard to catch and sometimes goes undiagnosed for a really long time. But here are a few key things you can be on the lookout for: poor spelling or missing letters, difficulty spacing things out or following lines on paper, unusual posture or paper positions, or students who don’t get a lot of work done during writing periods. Despite the fact that dysgraphia is generally related to writing, and dyslexia to reading, both disorders can present some of the same symptoms, such as spelling difficulties.
The last disorder we are going to discuss today is called dyspraxia, otherwise known as a developmental coordination disorder. This condition affects physical coordination, which can look like a kid struggling with everyday tasks, or appearing to be clumsy. Students with dyspraxia can struggle with balance; motor skills, which are the specific movements of the body’s muscles; and coordination. These can include fine motor skills, which you would need when you write with a pen or pencil; gross motor skills, which are more like kicking a ball; or motor planning, which allows you to plan out motor movements in advance, like tying a shoe. It can also affect articulation, speech processing, reading, or spelling. Sometimes, students with dyspraxia might struggle with understanding language concepts or be reluctant to read out loud. Similar to dysgraphia, a student with dyspraxia is likely to have trouble controlling a pencil in order to write in an organized way on lined paper. In all three of the disabilities we have discussed, a student might struggle with multi-step directions since this requires you to hold a lot of information in your head at once.
So with a variety of learners in your class, how can the teacher support such diverse needs? Well, there is a lot you can do!
For dyslexia, students often need really specific programs that help with phonological awareness, like Orton-Gillingham, a program that teaches the connection between letters and sounds. These sessions take place outside of the classroom for more concentrated attention.
There are also many practices that can provide support for dyslexic students in the classroom. Students benefit from having visual reminders, such as posters, around the room so that they can have continued access to them. This removes the need to read important information quickly. It is also helpful to give opportunities to reread texts or to partner the student with a higher-level reader. This allows students to utilize different skills, such as their working memory or their auditory processing, when learning information. It is also helpful to pre-teach vocabulary that might cause them some trouble, or use images to help them learn concepts. If the learning goal associated with a text is improving reading comprehension, not decoding, let students listen to an audiobook. This provides an opportunity for students to continue to grow their reading comprehension skills while they are continuing to improve their decoding.
For dysgraphia, sometimes students benefit from working with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy can help the student increase their hand strength and learn the correct way to hold their body, among other things. Teachers can also help improve a student’s strength in the classroom by having them squeeze a stress ball, an easy way to build muscle while continuing with the general curriculum. Students with dysgraphia also benefit from using wide-ruled paper so they have a little more space, or completing mazes or connecting-dot activities to practice fine motor control. Keep in mind, it is really the physical act of writing that students with dysgraphia struggle with, so if you are working on something where they’re expressing their creativity, consider letting them type or use a scribe to write it down for them.
For students with dyspraxia, make sure to write instructions on the board so that students can refer back. It is helpful to give lots of opportunities to practice everyday tasks like using scissors or a three-hole punch. Students with dyspraxia also benefit from breaking actions into smaller steps so that they can concentrate on what each muscle is being asked to do. This really helps students understand where their strengths and weaknesses are. Also, think about the seating in your classroom. Maybe a student with dyspraxia would do better standing, or sitting at a desk instead of sitting on the rug. Finally, graphic organizers encourage students to keep track of ideas that they are reading and writing about by taking notes or drawing picture representations.
I hope that this video was helpful and taught you a little more about some learning disabilities that impact reading and writing skills.
Thanks for watching and happy studying!