Unpacking the Definition – Problems in Practice

I want to unpack the definition of Dyslexia that I provided to you in part 1 of this series.  As a refresher, I will provide the definition again:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.  It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent reading word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.”

Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge”.

1.) The Difficulty is Unexpected

First, it states that the difficulty with reading is “unexpected”.  I get this ALL. THE. TIME. Parents tell me “My child speaks fine” or “my child has no trouble expressing themselves”.

The underlying language impairments in dyslexia are SPECIFIC and may ONLY show up in reading and spelling!

The IDA Practise Standards remind us that:

“Dyslexia and related learning difficulties often exist in individuals with aptitudes, talents, and abilities that enable them to be successful in many domains.”

If your child is not at grade level for reading or spelling, you need to get him/her assessed by a Speech–Language Pathologist.

2.) Secondary Problems

Secondary problems can include reduced reading comprehension and a lack of interest in reading (or downright hatred of reading!).

I get this a lot – parents say “my child reads fine, they just don’t understand what they read”.

Consider this a chicken-egg problem, and that your child probably has you fooled.  They may be using visual memory of words, their language skills and the context of the story, and basically guessing a large number of the words.  Or, they may be accurately identifying words, but it is requiring so much processing power there is little left for comprehension – we see this a lot with low fluency scores.  They cannot comprehend because they cannot truly READ (Ok, so it is not a chicken-egg problem.  Reading ability definitely comes before comprehension!)

If your child struggles with reading comprehension, I recommend getting an assessment of their oral language comprehension, decoding, and spelling skills.  How well are they reading, really?

3.) Dyslexia is … trouble recognizing and spelling WORDS

Is your child not at grade level?  Consider that it may be dyslexia!

Dyslexia occurs at the sound and word levels.  When a child is slow to identify a word accurately, OR has trouble representing a familiar word in spelling, it may be a mild form of Dyslexia.

The IDA Practise Standards remind us that reading abilities occur on a spectrum:

“Reading skill is distributed on a continuum; students may experience mild, moderate, or severe problems with some or all of the essential subskills of reading.”

Children may perceive letters and words as backwards or experience that the letters are jumping around on the page, but that does NOT classify, characterize, or define Dyslexia.  That is ONE manifestation or EXPERIENCE of dyslexia.

The takeaway?  The International Dyslexia Association states that in the US, 32% of children are “below average” by Gr. 4.   If there was a stronger understanding of what dyslexia is, these children would likely get diagnosed – and supported.  As is, only about 5% of children receive the diagnosis before Gr. 4.

Bear in mind, MANY children will be labelled as a “slow learner”, or “struggling reader”, or “below grade level”, even by Gr 1!!   However, these children don’t USUALLY get the specialized, individualized instruction that they need!  In schools, they don’t get taught in a way that is much different than the other kids that AREN’T struggling.

If these children were labelled with Dyslexia, would they get more help?  If 25% of kids received a diagnosis of Dyslexia, would it erase the stigma that can be associated with “learning disability”?  Food for thought …

Remember:  Dyslexia is difficulty in recognizing or spelling words.  Is your child not identifying or spelling words at grade level?  They may not need a diagnosis – but they DO need special instruction!!  How are you going to be sure they get it?

4.) Dyslexia is diagnosed AFTER effective classroom instruction!

If you take your child to a Psychologist prior to Grade three, reading disability support Calgary it is likely that you will hear something like “may meet the requirements for Learning Disability”, with a recommendation to re-assess after Grade three or Grade four to “see if they respond to intervention”.

It’s a Wait-and-See approach, and it is maddening for parents.  If the child gets some extra help, tutoring, small group work, pull-out time, and they make GAINS, it is not a learning disability.  If they get extra help and they DON’T, then it IS a learning disability.

We often have concerns in Kindergarten, but don’t receive the diagnosis until Grade 4.  And in the meantime, the child slips further and further behind.

Then, once a child is diagnosed in Grade Four, they get MORE of the SAME small-group and pull-out instruction that they had prior to Grade Four – the instruction that wasn’t WORKING!!


It says “effective instruction”.  Schools use Jolly Phonics, Lively Letters, Balanced Literacy, Guided Reading, Levelled Literacy Intervention… all packaged programs that help expose children to the aspects of literacy that typically developing students need.

Regular children, that is. However, for a child with a learning difference, these programs DO NOT provide effective instruction.

Even if a child gets pulled out of the classroom and works 1-1 with an adult doing Leveled Literacy Intervention, that is NOT effective instruction!

CONSIDER THIS YOUR WARNING!  There are many products, after-school programs, tutors, etc. that make it LOOK like they are teaching reading. But they are NOT FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES for effective instruction.

Parents need to know that when their child gets “extra help at school” and they “take them to the reading group on Wednesday evenings” that their child’s learning is NOT HANDLED!!  Parents are wasting their money and their child’s time.

(I wrote a blog post about this very topic, and you can access it here)

Children with a learning difference – a brain that is biologically different – need something SPECIAL.

According to the IDA:

“The methods [for teaching these children] supported by research are explicit, systematic, cumulative, and multisensory in that they integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They are also multilinguistic, as they directly teach the structure of language at all levels, including the speech sound system (phonology), the writing system (orthography), the structure of sentences (syntax), the meaningful parts of words (morphology), word and phrase meanings (semantics), and the organization of spoken and written discourse. The strategies emphasize planning, organization, attention to task, critical thinking, and self‐management.”

In my experience, children cannot GET effective instruction in most schools.  The type of instruction that IDA advocates for does not exist in the classroom.

It may happen in certain schools that have a highly qualified specialist, but my bet is that person is run ragged off their ass and cannot see all the children they need to see as often as they need to see them, so they are STILL not getting effective instruction.

Do you see the quandary in all of this?  Our educational system basically CANNOT diagnose Dyslexia, because it CANNOT say whether a child has been able to learn from effective instruction, because it DOES NOT provide effective instruction!!

So, what do they do? They wait. Parents wait. And children are diagnosed with a “learning disability” in Gr 5, or Gr 8, or High School, or even in College! (it’s much more common than you’d think).

The part that makes you want to gouge your eyeballs out with a spoon? EVERYBODY knew that these kids couldn’t read in Grade 1. Some kids, we can tell in Kindergarten. Even Pre-school. We can PREDICT dyslexia – we just can’t diagnose it!  These kids are FAILED by the system.

Luckily, the IDA Practise Standards indicate that:

“Although early intervention is the most effective way to prevent and ameliorate learning problems, individuals with dyslexia and other reading difficulties can be helped at any age.”

What if we didn’t wait?  What if we provided effective instruction as soon as we had concerns?

Within my practice, I offer a free parent consultation.  Bring me EVERYTHING – who your child is seeing, which “approach” or “program” or “method” they are taught with… I will give you a second opinion. I’m betting I can poke holes in whatever they are doing AND cite the RESEARCH that proves it is ineffective. Which puts you in an educated position to make an informed choice regarding your child’s future.

5.) My Recommendation

When your child is 4, or 5, or 6, 7, 8, 9, and they are not yet diagnosed, consider that they have a Dyslexia-type brain.  We don’t know if it is mild or severe. We don’t know if they will respond to certain types of teaching or not. We don’t know if the diagnostic label will fit in Gr. 4.

However, we CAN recognize when they have a learning difference. Why not consider that they have a dyslexic-type brain, that they are at-risk, and then purposefully DO something about it, and GET THEM specialized teaching?

At Speak2Read, we BUILT our program around the recommendations of the IDA. We designed our Instructional Approach SPECIFICALLY FOR CHILDREN who have difficulty reading and spelling words. We selected our strategies, our objectives and targets, our materials, and our activities based on the RESEARCH that proves children can learn when provided with effective instruction.

We CREATED effective instruction from research and best practise to support behind, at-risk, and diagnosed children. And we can tell EARLY – often at age 4 or 5 that your child may have a Dyslexia-type brain (remember, 32% of children do!)

And while I haven’t had the opportunity to put it into practice, this same research indicates that effective instruction helps with adult illiteracy and dyslexia too! I welcome ALL students!

And even if your child DOESN’T have dyslexia, they are still going to LEARN and BENEFIT from what we have to offer.

We ALWAYS create a custom-tailored, individualized plan for EVERY child. And we do so because we must – it is the ONLY thing that works.

The IDA Practise Standards tell us that:

“Different kinds of reading and writing difficulties require different approaches to instruction. One program or approach will not meet the needs of all students.”

If your child is behind other children of the same age or not reading at expected grade level, a comprehensive assessment with a Speech – Language Pathologist is the most informative thing you can do to learn about your child.

If your child has ANY difficulty in expressing themselves – with speech sounds, saying words correctly, finding the right words, forming sentences – it is never too early to get started!

Feeling unsure?  I offer a free consultation for parents to ask their questions and discuss their concerns. In fact, you can book online without leaving our website! Follow the link at the top of the page or