7 Main Causes of Reading and Spelling Difficulties

Posted by Erica Warren on

It is estimated that up to 10% of the general population struggles with dyslexia. While some studies call that a conservative estimate, many more people of all ages struggle to read and spell.
7 Main Causes of Reading and Spelling Difficulties

Many parents with dyslexic students or even adults with dyslexia or other learning disabilities find themselves in this situation. They are armed with a label but no real solution and some may feel it means that those with reading and spelling difficulties will never come to love reading and written language. However, with the right help that is almost certainly not the case!

There are Many Ways to Teach Reading and Spelling

There are a multitude of ways to teach both reading and spelling. In fact, many teachers and practitioners unite a few methods. Here are a few common techniques:

1) Whole Word Approach:

In this approach, children learn to read by repeated exposure to written words, images, and the sound of the words. They use their visual memory to remember each word.

2) Phonics Method:

This method helps students learn how to decode words through basic sound-symbol associations. They learn the separate speech sounds blends, digraphs, and common word endings to name a few. By blending individual speech sounds children can learn to decode or sound out words. They also tend to teach irregular words or sight words in a whole word approach.

3) Multisensory Approach:

This approach suggests that children need to learn by processing new lessons using the many senses. Tracing, listening, writing, seeing, singing and kinesthetic methods are often employed to learn challenging words and correct spelling mistakes. Multisensory techniques can be used with both phonics and linguistic approaches and the often employ strategies when students need to write words multiple times.

Teaching Writing Skills

4) Teaching Higher-Order Language Skills:

This technique helps students to employ improved reading and spelling by learning skills such as making inferences, predicting, reasoning, making personal connections, and problem-solving. This can help them to develop metacognitive approaches and learn where they can employ mindful strategies to their reading, spelling, and basic language skills.

5) Neurological Impress Technique:

This option involves a teacher and student reading at the same time from the same passage. The teacher reads, in the student's dominant ear, a bit faster than the student to maintain reading fluency. This can also be employed when conducting spelling instruction.

6) Language Experience Approach:

This whole language approach teaches reading through the use of activities and stories created from the personal experiences of the learner. It can also be used for teaching spelling for students with language learning weaknesses.

7) Visualization Instruction:

This approach teaches children to picture words and the spelling of words in the mind's eye. It also helps them to picture the stories they read much like a personal movie in their mind.

three kids with dyslexia happily reading

Reading is a Neurological Process

Reading is a cognitive or neurological process that the brain undertakes every time it is presented with text on the page. In order to target the primary cause of reading difficulties and to find a solution, we have to look at different areas where that encoding can break down.

Seven Common Causes of Reading and Spelling Difficulties

There are seven main causes of reading and spelling difficulty that we have found to date. If you or someone you know is dyslexic, see if any of them match up with what you experience.

1) Optilexia 

The main sign of Optilexia is guessing when reading, particularly with short words. Sometimes the longer words seem easier and the reader will read a word without a problem on one page, but not the next. Spelling ability in freewriting situations is atrocious, but the Optilexic can usually perform well on spelling tests. Unfamiliar words and place names will feel very difficult. The underlying cause of Optilexia can be found in how the learner is processing the text visually rather than aurally. Once that has been switched, a steady rate of progress can be gained and spelling problems can be diminished.

2) Eye-Tracking Weakness 

Does your child skip words and lines? Do single words seem easier than sentences and paragraphs of text? Normally a reader's eyes perform a refined jump from word cluster to word cluster left to right, called a saccade. Some struggling readers have weakness in the neural feedback loops controlling the eye muscles that control this movement. That makes focusing accurately on a word in a sentence very hard. The right simple eye-tracking exercises usually fix this neural weakness in just days.

3) Irlen Syndrome 

Has your child ever complained about the words moving around on the page? The human eye has a great visual sensitivity to changes in color and brightness in order to identify patterns. However, some struggling readers have an over-sensitivity to black text on white background, which causes the words to shimmer or moves around on the page. This can be alleviated with colored films to soften the level of contrast.

smiling boy with dyslexia

 4) Memory Difficulties 

Memory plays a big part in the reading process and in spelling skills. During reading, not only does the person have to remember each sound when decoding a word, but then multiple words need to be remembered for a sentence, and then sentences remembered to comprehend a paragraph. Poor spelling is also a problem when people have poor visual memory and short-term memory challenges at large because they have great difficulty retaining all this information when reading and spelling. Short-term memory difficulties have very distinct symptoms. In reading this can show up as poor comprehension, stilted reading flow and difficulty remember phonemes when sounding out a long word. For spelling words or spelling competence, word recall and the correct sequence of letters can be a problem. In life, this can show up as an inability to remember multi-step directions, lists of items, spelling rules, word meaning, and being generally forgetful of recent events.

5) Attention Deficit 

Have you seen your child struggling to focus on the task of reading or when asked to spell words? Are they fidgeting? Perhaps they are easily distracted. I am sure you know why reading is harder than it should be. However, I am also sure you have seen your child happily focusing for long periods on some tasks; ones that seem enjoyable! That is the key to fixing this issue. Make reading fun with games.

6) Fluency Block

Does your child decode words competently, but struggle to read fluently? A conventional reader uses a part of their brain called the letterbox cortex to recognize common letter groupings. Amazingly you are able to raed scarblmed txet quite flnuetly, due to this function. Some struggling readers bypass their letterbox cortex when reading, instead of using visual memory to store letter groupings. This causes the reader to be able to decode quickly but never really develop any fluency or smoothness. To fix this tricky problem means engaging this very specialist bit of cortex in the decoding process. We do that with anagrams.

7) Stress Spirals 

Reading and spelling is a higher brain function and is therefore controlled by the frontal cortex. When the brain is under stress, 70% of the frontal cortex energy is diverted to the fight or flight center (amygdala) and the brain loses its capacity to think clearly. A child who struggles with reading and spelling words is in a state of stress when trying. Therefore, this sets the child up for inadequate mental resources when attempting to read. The pattern of being under stress and getting more stressed when trying creates a downward stress spiral which often results in meltdowns, tears and finally giving up.

Understanding the Cause Can Lead to the Solution

By understanding the root causes behind the learning disability or difficulty, one can often uncover the needed support. Using reading and spelling diagnostic test options can often uncover these hurtles too and evaluations can be pursued through local school districts or comprehensive psychoeducational assessments can be achieved within your community.

Whether you, your student, or your child struggles with reading or spelling difficulties, there are multiple pathways to reading and language-based spelling instruction that one can take. The trick is finding the methods that are most empowering for the learner and don't forget to bring joy into the learning process.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

 

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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