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Four years ago I created a chart that delved into linguistic and non-linguistic causes, characteristics, research and strategies for struggling readers.  Little did I realize that the research I conducted would come handy in helping my own child.

Linguistic Causes

I found seven linguistic causes behind struggling readers:

Phonological Deficits

Phonological awareness is an auditory process, and learning to read becomes difficult when the brain fails to decode the sounds necessary to form language.   Those with phonological deficits find rhyming and matching letters to specific sounds difficult.   Many confuse the similar letters such as d and b.  Students struggle with their short-term memory in regards to word recall and find it difficult to automatically respond when asked to repeat things quickly.  Studies found that remedial reading programs showed considerable effectiveness in struggling readers.  Strategies that have been successful in remedial reading programs include

  • Practice letter and letter-name fluency
  • Model the activity students are to accomplish.
  • Move from easy to difficult tasks (ie. Rhyming – deletion).
  • Begin with larger words and work down to smaller phonemes.
  • Utilize the Reading Recovery Program.  Students meet for 30 minute sessions daily for 12-16 weeks building on phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, and fluency.
  • Utilize positive classroom management cooperative learning, partner reading, standards-based assessments from Success for All –Reading First programs.
  • Teach students to try variations of vowels in unfamiliar words until they know a word.
Chase struggles with express and receptive language.  His teachers mentioned that when it came to phonological awareness he did well, after intense repetition and review.  Several times teachers have mentioned that at some point we might want to have him tested for dyslexia.  As of right now his teacher Mrs. M does a great job of utilizing several of these strategies.  One of the most successful activities she uses with Chase is having him learn Fry Phrases to help build reading automaticity.

Differences in Auditory and Visual Processing Speeds

Have you ever noticed that while your eyes follow the words on a page inside your head you are repeating or sounding out those words.  What happens if your ability to synchronize the letters you see with the phoneme (letter sounds) that you hear is impaired?   Temporal processing impairment occurs when the brain confuses the initial sound with the final sound of a word.  Research has found that when some students read they see the words correctly, however they don’t hear them correctly.  In order to counterbalance this impairment researchers must find a way to bring the auditory and visual processing speeds closer together, which could help alleviate some of the students problems.  This can be done by:

  • Fast ForWord
  • Listening to books on tape through headphones while reading along.
  • Giving visual instructions as well as oral directions.
  • Slow the rate in which information is given to the students.
  • Utilize rhyming and sorting games to build auditory processing abilities.

Structural Differences in the Brain

Brains containing less gray matter in the Wernicke’s area and in the frontal lobe contribute to dyslexia.  MRI’s show the brain in dyslectics is  structurally different through showing less gray matter than normal non-dyslexic brains.  Scientists believe the brain can improve through

  • Finding ways to incorporate movement into activities.  Ie. Readers theatre.
  • Include a variety of lessons teaching the same material

Phonologic Memory Deficit

Those who struggle with reading rely more on the Broca’s area of the brain instead of the word processing regions in the left rear part of the brain.  What this means is that they struggle with putting several phonemes together to create a word or a series of words and they struggle to maintain verbal information in their working memory.  Research shows the best way to improve phonologic memory is to

  • Read literature rich in rhyme.
  • Play games that have students match up pictures with beginning sounds, such as dominos.
  • Students play picture bingo in which they match the picture on their bingo card with the matching beginning or ending sound called out.
  • Repeat information often for retention.
  • Link reading to cause and effect.

Genetics and Gender

Have you ever noticed that more boys then girls have been diagnosed with reading problems?  Have you ever wondered if reading difficulties were genetic?  There is quiite a bit of disagreement as to whether boys really do struggle with reading more than girls.  Some put forth that boys put forth more disruptive behavior than girls, thus leading to more attention.  It is imperative that educators pay attention to all of their students, and keep their eyes open for the signs and symptoms of reading difficulties.  Other scholars maintain that studies show that more males struggle with reading problems even on into adulthood, proving that it is important that we must recognize that there is indeed a need to recognize these sexual differences.  To add to this theory research shows that genetic mutations in the brain of those with reading problems could hamper the growth of normal pathways, and scientists may have identified the genes responsible for these genetic mutations. There is an interesting webquest that I found that delves into the research behind gender and genetics.

I’m not sure which side of the debate I agree with.  I know that reading difficulties are genetic.  My mother is dyslexic, I have Specific Learning Disorder/ Reading, my son has several specific reading issues that we haven’t even pinpointed them all.  My daughter shows no signs of reading difficulties.  

Legions in the word form area of the brain

Some people with dyslexia have lesions in the left occipito-temporal part of the brain.  Students with lesions will have difficulty decoding written text.  PET scans have linked students with dyslexia with lesions of the brain. They have found that amount of blood flow to the occipito-temporal area of the brain may be used to identify those with dyslexia.  The interesting thing about these types of lesions is that through “brain exercises” and the of a multi-sensory approach with students may aide struggling readers.

Word Blindness

There are two ways that word blindness occurs:  word blindness can occur during the embryonic development of a fetus in which the neurons are formed improperly, causing congenital word-blindness.  Acquired word-blindness happens when the brain is affected by some sort of trauma that effects the left side of the brain.  Word-blindness is characterized by the inability for the person to read the words although their eyes see normally.  The frontal lobe then tries compensate the problems in the rear parts of the brain.


Gay, G. (n.d.) Remediation for Reading Learning Disabilities Resource Community.

Hudson, R., Lane, P., Pullen, P., Torgesen, J., The complex nature of reading

fluency: A multidimensional view.  Reading and Writing Quarterly, 25, 4-32

Frostig, M. and Maslow, P. (1979). Neuropsychological contributions to education.  Journal of Learning Disabilities,(12),8, 40-54.

Moncreiff, D.  (2004)  Temporal Processing Deficits in Children With Dyslexia.  

National Center for Learning Disabilities. (1999). Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders 

Ramos, R.  And Szenkovits, G. (2008) What phonological deficit The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 61, 1, 129-141

Sousa, D. A. (2005). How the brain learns to read. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wright, B. A., Bowen, R. W. and Zecker, S. G. (2000).  Nonlinguiustic perceptual deficits associated with reading and language disorders.  Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 10, 482-486.