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Non Linguistic Causes for Struggling readers

These causes include: perception in sequential sounds, sound frequency discrimination, detection of target sounds in noise, visual magnocelluar-deficit hypothesis, motor coordination and the cerebellum, Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder.

Perception in Sequential Sounds

The cause of this disorder is linked to the auditory processing of sound waves.  Struggling readers demonstrate an inablitiy to distinguish sounds when repeated quickly and also find it difficult to place two sounds in the correct order.  It makes sense that researchers believe that the inability to distinguish sounds may be caused by how similar the letters sound, I know that when I have played the “Telephone Game” the way things gets twisted is because of how difficult sounds are distinguished when whispering.  Maybe struggling readers struggle with similar issues.  Hmmm!  Sousa (2005) suggests the following strategies:

  • Begin instruction using continuous sounds such as /s/, /m/, and /f/ that are easier to pronounce and remember
  • Because it is easier for the brain to hear syllables than individual phonemes have students use markers to count out the syllables and identify the words
One of my favorite activities that I do with my kiddos is have them guess the word that I have broken up into syllables.  They love it.  Emma is quite proficient at it and although Chase struggles sometimes, he will often ask to play the syllable game.

Sound Frequency Discrimination

Sound-frequency discrimination can be caused by hearing loss or deafness. Some people are unable to hear the differences is sound frequency.  This defect makes it difficult for individuals to hear tone and pitch in speech. Wright (2000) explains that recent information leads the idea that sound-frequency discrimination is also a perceptional problem.  To help students hear the words

  • speak clearly and enunciate.
  • Give both spoken and written  directions so that students have an opportunity to have the directions given in a multitude of ways.
  • Use computer programs to help students with sound-segmentation tasks.

Detection of Target Sounds in Noise

Individuals have been diagnosed with hearing impairment and language disorders.  Those exhibiting this disorder find it difficult to hear specific sounds when there is background noise.  Researchers believe that auditory functions play a large role in reading disorders. One strategy that may help students hear tones over background noise is having the teacher speak slowly and clearly through a microphone.

Visual Magnocellular-Deficit Hypothesis 

The hypothesis is that there is a deficit in the visual processing system.  The defict causes poor recognition of visual motion.  Letters on a page may appear to move and bunch up.  Some say that visual impairment is a small cause of dyslexia. Binocular glasses have proven to aide students with their binocular stability.  Not only should instructions be written, but they should also be spoken.  It is imperative that students have their vision tested.

Motor Coordination and the Cerebellum

Some students with dyslexia have smaller lobes on the right side of the brain. These problems could be traced back to visual and auditory deficits. Deficiencies in this part of the brain make it difficult for to for those to read, write, and spell.  Infants with this deficiency may be delayed in sitting up and walking, babbling, and speaking. When someone struggles with motor coordination their articulation and fluency is hampered.  Poor motor coordination leads to  difficulty to understanding onset rime and phonemic structure.  Poor handwriting and spelling are linked to poor motor coordination and the cerebellum.

  • Have students practice skills to strengthen motor coordination.
  • Have students write words on a piece of paper, than have them cut the words out using straight and curved lines.
  • Use pick up sticks to create shapes, numbers, letters.
  • Have students play with dough and spell out words in their unit of study.
Chase struggles big time with motor coordination, both fine and gross.  Although he struggles with his motor coordination he really enjoys the different activities that we work on at home – play dough is a particular favorite.  The day that I brought home wiki sticks and had the kids write their names was an incredible day. I wrote letters and had them make the letters with their favorite color.  Afterwards I had then color in the letter.  They loved taking off the letter and seeing their creation underneath.   Granted, the minute that Chase finished spelling his name he started to make a train out of the plastic strips.  We have done similar activities with play dough.  
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Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder

Genetics seem to have a basis in ADHD, and theorists believe that a parents environment may lead to ADHD. Students find it difficult to focuss or pay attention.  They often have developmental reading problems. Researchers understand that the brain goes through a difficult process as it attempts to learn. Computer based programs may be the wave of the future in not only helping reading comprehension but also in ADHD. It is suggested that teachers and parents may help struggling readers by using computer based programs to help get students attention.  Another powerful strategy is to utilize multiple intelligence activities to help students in all areas of learning.

I remember sitting in the Neurologists office as he gave us the diagnosis of PDD-NOS for Chase.  He then mentioned almost as a side note that our then three year old exhibited extreme ADHD.  He mentioned that eventually we would need to put our son on medication to help him in a classroom setting.  We started Vyvance at four, Adderall at five and this spring we tryed going back to vyvance at a higher dosage.  It sent Chase into a nose dive emotionally and behaviorally.  Although Chase is now on several medications that help his emotions and behaviors I find that it is the differentiated instruction that Mrs. M provides that really helps him improve in reading.  One program that he is working on right now is called Iready.  He doesn’t like to use the computer, but is slowly getting used to it.  


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

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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.