Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dyslexia: what’s it got to do with talking?

Written by Amanda Baxter
 (Communication Advisor for I CAN, the children’s communication charity)

My best friend at school had dyslexia (she still has). No, really, she does – it’s not just made up for this blog. She is funny, bright and full of good ideas but when it came to reading, writing and maths she found it really hard. Even now she loves reading but it takes her ages to read a book.  She can also find it tricky to put ideas in the right order. When she tells you a story she often gets the ideas mixed up so you’re sometimes not sure about the beginning, the middle and the end and who did what, to who and when.

All of these signs are classic of dyslexia. Dyslexia is defined as ‘a specific learning difficulty that has a neurological origin’ (International Dyslexia Association). In other words, it comes from the way the brain processes information and it means that people with dyslexia have difficulties taking in and making sense of how written words work. It isn’t related to overall intelligence, but it can have an impact on children’s learning and self confidence if the right support isn’t available early on.
Being able to read and write relies on a good understanding of how sounds go together to make up words (phonological skills).Underlying dyslexia are difficulties with this phonological awareness and processing. Phonological awareness is made up of a set of skills that allow us to know about how words work. These skills are:
  • Hearing words that rhyme and being able to think of real or made-up words  that rhyme
  • Identifying which sound words begin with
  • Knowing the sounds that make up a word and being able to sound these out (segmenting)
  • Putting the sounds together to make a word (blending)
  • Knowing how many syllables make up a word (e.g. cat = 1, lemon = 2, computer = 3)
  • Being able to substitute sounds at the beginnings and ends of words to make new words
Most children develop these skills without them being taught but some children will need some extra help. These abilities will affect children’s reading and writing skills and also the way that they learn and store words in their mind.
There are also lots of other signs associated with dyslexia but, as an advisor for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, we’re best placed to talk about the language impact! (Other factors are very important, but we’re not experts in those areas so we’ll leave it to them).

What should I do if I’m worried?
  • Think about when they started to talk and how they are doing with their talking and communicating now – is everything going as you would expect? You can use a Progress Checker to find out how they’re doing for their age.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher or keyworker and see how they’re doing generally. What are they doing well with? What do they find harder?
  • Talk to us at I CAN Help, our enquiry service where parents or professionals can have a free, confidential call-back from a speech and language therapist. We can talk about your concerns and find you more support, if you need it.
  • Find out more: go to and the British Dyslexia Association
What can I do to give my child the best start?
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child – this will give them lots of experience of hearing rhymes and different rhythms.
  • Play games like I Spy that let your child identify and tell you the first sound of a word
  • Clapping out the number of syllables in a word. This gives your child more information about the word and how it’s made up.
  • Sort objects into different categories e.g. ‘things we wear’ and ‘things we eat’. This helps children know more about the words and objects and can help them build up their vocabulary.
  • Play listening games with your child: you can find more for different ages at or by looking at our Early Talkers activity resources at Playing games will support your child’s ability to tell the differences between sounds, which is a vital skill for learning to read and write.
Will my child grow out of dyslexia?
The short answer is ‘no’ but with the right help and support you can help them to live with it and learn strategies that will help them. Getting the right help, right from the start means that they have a much better chance of being able to achieve what they want.

Did I tell you that my best friend is a rocket scientist? No, really, I mean it – she is an engineer, has a PhD and has worked for NASA. It hasn’t always been easy but with support at school and university she got there.  She still thinks Hairy McLairy doesn’t make sense because she can’t hear the rhyme; but she can build a mean rocket.
Try these activities at home:

Rhyming game from Toddler Talk

What’s the aim? Finding out about words that rhyme

How to do it?
Introduce the idea of rhyming by saying that “rhyming is when words sound nearly the same”.  Give examples by saying “Cat and hat, they rhyme. So do mat, fat, rat and sat”.
After you’ve given lots of examples say ‘Let’s think of something that rhymes with “house”. Encourage your child to by giving them ideas of words that might rhyme and saying them next to each other, e.g. “House and mouse – they rhyme. What about house and dog? They don’t.”
Some children may take quite a while to learn about rhyming. If it’s too difficult just yet, come back to this activity later.

Too difficult?
Sharing books with your child, especially with lines that rhyme is a really useful way of finding out about rhyme. When you come across rhyming words, point them out “Oh look, those words rhyme – bee and sea”.

Too easy?
Ask your child to come up with new words to rhyme with a word that you say, e.g. “how many words can you think of to rhyme with four?” It’s fine to include made-up or nonsense words in the list.

Further information:
Any parent with a question or concern about their child’s communication, can contact the I CAN Help Enquiry Service for a call or email from a speech and language therapist – visit
For information and resources to develop a child’s communication skills, go to or
For information on dyslexia, check out the British Dyslexia Association

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