New insights and teacher takeaways on phonological theory, causes of developmental dyslexia, and diagnostic criteria.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so you know what that means! It’s time to look at the new research and how teachers can use it to support their students with dyslexia.
We’re highlighting three takeaways from John Stein’s 2023 research summary, "Theories about Developmental Dyslexia". Keep reading to see what these new findings mean for your teaching practices.
1. Insights into the phonological theory of dyslexia
The phonological theory of dyslexia is one of the most widely accepted explanations for the underlying causes of developmental dyslexia. It asserts that individuals with dyslexia experience difficulty with phonological processing—meaning they struggle to develop the skills needed to break words down into a sequence of phonemes.
But Stein’s summary puts a magnifying glass to this theory and has identified several limitations:
The phonological theory cannot explain all cases of dyslexia. For example, some children with dyslexia have difficulty with reading but not spelling, or vice versa.
The phonological theory doesn’t explain why some children with dyslexia have difficulty with aspects of language apart from reading, such as grammar or vocabulary.
The phonological theory can’t account for the fact that many children with dyslexia also have problems with rapid automatized naming (RAN), which measures how quickly someone can name letters, numbers, or pictures.
Each of these points suggests that other factors may be involved in dyslexia besides phonological deficits.
The limitations of the phonological theory have several implications for teachers of students with dyslexia:
It’s essential to recognize that dyslexia is a complex condition that can’t be fully explained by any single theory—meaning it’s more important now than ever to use a variety of teaching methods to meet the needs of your students.
Some students with dyslexia may have trouble with tasks that require RAN, like quickly naming letters, numbers, or colors. If a student is having difficulty with a RAN task, it may be helpful to provide them with extra time or to break the task down into smaller steps.
Stein’s summary reminds us that the phonological theory doesn’t account for all the difficulties dyslexic students may experience. For example, some students with dyslexia may require more comprehension, vocabulary, or grammar support. As such, it is crucial to assess students for a range of needs and to provide them with support in all areas where they need it.
2. Temporal processing and developmental dyslexia
Stein’s article goes on to summarize findings that highlight the issue of temporal processing—the ability to process rapidly changing information over time—in students with dyslexia.
A 2022 study found that children with dyslexia had difficulty discriminating between rapidly presented visual stimuli. Another study found that children with dyslexia had difficulty processing auditory information presented at a rapid rate.
These findings indicate that impaired temporal processing may be a key factor in the development of dyslexia. Stein states, “Such a temporal processing disorder in the visual or auditory domains, or both, has now been found in most people with developmental dyslexia.”
If impaired temporal processing is indeed a cause of dyslexia, these easy-to-implement classroom strategies may go a long way to support all students:
Focus on instructional supports that improve temporal processing skills, such as the supplemental language and reading program Fast ForWordTM. Teachers can also practice activities that involve rapid naming, sequencing, and auditory discrimination to strengthen temporal processing skills.
Allow students extra time to process information and complete assignments. When planning for the time a student may need to complete a task, consider breaking it into smaller, more manageable steps.
Teach to all learning modalities with an emphasis on visual supports and hands-on activities.
3. The myth of dyslexia and IQ tests
Finally, Stein’s research summary covers the discrepancy criterion for diagnosing dyslexia, which states that dyslexia is diagnosed when a child's reading ability is significantly lower than their IQ.
However, Stein argues that this criterion is unreliable, as IQ tests can be biased against children with dyslexia. Many children with dyslexia do not have a significant discrepancy between their reading ability and IQ.
Although studies have shown dyslexia is not tied to IQ for many years, it’s important to revisit this topic because of enduring myths and misconceptions that many students with dyslexia face in school and the real world.
Teachers of students with dyslexia should keep the following points in mind. It’s important not to make any assumptions about ability and intelligence and to meet a student where they’re at with differentiated instruction based on their strengths:
IQ tests may not accurately measure intelligence in children with dyslexia. Rely on multiple methods of formal and informal assessment to determine where best to meet each student.
The discrepancy criterion is not a reliable way to diagnose dyslexia. Avoid comparing a student’s reading ability to their IQ score to determine whether they have suspected dyslexia.
Many children with dyslexia do not have a significant discrepancy between their reading ability and IQ. Don’t assume that a student doesn’t have dyslexia if they have a high IQ; instead, maintain awareness that dyslexia can occur in students of all ability levels.
Watch the annual Dyslexia Awareness Month webinar
As we take a moment to acknowledge Dyslexia Awareness Month 2023, we want to celebrate the compassionate and innovative work you do with your students daily. We applaud you for joining us in increasing our awareness of what dyslexia is, how it affects our students and children, and what we can do to support them and their unique strengths and challenges.
We invite you to continue learning with us! Sign up to join our 2023 Dyslexia Awareness Month webinar on October 24, 2023.
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author