12 Terms to Know If Your Child Struggles With Reading

By Emily Lapkin

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If your child struggles with reading issues or dyslexia, you may be unfamiliar with the lingo you’re hearing. Here are some key terms to help you take an active role in conversations about your child’s reading issues.

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A language-based processing disorder that causes trouble with reading, spelling, writing and sometimes speaking. In schools, dyslexia is generally referred to as a “reading disability” or as a type of “specific learning disability.”

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The ability to sound out letters and words. As readers learn which symbols (letters) are associated with certain sounds, they can start to make sense of printed words and translate them to speech. Decoding or “sounding out” a new word is sometimes called “word attack.”

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The ability to read sentences correctly and quickly, without having to stop and decode every word. This leap in processing enables readers to focus on the meaning of a passage of text. Fluency is key to reading comprehension.

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Multisensory structured language education

A common way to teach reading and spelling that engages the senses of sight, sound, motion and touch. Multisensory approaches emphasize how a letter or word looks and sounds. Instruction includes what your lips and tongue need to do to produce particular sounds and what your arms and hands need to do to write each letter of the alphabet. Multisensory structured language (MSSL) programs also explicitly teach the structure of the English language in terms of grammar and meaning.

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In the early 20th century, Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist, introduced a multisensory structured approach to teaching people with dyslexia. Orton-Gillingham is the foundation for many programs used today.

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The smallest units of sound that are used to form words. For example, peek has three phonemes: p, ē, and k.

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Phonemic awareness

Noticing and identifying individual sounds in spoken words. Readers who are aware of the different phonemes in a word can start putting them together (“b-a-t” becomes bat). This is called phonemic blending. Readers can also move in the opposite direction and break a word into different phonemes (pulling apart bat into “b-a-t”). This is called phonemic segmentation.

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The relationship between letters and the sounds they make. This knowledge is essential to a reader’s ability to sound out, or decode, and to spell, or encode, words.

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Phonological awareness

Identifying the sounds of words and word parts. Readers who have this awareness can find words that rhyme (mother and brother) and identify words that start with similar sounds (mother and money). Learn more about how phonological awareness works.

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Phonological processing

Distinguishing between different sounds within words. Children who struggle with this may leave out key sounds (saying boom instead of broom) or substitute some sounds for others (saying tat instead of cat). Difficulties with phonological processing are common in young children, but continuing difficulties can present many challenges by the second or third grade.

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Rapid automatized naming

The ability to name colors, pictures, objects or letters rapidly, in a sequence. Variations in rapid automatized naming (RAN) are thought to predict abilities in letter recognition, word recognition and recalling the sounds of letters.

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Word recognition

The ability to read words by sight, or without having to sound them out. Word recognition—having “sight words”—helps a beginning reader become a fluent reader.

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About the Author

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Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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