12 Terms to Know If Your Child Struggles With Reading

By Emily Lapkin

98Found this helpful
98Found this helpful

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.

1 of 12


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.”

2 of 12


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.”

3 of 12


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.

4 of 12

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.

5 of 12


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.

6 of 12


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

7 of 12

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.

8 of 12


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.

9 of 12

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.

10 of 12

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.

11 of 12

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.

12 of 12

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.

View the tips again

11 Great Quotes About Dyslexia

People with learning and attention issues often have a lot to say about how those challenges have shaped their lives. Here are 11 great quotes about dyslexia to inspire you and your child.

8 Tips for Introducing Dyslexia to Your Child

Before he ever hears the word dyslexia, your child may be aware that he reads and writes differently than other kids. But he doesn’t know why, or how it may affect his future. Here’s how to explain.

About the Author

Expert Avatar

Emily Lapkin

More by this author

Reviewed by Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M. Jan 12, 2014 Jan 12, 2014

Did you find this helpful?

More to Explore

  • Parenting Coach

    Practical ideas for social, emotional and behavioral challenges.

  • Tech Finder

    Find technology to help your child.

    Select platform or device
  • Through Your Child’s Eyes

    Simulations and videos to let you experience your child’s world.

  • Anatomy of an Email to a Teacher

    Use this guide to help you structure a letter that will get the best response.

  • Video: Does ADHD Ever Just Go Away?

    Watch this video to see an expert explain how ADHD may change with age.

  • Join a Group!

    A safe place for you to connect with other parents like you.

  • The Difference Between Services and Supports

    While these terms may be used interchangeably, they mean different things.

  • “Can My Child Change Teachers Mid-Year?”

    Is your child’s teacher not a good fit? Here, five experts weigh in on switching.