Dyslexia (reading learning disorder)

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that results in difficulty learning to read. Although there are a number of different factors that can play a role, research indicates that dyslexia is mostly caused by deficits in the following foundational skills:

Phonological processing

Understanding that spoken words are made of up small sounds (phonemes) that are blended together, and that these sounds can be identified and manipulated.

Verbal memory span/working memory

Verbal memory span, also called verbal short-term memory, represents the amount of new information you can hold in mind at one time. Working memory refers to the ability to keep information in mind and manipulate it.

Rapid naming

This refers to how quickly and efficiently someone is able to find and retrieve information from memory. With sufficient practice, the retrieval of some information should become “automatic.”

Research has demonstrated that specific deficits in verbal memory span/working memory and phonological processing are prevalent in Duchenne, and can occur across all IQ levels.


Pre-iteracy (0-3 years)

Focus on language development and frequent reading to the child.

Pre-literacy (3-5 years)

Focus on phonemic awareness by playing rhyming, sound-matching, and sound-segmentation games. Using pictures or real objects can help engage the child. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • “Here is a ball. Ball starts with the /b/ sound. Here is a hat, a car, and a boat. Which one starts with the /b/ sound like ball?”
  • “Let’s play ‘Slow Motion’. I’m going to talk really slow, and you try to guess what word I’m saying (say words one sound at a time and have the child put the sounds together and guess what word it is).”

Early Literacy (ages 5-7 years)

Focus on Systematic Phonics Instruction
  • Research clearly shows that intensive phonics instruction helps improve reading problems in many kids who have or are at risk for dyslexia. There are several different types of systematic phonics instruction. Synthetic Phonics, which teaches children how to break words down into sounds and then blend the sounds together to form the word, is probably the most common form.
  • Research clearly shows that the best outcome occurs when struggling or at-risk children receive early and intensive help (e.g., during Kindergarten and during 1st grade). If a child with Duchenne is struggling with learning to read, be proactive in referring him to the reading/dyslexia specialist at school for evaluation.

Intermediate Literacy and Beyond (ages 7+)

Focus on Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension
  • Fluency means becoming quick and efficient in reading, which is important for academic success. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of learning to read. Re-reading the same short passage multiple times can help improve reading fluency. These short passages should be slightly below a child’s ability level, so that they can read about 90% of the words accurately.

General comments on dyslexia intervention

  • Just telling a child with dyslexia to “read more” is not effective; research has shown that independent reading by itself does not correct the disorder.
  • Some people think that sight-word memorization is a good strategy for children with reading problems (teaching them to recognize the word based on how it looks, not on sounding it out). The problem is that they tend to max out at around 3,000-5,000 words, which is far short of the number needed for fluent reading. Phonological awareness and phonics instruction must be an integral part of the process.
  • Children with dyslexia will forget the reading skills they have learned if they are not reinforced or repeated. Thus, good reading programs build upon and reinforce previously learned skills, rather than switching to a different task or skill. Ongoing practice and review of previously learned steps will be necessary.
  • Be patient with the child when attempting to teach reading skills. For children who struggle with dyslexia, it will be a long process that requires lots of repetition and encouragement to build confidence and skills.

Compensatory strategies

Despite intervention, some children may continue to have difficulty reading. Compensatory strategies do not “treat” the underlying problem like interventions do, but they may make it easier for a child who is experiencing dyslexia to succeed in the classroom. Below are modifications that teachers may need to make.

  • Oral presentation of new information that the student would otherwise have to read.
  • Allowing the use of books on tape when available, or allowing someone to read the material to the child.
  • Oral presentation and responding during tests and assignments, either in person or via use of a tape recorder.
  • Allowing extra time for the completion of assignments.
  • Removing time limits on tests.

Information in this section was contributed, in part, by James Poysky, PhD. Read Dr. Poysky’s entire document, Learning and Behavior in Duchenne (download).