Readers for Life: Alternative programs for people with dyslexia

Traditional reading programs are not always effective for young people struggling with dyslexia.The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”


Dyslexia Australia states that “it is characterised by a visual and experiential learning style.” Therefore, “[m]ethods using this learning style allow dyslexic people to realise their capabilities and minimise the negative impact commonly developed by conventional methods.”

You can also watch this TED video to further understand dyslexia:

But what specific kinds of reading instruction are helpful for children with dyslexia? The Australian Dyslexia Association contend that “individuals with dyslexia…require explicit, direct and systematic instruction in both oral and written language.” The ‘golden standard’ for dyslexia instruction is known as the Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) Orton Gillingham approach.

Developed in the 1930’s by Samuel Torrey Orton and Anna Gillingham, this approach has gained popular support, though seems to be lacking in any definitive empirical evidence as to its efficacy. Nonetheless, the approach is used widely across the US, Canada, UK and Australia.

There are a number of elements involved in the MSL Orton Gillingham approach, with the basic premise being that it employs multisensory (visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic) techniques to teach the language of sounds (phonemes) in an explicit and systematic way. It is personalised and flexible, structured and cumulative.

Dyslexia affects children from outside of these western locations, and the MSL Orton Gillingham approach is of course not the only way to help children with dyslexia learn to read. There is some interesting research that looks at how dyslexia manifests across different languages. Scientists argue that dyslexia has a common neurological cause, however complexities in different languages can exacerbate the problem. For example, a child may have difficulties reading in English, but not Chinese because they rely on different parts of the brain. For an in-depth discussion, read Joanna Nijakowska’s book on dyslexia in foreign language acquisition, an issue that arises in Europe where many children are expected to be multilingual. It follows that different programs would be needed for different languages. Assistive technology and software programs are opening many doors, and are not limited by the individual’s location or language.

Here are some questions you might like to discuss with your partner:

  • Have you heard of any alternative literacy programs for people with a learning difficulty?
  • What other opportunities for learning are you aware of that can be helpful for people with dyslexia?
  • Are you multilingual? If so, did you find learning to read more difficult in a particular language?

Get involved in the conversation and share your answers below or on our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages.

Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer.

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016A and tagged , , , , .

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