Specific Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia: FAQ’s

magic bookDyslexia and Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) in reading are often mistaken for two separate conditions. They are two different names for the same underlying problem- a disability in reading. There are several skills that must be learned before a student is able to read. Children with SLD in reading (dyslexia) struggle to acquire the fundamental skills in order to be able to decode and comprehend written language. Here are common questions asked about this disability.

What is SLD/dyslexia?

A Specific Learning Disability in reading, or dyslexia, is a persistent and chronic neurobehavioral disorder. It is characterized by difficulties with word recognition, decoding skills, and spelling. Dyslexia is often associated with a deficit in phonological processing skills. Phonological processing skills refer to oral language, knowledge of letters, print awareness, and phonological awareness (awareness that words are comprised of individual sounds). Individuals with dyslexia generally have average intellectual abilities and intact reasoning skills related to non-phonological processing skills. Let’s take a look at the tasks involved in reading in order to better understand where problems may occur.

How do children learn to read?

Without instruction, most children acquire spoken language naturally. However, this is not the case with written language. Reading is not a naturally acquired skill and must be taught. Inadequate instruction can lead to reading difficulties. Children must first learn to recognize distinct letters and are taught that letters represent sounds in spoken language. Children must be able to link letters with corresponding sounds in order to decode print. Beginning readers are also taught that words can be segmented into particles of speech called phonemes. Children with reading disorders often struggle with phonemic awareness. Once able to decode, children must attach meaning to the text in order to comprehend what is read.

What causes reading disabilities/dyslexia?

The cause of dyslexia is not yet known. While there is no specific gene that carries dyslexia, there is a genetic component to the disorder. Family history plays an important role in reading disorders. However, the data is inconclusive whether reading disorders develop as a result of a genetic factor passed from parent to child, or whether a child with a dyslexic parent receives less exposure to written language. Additionally, children exposed to systematic phonics instruction are less likely to be referred for special education evaluations. This indicates that the quality of early reading instruction may play a role in later reading difficulties.

How prevalent are reading disabilities?

Reading disorders are the most common disability affecting school age children. SLD or dyslexia accounts for the highest percentage of all children receiving special education services. Studies suggest that dyslexia occurs in approximately 10-15% of school age children and is more prevalent in boys than girls.

What is the treatment for a student with SLD/dyslexia?

Children with reading disorders need explicit instruction in phonological processing skills and comprehension strategies. There are a number of reading programs specifically designed to provide this instruction using a multi-sensory approach proven to work with struggling readers. Check with your school district to find out what resources are available. Here are a few recommendations based on research-validated curricula:

  • Orton-Gillingham – Provides an approach to literacy using direct instruction and multi-sensory learning.
  • Slingerland – An adaptation of the Orton-Gillingham program designed for classroom use. Multi-sensory approach to reading designed to help students with dyslexia with speaking, reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Sonday – Based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology. Program uses a multi-sensory approach to systematically teach phonics and decoding skills.
  • Wilson – Highly structured multi-sensory remedial reading program based on Orton-Gillingham principles. Multi-tiered program designed to teach reading and spelling.

What can parents do to help children with SLD/dyslexia?

Reading with your child is a valuable activity to help improve reading skills. Additionally, there are a number of games and activities that can improve a child’s phonological processing skills. The computer is a great tool for finding interactive games for your child. Here are some recommendations.


Beginning Sounds

Ending Sounds


Blending/Segmenting Sounds

Deleting Sounds

Manipulating Sounds


Basic Code/Nonsense Words


Read & Listen


Synonyms & Antonyms




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