Support Along The Way


Literacy and Dyslexia

by Maria Bechard M.A., CCC-SLP

“Literacy is not a luxury; it is a right and a responsibility.  If our world is to meet the challenges of the 21st century then we must harness the energy and creativity of all of our citizens.”  (President Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1994)

 In today’s educational society, the discussion of literacy development has changed from just reading and writing skills to a broadened range of abilities.  The Workforce Act of 1998 defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute and solve problems at a level of proficient necessary to function on the job and in the family and in society.” 

 The reading component of literacy continues to gain much attention from researchers and educators.  One reason for this emphasis is that the success of overall literacy development and academic success is greatly impacted by the ability to become a proficient reader. Throughout the country, educational communities have indicated that one of the major goals of education is to ensure that all students become proficient readers.  However,  the majority of educational communities are not obtaining this goal. There are a large number of students who despite the good intentions and efforts of dedicated educators and administrators continue to fall short of achieving the status of “the proficient reader”.  The reason school systems are falling short of this goal relies on the fact that there are dyslexic individuals that will most likely continue to struggle with the skills necessary to receive the label of the proficient reader.  However, this characteristic  does not mean that these students are unable to obtain the definition of literacy mentioned above. 

 Within our educational society, proficiency in reading has a moral judgment since it has been been deemed  one of the most valuable and necessary achievements  for the attainment of academic success.  So how does this type of moral judgment of proficient reading ability and its relationship to academic success and overall literacy affect the dyslexic child? The following quote says it all:

 “There are many poor readers among very bright children, who, because they are poor readers are considered less keen than their classmates. –Stanger & Donohue, 1937.

 Most children enter school and are able to develop a set of skills, which enables them to efficiently learn.  One of the most valued and socially accepted skill is that of proficient reading. When a student acquires the title of the proficient reader it is thought of to be the gateway to learning. When educational communities continue to have a narrow perspective regarding reading, then the dyslexic child will continue to be misjudged and will continue to be at a disadvantage to learn. 

 I recently read, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss and he states that there are actually three types of reading: eye reading, finger reading, and ear reading.  The mainstream within our society is to read with your eyes. However, for those children with  a visual impairment , information is accessed through Braille (finger reading) as well as through auditory means (ear reading).  Educators would not insist that these students reach proficiency in eye reading since they would struggle with the skills necessary to do so.  As a result, ear reading and finger reading are socially accepted forms of reading for the visually impaired individual.

 However, for dyslexic individuals ear reading does come with a moral judgment.  Keep in mind the number of times you have heard that one of the main goals of education is to ensure that all students are proficient eye readers.  In an environment in which eye reading is considered to be the only avenue for academic success, dyslexic children will not thrive for eye reading is not the most efficient means for these students to access information.   The goal of education for a dyslexic child should not be to transform the student into a proficient eye reader. This may sound defeatist in nature to many educators and parents; but in reality, many dyslexic individuals will continue to struggle with those skills necessary for proficient eye reading.  The true goal for all individuals within an educational community should be to provide each student with the opportunity to gather knowledge and explore ideas through those means that are most efficient. As a result, individuals will be provided the opportunity to become critical thinkers as well as develop the ability to make connections of their acquired knowledge with the world around them.  Ben Foss suggests that when there is an underlying bias towards eye reading to be the only type or reading associated with learning, the dyslexic child is not only at a tremendous disadvantage to achieve and develop a love for learning but more importantly is often misjudged.    He further indicates that educational communities should stop focusing on making the dyslexic child a proficient eye reader who can read without any difficulty but should focus on the acceptance of ear reading as true reading and an element of literacy.  If this is accomplished, then educators will begin to encourage a child’s quest for learning by allowing access to new ideas, which in turn will promote their overall literacy by harnessing their creativity and love for learning.  In closing, I would like you to reflect on the following words by Ben Foss:

 “In a perfect world, classrooms would be filled with all of the learning tools available including those that facilitate audio learning, visual learning, and eye reading.  But in the real world there’s an existing legacy in which eye reading is considered to be the best way to learn and consequently all children have to learn to thrive in this system—easier said than done for anyone whose skill set doesn’t include eye reading! “

(Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan pg. 138)

Maria Bechard, M.A., CCC-SLP, is the owner of The Literacy Corner located in Crestwood, Kentucky.  The Literacy Corner provides expert diagnostic and therapy services for language-based impairments such as dyslexia. Maria is a licensed and nationally board certified Speech and Language Pathologist. She has made it her mission to educate the community regarding the prevalence of dyslexia as well as the rights of the dyslexic individual. Maria is dedicated to promoting the love of learning that is often crushed for the dyslexic child.

Emotionally Sound Instruction

by Maria Bechard M.A., CCC-SLP

“In all remedial work, the teacher should start first with the child and then find the appropriate method.  Fit the method to the child, not the child to the method.”  Monore- 1935, p. 227

One of the first steps in ensuring a child’s sense of pride in their dyslexia identity is to make sure that the child is identified as early as possible to ensure that the appropriate instruction is implemented. If the proper teaching is provided, then the child will experience a great deal of success, which will result in an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which will most likely promote a love for learning.  The International Dyslexia Association recommends a Multisensory Structured Language Teaching Approach for the dyslexic child also known as Structured Literacy Instruction. 

This type of instruction is based on the principle that a dyslexic child demonstrates weaknesses in their underlying language processing skills in the area of phonology (the speech sound system) as well as in print or orthographic processing which makes it difficult for the child to connect speech with print.  In Structured Literacy instruction a multi-sensory approach is implemented which utilizes two to three learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile) simultaneously which promotes engagement and enhances learning and memory.  The International Dyslexia Association defines Structured Literacy as an approach that “ emphasizes the structure of language, including the speech sound system (phonology), the writing system (orthography), the structure of sentences (syntax), the meaningful parts of words (morphology) and the relationships among words (semantics), and the organization of spoken and written discourse. The integration of listening, speaking, reading, and writing makes this instruction multisensory.”

The elements of instruction are introduced systematically and explicitly. Students begin listening to sounds in words and develop phonemic awareness skills.  Subsequent intervention follows the sequence of reading and writing sounds, which are then blended into syllables and words.  The various elements of language such as consonants, diagraphs, blends and syllable types are introduced in an orderly fashion.  In this type of approach the child is learning the rules that govern out language with regards to decoding one syllable words as well multi-syllabic words which contain the varied syllable types in our language as well as reading base words with prefixes and suffixes.

This approach also incorporates the rules that govern our language with regards to spelling which are weaved throughout the reading process.  These skills are taught in conjunction with reading to reinforce the grapheme-phoneme sound correspondences as well as other language-based rules. For example, if the child were learning a specific reading syllable division rule then his spelling instruction would be words that followed that rule. Instruction dealing with the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes and inflectional endings is also embedded in instruction and includes ways in which words are related to each other (for example, trans: transfer, transform, transition).  Vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension are also addressed in a sequential and cumulative manner

Another important aspect of this approach is that the text presented to the student is very controlled in nature in that it is decodable.  The grapheme-phoneme correspondences as well as other rules known by the student are presented in a controlled manner so that the child can apply learned strategies in text.  Additionally, the use of controlled decodable text is implemented to ensure that the child continues to use learned strategies to eliminate the need to guess words based on shape or contextual cueing. Controlled text also assures a great deal of success during the reading process for the child, which in turn can have a positive effect on reading fluency and comprehension.  

Equally important, the rules that govern our language in regards to spelling are weaved throughout the reading process and are taught in conjunction with reading to reinforce the grapheme-phoneme sound correspondences as well as other language based rules. For example, if the child were learning a specific syllable division rule regarding reading then his spelling instruction would be words that followed that rule. Instruction dealing with the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes and inflectional endings is also embedded and includes ways in which words are related to each other (for example, trans: transfer, transform, transition).  Vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension are also addressed in a sequential and cumulative manner.  As children learn new material, they continue to review previously learned material in improve the level of automaticity Children learn about the history of the language and study generalizations, which govern its structure. Instruction is diagnostic and prescriptive in nature.  The educator seeks to understand how an individual learns and seeks appropriate strategies.

The most important aspect regarding this approach is that it is emotionally sound. Since previously learned material is constantly weaved or reviewed as new material is being introduced systematically the child experiences a high degrees of success during teaching and gains confidence as well as in skill. Learning becomes a rewarding experience, which builds self-esteem and motivation to learn.

As professional providing services to dyslexic children, I can certainly state that I have found a multi-sensory structured language approach that has been a successful fit for my students. The words of my students always speak volumes to me.  Here are just a few:  “You know Ms. Maria it would be silly to think you’re not smart just because you have to touch and say sounds.”  Ms. Maria, I think I know more rules than my teacher about spelling- I know that for sure.”  Mrs. Bechard, I bet last year I would not have been able to read these three syllable words and would have just been guessing all the way.” “Mrs. Bechard, this is the first year I asked for books for Christmas and got the ones that I wanted.”  Mrs. Bechard, I have all A’s this semester.” 

Maria Bechard, M.A., CCC-SLP, is the owner of The Literacy Corner located in Crestwood, Kentucky.  The Literacy Corner provides expert diagnostic and therapy services for language-based impairments such as dyslexia. Maria is a licensed and nationally board certified Speech and Language Pathologist. She has made it her mission to educate the community regarding the prevalence of dyslexia as well as the rights of the dyslexic individual. Maria is dedicated to promoting the love of learning that is often crushed for the dyslexic child.

The Emotional Impact of Dyslexia

by Maria Bechard M.A., CCC-SLP

“To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.”  Hooks, 1994

Hooks' words certainly allow me to reflect upon the most rewarding aspect of working with dyslexic individuals.  When I started a private practice nearly four years ago, I truly believed that the most rewarding aspect would be to take part in each child’s “reading journey.”  Yes, I can say that this has been amazing to witness but what has brought me the most joy and sense of accomplishment has been to take part in the  social and emotional journey for each of my “kids”. (Yes, parents, they are my kids as well!)

Even though dyslexia is not an emotional disorder, it certainly can create both social and emotional ramifications, which can actually become more problematic than the academic difficulties, which the child is facing.  Many of my students have experienced various emotions associated with their dyslexia, which have included; anger, frustration, loneliness, anxiety, lack of self-esteem and confidence, embarrassment and guilt.  One of the most powerful emotions a dyslexic child may feel is that of shame.  Shame is such a destructive emotion for one feels that they are unworthy based upon “something they are.” In The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, author Ben Foss cites that the shame associated with a reading disability can often have the same intensity associated with incest.  Foss also notes that for many children it is a “slow drip” trauma for the child may feel “not normal” and not worthy every day as the struggles academically continue year after year.  

These feelings of shame regarding academic achievement can also affect all areas of a child’s life and as a result can have a negative impact on the child’s entire being.  That is why I believe that the emotional and social well being of my students will always be my top priority.  Of course, the visible goal for each of my students is to demonstrate improvements in the areas of reading and spelling, yet my main underlying focus is to have my students feel tremendous about “who they are”. In turn, this sense of self-worth will promote their self-esteem and confidence, which will foster a love for learning in all areas of their lives.

All of my students have made gains regarding their social and emotional well being by embracing their dyslexia and realizing that it is a characteristic of who they are which they should be extremely proud of.  As individuals, we want to feel a sense of worth and value to those we interact with.  I have always believed, that thirty years from now, I will not be so concerned if my “kids” remember the name of that lady who had them touch and say sounds, made them learn all of those syllable types and division rules and made them memorize those never ending spelling rules.  However, I do hope that they can remember how I made them feel worthy and respected as well as proud of their dyslexia identity- if so, then I will have truly respected the souls of my “kids”.  

Maria Bechard, M.A., CCC-SLP, is the owner of The Literacy Corner located in Crestwood, Kentucky.  The Literacy Corner provides expert diagnostic and therapy services for language-based impairments such as dyslexia. Maria is a licensed and nationally board certified Speech and Language Pathologist. She has made it her mission to educate the community regarding the prevalence of dyslexia as well as the rights of the dyslexic individual. Maria is dedicated to promoting the love of learning that is often crushed for the dyslexic child.