We left our daughter for the first time with a baby sitter when she was about two. Although she knew her carer well she was distressed at our departure – until, that is, she became distracted.

I told her we were going to the theatre and would be ‘back soon’.

She dismissed the ‘back soon’ bit: after all her notions of time are not like mine. A minute can be an aeon when you want your mum.

However, she latched on to ‘theatre’ – a word not previously encountered. ‘That’s in my name’ she declared. And truly it was: Thea recognised not the meaning of the word but its individual components. She was able to segment the longer word into one that was important to her. Later that month she delightedly noticed the phonological similarities between ‘Smarties’ and ‘Martin’.

Preschool phonological awareness skills significantly predict later reading ability; but it also seems that phonemic awareness is a skill which develops through learning to read. Problems in detecting differences between groups of spoken words, or in deleting individual sound segments, (e.g. ‘flag’ without ‘f’, ‘enigma’ without ‘ig’), are believed to lead to phonemic awareness difficulties.

So, because Thea was playing with sounds within words at such a young age, I was confident that she was likely to become a proficient reader and speller.

Reading skill is closely associated with the ability to hear and process the sounds in spoken words, and to be able to segment these. (That’s why getting a child’s hearing checked is so important). When the child sees words in print s/he needs to recognise that these visual symbols represent sounds. Visual difficulties can very well contribute to a dyslexic profile, but auditory processing tends to be the most fundamental, not to mention intractable, challenge. (Get eyes checked regularly too).

Ascertaining whether a child can read nonsense words is an important part of assessment, as difficulties here can be a product of this primary underlying phonological disorder.

In addition, as well as difficulties encountered in applying phonemic information in reading tasks, such as non-word reading; poor readers’ demonstration of deficiencies in verbal processing have been noted in auditory perception, in segmentation, and in speech production difficulties. (Has s/he had input from Speech and Language Therapists?).

Also crucial for an identification of dyslexia are differences in phonological processing speed. Poor readers may have similar levels of accuracy in tests of phonological awareness, yet remain slower to progress in terms of their reading development. Slower response times taken for processing sounds and words are indicative of deeper phonological problems.

Such slowness to process phonological information, then results in tardiness in learning verbal labels for new reading words. Taken together these inefficiencies impact on a poor reader’s ability to establish and retrieve phonological representations from long term memory, and thus accounts for word recognition difficulties. This would also in part explain the fact that many poor readers in the early stages rely so heavily on visual codes in acquisition and phonemic processing, as well as in other reading-based tasks. All this can hide fundamental difficulties until too many unfamiliar words appear or the working memory is so overloaded that no more sight vocabulary can be retained.

The child who ‘can read with my eyes shut’, the book child who knows much about formal language structures and the nature of early reading schemes, can delude himself and his teachers into thinking that reading is developing apace. It is often at transition times that alarm bells begin to ring: when reading and writing tasks demand more complex vocabulary along with increased quantity of text read and produced.

Anyway, this was meant to be a short post in my holidays, pointing out this rather charming clip of a 2 year old well on the way to achieving proficiency in phonological processing. So, I’ll stop and go and read a good book now.

 

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