Dyslexia and Difficulty with Short Words

One of the hallmark reading challenges for individuals with dyslexia is difficulty with the shortest words in a text. Sometimes, these words are misread. ‘The’ becomes ‘that,’ and ‘his’ becomes ‘this.’ Sometimes, readers just skip over these words altogether. This is perplexing to a lot of people. Shouldn’t the shortest words be the easiest to read? Not for a dyslexic brain.

There is still a lot of research to be done into the complexities of dyslexia. But the reading difficulty that many dyslexics experience stems from a few different places. Some dyslexic brains have trouble with phonology, or the ability to recognize and manipulate individual sounds in words. This makes decoding and even recognizing words difficult. Some brains with dyslexia also (or instead) experience page distortion when looking at text. This creates obvious challenges when these individuals try to read.

Developing Successful Reading Habits

The following strategies have been effective for improving reading accuracy. While these strategies have not been proven by research, there is anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness.

1. Different Fonts and Larger Font Size

While it may sound overly simple, sometimes font and font size actually make a huge difference. As subtle as it may seem, decorative strokes on letter (called serifs) and letter spacing can significantly impact the readability of a font. There are even fonts designed for readers with dyslexia! Using sans serif fonts in larger sizes with adequate spacing can improve reading accuracy and fluency for those with dyslexia.

2. Line Readers

Line readers are tools that allow a reader to focus on just one line of text at a time. The reader places an opening in the tool over the starting line of text. The line reader hides the lines above and below to prevent distraction and help the reader keep her place. These are even available online! As kids finish reading each line, they just slide the line reader down the page.

3. Following Along With Audiobooks

Many parents hesitate to allow their children to use audiobooks because they view them as a crutch. But audiobooks are not a crutch, they are a tool! Following along in a text while listening to the audiobook version can actually help students strengthen their fluency and accuracy by having a model to support their learning. A great strategy is alternating paragraphs, pages, or chapters between using the audiobook and reading independently.

4. Recording and Listening Back

For students who are comfortable (or at least willing) to hear their own voice reading out loud, this can be a very powerful exercise. You record students reading a portion of a text, and then listen back together to evaluate accuracy. Many students are better able to identify and learn from their mistakes when they listen to themselves and follow along with a text.

5. Pause Periodically

This strategy is useful for all readers, but especially those who have to invest a lot of energy in decoding. It’s important to remember that we read to learn and escape into a story. When reading is hard, it’s easy to lose track of the meaning behind words. That’s why it is so important to stop and reflect in order to keep track of meaning. This can be a meaningful strategy for reading at the sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter level according to each student’s ability. Plus, it will help to build metacognition too!

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