Parents are often concerned by the question of whether their child might be dyslexic or might become dyslexic. This article talks about a precursor to dyslexia that parents should be aware of. The article also provides practical suggestions for supporting these children.
1. WHAT IS THIS PRECURSOR?
Dyslexic children fall into different categories and probably have different types of processing problems. However, one major difficulty that many dyslexic children have is a problem in the area of phonological awareness. This is likely to affect oral language before it affects reading for the obvious reason that oral language, especially its comprehension, begins to develop at birth. It's very possible that these difficulties in processing oral language might not be obvious to parents and to healthcare professionals.
2. WHAT IS PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS?
Phonology is the branch of linguistics that deals with sound patterns of a particular language and most of us develop our knowledge of phonology without any formal teaching. For example, we learn what sound patterns are and are not acceptable in our mother tongue. Most young children will know that the sound combination /sn/ is an acceptable one to begin a word in English but that /nb/ is not. Phonological awareness is also about rhythms in language that are made of stress patterns in words. The ability to identify and create rhymes are important parts of this awareness as is the ability to break down words into their individual sounds or phonemes. A child with phonological difficulties may have difficulty in clapping out syllables and identifying words that rhyme. They may also be unable to break a word such as "cat" into the three sounds c-a-t.
3. WHY IS DYSLEXIA USUALLY DISCOVERED SO LATE?
As dyslexia is a disability related to reading, it cannot be diagnosed until after the child has begun to learn to read and displayed difficulty in acquiring the necessary skills. This is why dyslexia is often discovered around the age of 7. However, some parents suspect a potential difficulty long before, especially if the child in question is a boy or if other members of the family have been diagnosed with any form of language impairment.
4. HOW CAN PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS BE DEVELOPED?
Phonological awareness can be supported through playing a variety of language games with your child. Parents can invent games with their child where the child has to listen to, identify or make up rhymes, depending on their skill level. Also, games where an initial sound in a word is deleted can be lots of fun for kids while supporting their phonological awareness. Children often like to do this with names. If your child's name is Benjamin, talk about taking away the first sound to make him have the new name of Enjamin. He will probably want to continue and play the game with the names of the whole family and his friends and pets. Reading children's books together that are heavy on rhyme and rhythm are also great for building a child's phonological awareness.
A book series is currently being developed to do just this and can be found at http://www.booksfordyslexics.com.