Does Dyslexia Affect Spelling: Understanding Challenges and Strategies
Correlation between Dyslexia and Spelling | Signs of Dyslexia in Spelling | Strategies for Improving Spelling | Causes of Spelling Problems | Using Forbrain
Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty with word recognition and poor decoding abilities. It can lead to weak reading comprehension skills and poor vocabulary. Because of their difficulty with decoding (reading skills), those with dyslexia often have difficulty with encoding (spelling). It impacts reading and writing, but does dyslexia affect spelling also? Yes. In fact, many people with dyslexia are poor spellers. We will focus on spelling abilities in this article.
Correlation between Dyslexia and Spelling
The same difficulties that make reading challenging for dyslexic individuals are the same things that make spelling challenging. People with dyslexia have difficulty representing the phonological structure of words. This means that they often lack the ability to analyze and remember the individual sounds in words (phonemes), such as the sounds represented by the letters l, s, and e.
Individuals with dyslexia also struggle to remember and reproduce the patterns of irregularly spelled words that do not follow normal spelling conventions (e.g., know, Christmas). Their lack of letter-sound knowledge makes it challenging for them to know which letters to use to represent each sound, which results in multiple spelling errors.
Signs of Dyslexia in Spelling
As parents and educators, pay attention to the following signs of dyslexia in order to identify the problem:
- Phonetic spelling. Words may be spelled the way that they sound. “Shoes” may be spelled “shooz.”
- Inconsistent spelling. Individuals with dyslexia will often spell the same word in different ways. In the same writing sample, the word “perfect” may be spelled as “prefect” and then “perfet.”
- Difficulty with sight words. Because sight words often have irregular spellings, they cannot be spelled phonetically. Examples of this include “the” and “of.”
- Missed or transposed letters. Letters may be missing from words because dyslexic individuals may not distinguish separate sounds. The word “jump” may be spelled as “jup.” Similar letters, such as b and d, may also be transposed.
- Avoiding complex words. Writing samples may consist of short or simple words that the individual is more confident in spelling, with very few longer or complex words included.
- Poorly structured sentences. Sentences may be out of order or missing words. Instead of the sentence “They do not have to go to the store,” the sentence may be written as “Do they not have to go the store.”
- Frequent spelling mistakes in writing samples. Any of the above spelling mistakes may be present in writing samples.
Strategies for Improving Spelling Abilities in Dyslexic People
Below are some strategies and tips on how to improve spelling abilities. When choosing a strategy for your child or student, consider their age and attention span. A younger child may not want to sit still and do drill practice, and you may need to incorporate more games and movement activities. Practice in short increments of time to start, and then build up to longer practice sessions. You may need to try several strategies until you find one that works. It is also helpful to utilize more than one strategy for a more well-rounded approach.
Teach phonics and phonemic awareness
Phonics teaches children to recognize letter-sound (grapheme-phoneme) correspondence. It helps dyslexic children understand the relationship between letters and sounds. It also helps them identify and determine each sound in a written word. All of this is important for spelling.
Use flashcards and games
Memorization, drill, and testing can be used to improve spelling skills. This can be accomplished through flashcards of sight words, spelling tests, and games. This provides multiple opportunities for the child to see the words. The more exposure to the word, the better they will read, remember, and spell it.
Use assistive technology
Implement technology in your treatment of spelling difficulties. Forbrain, an auditory stimulation headset, can be worn by a dyslexic child when they are reading and practicing spelling words out loud. There are also many computer games and apps available online that target spelling. Allow the child to type and offer access to spell check or act as a scribe and write while the child tells you the next letter.
A mnemonic is a phrase or sentence where the beginning of each word is represented by a letter. This is a fun technique because is better to use a silly mnemonic versus a complicated one that the child won’t remember. Mnemonics are most helpful when used with challenging words that the child especially struggles to spell. For example, the phrase Tigers Only Use Green Hats can be used to remember how to spell tough.
Utilize multimodal instruction
Since reading and writing are so closely related, the best way to practice and improve spelling skills is to utilize an approach that incorporates both. Have the child work on writing while reading the words aloud. When children write the letters of words at the same time that they say them, that further solidifies the connection between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letters).
Utilize a multi-linguistic approach
It is important to include components of other domains of language besides phonology, including morphology, syntax, and semantics. Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units of language (e.g., -ed, -ing, -pre, -ly). Syntax refers to the grammatical rules that dictate how sentences can be formulated and in what order. Semantics is the meaning of words and word combinations.
All of these domains are necessary for reading and writing. Knowledge of morphemes and syntax, as well as a robust vocabulary, are needed to decode unknown words while reading. Therefore, this knowledge is also helpful when spelling. All of these skills should be applied to connected writing, not just single words.
Teaching groups of words can help children with spelling difficulties learn several words at a time. For example, there are many words ending in ‘-eep’ (e.g., keep, sleep, weep, steep). Once the child has memorized ‘-eep,’ they can much more easily add k, sl, w, st, etc to form words. This now gives them the ability to spell multiple words by learning one word group.
Use multisensory approaches
The greater variety of senses integrated into spelling remediation, the better. Let the child see the word and hear it read over and over. Let them write the word in sand, flour, or shaving cream. Use magnetic letters or different colored markers or crayons. Make up tunes to sing as they spell the word. The more ways they can practice spelling a word, the better they will remember its spelling.
Provide support at home and classroom
Parents and teachers should be in constant communication in order to best support the child with dyslexia. Teachers can share spelling words for the weekly spelling test for parents to practice at home. Parents can share what they have been working on at home.
What Causes Spelling Problems
Spelling and reading require the ability to connect letters and sounds. Because dyslexic individuals have difficulty making this connection, they struggle with both reading and spelling. Dyslexic people will make errors in spelling that are similar to the errors they make when reading.
Spelling difficulties in dyslexic individuals are mainly caused by a deficit in the language domain of phonology. Phonological processing is the ability to use sounds of words (phonemes) to process spoken and written language. Poor spellers have weak phonological processing skills. They have difficulty encoding (reading), retaining, and accessing phonological information in order to decode (spell).
Because of letter reversals (e.d., b for d) in the writing of individuals with dyslexia, it was thought that dyslexia was a visual processing problem. This is not the case. Many children transpose letters when they are learning to write and spell. In addition, children with dyslexia do not perform poorly on visual tasks that do not involve letters, indicating that the reversals are likely not caused by a visual processing deficit.
Using Forbrain to Help with Spelling and Dyslexia
Forbrain is another tool to add to your toolbox when working with a dyslexic child. Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset. It helps a child hear themselves at a louder volume. This can help a child attend to what they are saying and helps their brain better process and remember the words. Implementing Forbrain with a child with dyslexia can lead to increased motivation and engagement, self-awareness and self-monitoring, and improve their ability to process and remember language.
Children with dyslexia face difficulties with written language. As this article states, dyslexia does affect spelling. Understanding why spelling is challenging for dyslexic individuals is the first step in knowing how to help. There are several effective approaches to improve spelling. Parents and educators can use the strategies discussed above to help individuals with dyslexia learn better.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (Accessed 2023, September 27). Disorders of Reading and Writing. ASHA. https://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Written-Language-Disorders/Disorders-of-Reading-and-Writing/
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (Accessed 2023, October 6). Written Language Disorders. ASHA. https://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Written-Language-Disorders/#collapse_6
International Dyslexia Association. (Accessed 2023, September 27). Spelling. International Dyslexia Association. https://dyslexiaida.org/spelling/
Kearns, D.M., Hayes, J. B., Bazis, P., & Cooper, S. (2018). Why Children with Dyslexia Struggle with Writing and How to Help Them. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. 843-868.49(4), https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0024