Identifying Dyslexia For Homeschooling Parents

Many of us who homeschool have students who have challenges with learning in some form.  In Waldorf homeschooling (or even in a Waldorf School setting), because formal academics begin in first grade, there is an interesting thought that learning disabilities will be caught later, and therefore attempts at remediation will begin later.

I don’t think this has to be the case. If you, as a homeschooling parent or as a teacher in a school setting are working with children on preliteracy and literacy skills, then identifying possible signs of dyslexia should be not just something nice that maybe one knows or doesn’t know, but it should be an absolute requirement.

One of the latest books out regarding Waldorf Education and literacy, and in my opinion the best book  is “The Roadmap To Literacy:  A Guide to Teaching Language Arts in Waldorf Schools Grades 1 through 3” by Janet Langley and Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl.  One of the points in this book is that up to 40% of students will discover that letters represent sounds that make up words easily; 30-40% will need extra practice to move forward; 20-30% will absolutely need intensive direct teaching in a very detailed and sequential way. In a school setting, this last sub-set of students might be working with a reading specialist and in a home setting, they will need extra hours with us directly teaching in a clear manner. So not every difficulty in learning to read, but every situation requires careful thought.

In the homeschool setting, particularly with Waldorf methodology, there can be a lot made of later reading that is normal, the student is dreamy, just give them more time and the student will catch up. This absolutely does happen and I do not want to discount it.  However, as the mother of a child who is dyslexic, I do wish more parents would confirm that there is no underlying signs of dyslexia, visual, or auditory processing programs before just deciding it will come.  I also wish more Waldorf teachers, mentors, and curriculum providers would point out the possible signs of underlying problems that are larger than just needing more time.

Visual and auditory processing problems can be c0-morbid with dyslexia, but visual therapy will not fix true dyslexia – it will fix the problems with tracking or convergence that contribute to learning challenges, but the dyslexic brain is neurobiological in origin.  

So, there are consistent signs that parents should be aware of that could indicate dyslexia.  I highly recommend looking at the International Dyslexia Association website for more information.  You might consider delving deeper if your student (source Schenck School public presentation, 2018; International Dyslexia Association):

  • Does not rhyme words well (this is huge; most four year olds and kindergarteners catch on to rhyming quickly!  This is absolutely an early sign of trouble if it does not improve with practice)
  • Does not divide words into syllables well
  • Divide sentences into words well
  • Does not discriminate words in phonemic sounds
  • Cannot delete roots or syllables or phonemes to make new words or substitute a phoneme in a word (ie, if you have the word lighthouse, and you ask the student to say the word again but don’t say “light”, they cannot do it or they cannot take the word bog, change the o to an a and make the word bag)
  • Cannot identify whether a specific phonemic sound is at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

Once the student has gotten into bigger steps in trying to read or write, if your student:

  • Cannot write words or sentences
  • Cannot blend sounds together
  • Cannot decode nonsense words (think of Dr. Suess kind of words)
  • Cannot segment words into syllables or identify sounds and letters
  • Cannot decode consonant-vowel-Consanant words, or letters with simple blends after practice

Usually somewhere between grades 2-5, students are spelling well, have handwriting that is decent, can read and spell, can recall words, and yes, most fifth graders, even late bloomers, can read.  There is also a self-assessment at the International Dyslexia website here and also a good handout here that points out that 74 % of the readers struggling in third grade end up struggling in ninth grade (again, due to true developmental dyslexia, not just being a late bloomer), but that is is never too late, not even for adults, to improve through a structured literacy program.  Remediation may take 2-3 years or longer.

If you have checked a lot of the above indicators for your student, I suggest testing.  In the United States, this can be hard for parents as private testing through a neuropsychologist for a full battery of tests often costs thousands of dollars.  However, what testing gives you is a clear diagnosis, clear accomodations (especially important for those in high school for testing and those wanting to go to college), and it gives ideas for remediation.  It is also important because student with dyslexia have marked difference in reading, writing, spelling, speaking, and math due to neurobiologic expression, teaching methodology used and more.

In between testing and waiting, some things can help. If you are Waldorf homeschooling family, you may be familiar with the book “Take Time”, or “Bal A Vix X”.  You might be famliar with the idea of extra lessons or curative eurythmy.  Most programs recommended for literacy are those that employ Orton-Gillingham techniques.  One other approach is Lindawood/Bell, especially for those students without the ability to handle CVC words.

The other thing to think about is looking at the other pieces we often see  associated with dyslexia, whether that is difficulties with executive functioning tasks, speech challenges, dyscalculia, anxiety, sensory processing pieces, ADD/ADHD, social-emotional difficulties, dysgraphia, can also be part of what needs to be addressed.  It is a complex range, and many parents worry about their children.  Every single student with dyslexia is an individual and each student has their own strengths to build upon.

Blessings and love,

9 thoughts on “Identifying Dyslexia For Homeschooling Parents

  1. I absolutely agree with a lot of what you write here but I wanted to make one quick point about nonesense words. Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) absolutely discourages the use of nonsense words in any kind of assessment or phonics practice capacity. I didn’t understand the rationale for this at first but now I do. So here it is. A letter doesn’t actually HAVE a sound until it’s in a word. says / t / in but it says / sh / in . says / b / in but it says nothing in . Letters can be presented as graphemes which can correspond with phonemes but it should be made clear that there’s a wide range of possible phonemes they correspond with! A nonsense word is a word that does not exist. It has no meaning. Since our spelling depends on carrying the meaning of the word, the spelling does not exist. It has no actual pronunciation, and acting as though it does is only confusing to children who are not understanding the orthography system already. It also reinforces the misconception that there’s a simple sound-symbol correspondence in our writing system, thus miring them even deeper in the muck.

    • This is an area in which different groups of experts disagree. Many leading reading/literacy experts recommend using nonsense words, and have reasons for doing so. Many others recommend not using nonsense words, as you have outlined above. As with everything, and to use advice from Carrie that rings in my ears every day(!), “Look at the child in front of you.” For me, with my child, practicing sounding out words using nonsense words has a vital function. Using the same rules she is learning for sounding out words, she is sounding out “words” that have no reference, no meaning, no context and in doing so, it reinforces for her that she can depend on her “sounding out” skills. It has been a positive, useful tool in our toolkit. But every child is different, and this might not work for other children.

      I’m glad you shared the other perspective, so that parents can research this further, and make the best choice for their own homeschooling.

      Best wishes!

  2. I see that the SWI conventions used to separate graphemes from phonemes using angle brackets are messing up the html in this blog. So, I will use quotes for clarity. “T” says “t” in “tree” but it says “sh” in “addition.” “B” says “b” in “bear” but it says nothing in “doubt.”

  3. I have a dyslexic child who is now in 5th grade and just entered school after being homeschooled until now. I worried about her reading and worked so hard on it with her in the early elementary years and it just hardly budged in terms of progress. Whenever I brought this up to other homeschooling mothers they would almost always say the same thing, “Every child develops at a different rate, just give her more time.” Oh how I wish I didn’t listen to that and would have gotten her trained help sooner!!!!!! With a year of private twice weekly OG tutoring, she is in a much better place but still struggling. I wish we would have intervened earlier. Thanks for this post!

    Kristen Shook

    On Sun, Jan 27, 2019 at 12:49 PM The Parenting Passageway wrote:

    > Carrie posted: “Many of us who homeschool have students who have > challenges with learning in some form. In Waldorf homeschooling (or even > in a Waldorf School setting), because formal academics begin in first > grade, there is an interesting thought that learning disabilit” >

  4. Excellent post. I am one of the parents who wishes we had caught and addressed my gut concerns earlier. Mine are in the older bracket now and we are just catching and addressing some of roots of certain difficulties. Evaluating and teasing apart causes and solutions has been so much harder than I expected.

  5. Wondering about evaluations –
    We have had typical evaluations done by the school psychologist who has determined ‘non specific learning disability’. My son qualifies for special ed and receives services. However, this seems so vague and I’m not clear he is getting the intensive kind of support that would help him.

    Is the evaluation done by a neuropsychologist going to give us deeper answers that will help us more fully? We are dealing with more than just academic learning issues…possible NVLD (non-verbal learning disorder). He does not have dyslexia but has challenges with comprehension/inference, severe dysgraphia, math challenges, executive functioning issues and social issues.

    Anyone know the evaluation differences between a neuropsychologist and an educational pyschologist? The ultimate question: Do you get what you pay for?

    • An educational psychologist is worried about function within a school environment whereas a neuropsychologist is going to look at school performance/accommodations but also a big picture of functioning within life. Most people I know have paid for private evaluations, especially as it related to high school and college. HTH, and hope some readers will chime in with their experiences. Blessings, Carrie

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