‘Words are our servants; we are not their slaves. It matters not how we spell them, it matters what we say.’
(Sally Gardner – Children’s writer and illustrator.)
A difficulty with spelling is one of the problems typically experienced by children with dyslexia. Most dyslexic children will learn to read adequately, but spelling may remain an entrenched area of difficulty.
Spelling ability depends on –
- The individual’s phonological skills; that is their understanding of how sounds correspond to letters, and their ability to hear these sounds within words.
- The individual’s memory: most dyslexics will experience problems with some aspect of their memory.
Reading is easier than spelling because the words of a text remain in front of the reader. They will be able to examine the words and use various strategies to help with decoding, for example – What letter / sound(s) does this word begin or end with? What other words does this one look like? Are there any smaller words within this word that I recognise? Which word would make sense in this sentence?
Unfortunately, when trying to remember a spelling, the dyslexic individual is not provided with such clues, and will have to rely on their knowledge of letter / sound correspondence, combined with any recollection they have of the word’s shape and size. For example, if they depend solely on their memory of letter / sound correspondence, their spelling of the word ‘school’ will be phonetic, but inaccurate: scool, skule, scoul, skool, and so on. Alternatively. if they rely solely on their visual recall of the word’s approximate size and shape, their spelling of ‘school’ may appear bizarre: sfuuk, zofeet or szlooh.
Reading a word could be compared to being shown a picture of the Taj Mahal and asked to identify it. ‘It looks a bit like Brighton Pavilion, but it has those pools of water in front, so it must be the Taj Mahal.’
Spelling the same word would be like trying to draw a picture of the Taj Mahal accurately from memory. ‘How many towers does it have? Does it have towers or arches? Where is the dome? Is there just one big dome? Is the dome higher or lower than the arches?’
Traditionally schools have offered dyslexic pupils withdrawal lessons for additional spelling intervention. In these lessons, the pupil can be taught spelling rules. An example of a spelling rule would be: ‘In the final syllable ‘sion’ the ‘si’ usually has the voiced sound /th/ as in division, invasion, etc. The syllable just before the ‘sion’ is the stressed syllable in this word and, as it is an open syllable, all of the vowels will be long except tiresome ‘i’ again.’
Such rules will be challenging for any pupil with a memory weakness, and will be quickly forgotten when the pupil starts to write an essay under timed conditions; needing to structure the essay, write legibly, and get all of their ideas down within the allotted time.
With progress made in technology, stand-alone spelling interventions are no longer necessary for the older pupil who experiences an entrenched spelling difficulty. Nowadays is easy to circumnavigate secretarial issues such as poor presentation and weak spelling. Technology enables the individual’s work to be judged on its content rather than its appearance.
A selection of quotes about assisted technology from individuals with dyslexia: –
‘I definitely need a computer to write. It enables me to write without hesitation and it takes away the worry about spelling mistakes.’ Julian Ogiwara. Architect.
‘Technology has created a fairer platform for everyone.’ Steven Woodgate. Marketing Leader.
‘I use assisted technology all the time. I simply couldn’t do my job without it.’ James Kinross. Consultant Surgeon.
‘I used to write my books by talking into a Dictaphone, and then pay someone to type it up.’ Jamie Oliver. Chef, author.
‘I used spellcheck which negated the worst aspect of my dyslexia.’ Oliver Wright. Journalist.
‘Writing reports has become less of an obstacle with assisted technology like Dragon software and text to speech.’ Chad Choudhury. Detective Sergeant.
‘I install Grammarly on all my devices. It’s a must.’ Holly Tucker. Entrepreneur and dyslexic.