Spelling and the child with dyslexia

Learning to spell accurately is one of the many challenges faced by the individual with dyslexia. If a child’s ability to spell doesn’t develop in line with that of their peers, the danger exists of a mismatch between the standard of their written work and their underlying ability. This may result in teaching staff underestimating the child’s academic potential.

Supporting the dyslexic child with their spelling.

  1. Have the child’s hearing checked. Many young children suffer from an intermittent hearing loss such as glue ear. This may affect their grasp of basic phonics; for example, ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ will all sound the same to a child with a heavy cold. 
  2. Before a child can master spelling, they need to know the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that the letters represent. They need to be able to hear sounds within a word and to link those sounds to the appropriate letters. English spelling rules can seem complex, but if a child’s spelling is phonetically accurate, for example, wud/would, shud/should, their written work will be understood.
  3. Revising spellings for a weekly test will not help the child with dyslexia develop spelling skills. Constant repetition and over-learning of basics are essential. It makes sense to target those words that the child writes most frequently, for example, keywords or topic vocabulary, rather than words the child will rarely use. 
  4. It is particularly useful to be able to spell keywords. These are the small words that are frequently used in written work: come, they, their, said, who, and so on. Sixteen of these keywords make up approximately half of the words in written texts. 
  5. Multi-sensory learning, (learning that involves several senses), is likely to be the most successful approach for children with dyslexia. The ‘Look, say, cover, write, check’ method of revising spellings would be a simple example of multi-sensory learning. 
  6. Spelling programmes for dyslexics need to be structured and sequential, with constant overlearning and revision. 
  7. Learning a few basic spelling rules is helpful, for example, ‘i before e, except after c’. Do not try to teach an excessive number of rules as they can be complicated, and most children with dyslexia have poor memories. 
  8. Work out which approaches help the individual child. Children with dyslexia will all have their own preferences for remembering spellings: mnemonics, looking for words within words, tapping out syllables, learning about word origins, sorting words into families or focusing on suffixes and prefixes. Tracing words whilst saying the letters, spelling games on the computer and building the words with magnetic letters are all approaches worth trying. 
  9. For severe spelling problems, voice recognition software is one answer. However, it is useful for the child to be able to recognise the correct word when given a choice: generous exposure to the printed word may help with this.
  10. Spelling is only one element of writing, and it would be a pity if a child’s potential was restricted because of their poor secretarial skills. With appropriate coping strategies and accommodations within school, weak spelling need not curtail the individual’s overall achievement.

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