Written by Heidi Kroner, True Potential Education
True Potential Education, LLC, Partner, CMO
This article is a summary of “Diagnosis and Remediation of Reading Disabilities: A Pragmatic Solution” by RM Joshi, Texas A&M University, 2003.
Between 1900 and 1920 “congenital word-blindness” was a term used to describe children with average or high intelligence who had great difficulty learning to read. These reports were based on the assumption that intelligence and reading were intimately related, and therefore, children who were smart, but could not read, were a rarity. In 1921, Dr. Lucy Fieldes published a study of 26 subjects diagnosed with “congenital word-blindness” that showed no significant relationship between measured intelligence and reading performance. Probably due to the small sample size, the notion that intelligence and reading ability were not directly related, never took hold in the education or psychology field. Even today, the general belief throughout our society is that a person will not have trouble reading if they are bright. In Western society, the belief that good readers are highly intelligent and poor readers are not is rarely questioned.
The Facts and Evidence
Throughout the 1990s, numerous studies were published that show not only is the link between IQ and reading ability weak, it does not lead to good recommendations on how to correct reading problems. Researchers began looking for a better predictor. What they found was the discrepancy between Listening Comprehension and Reading Comprehension was a much stronger predictor of reading problems and a better diagnostic tool. In 1988 and again in 1991, research confirmed that the relationship between reading ability and IQ scores was empirically weak (0.4) while the validity of using listening comprehension measures for diagnosis of different forms of reading disabilities had an impressive correlation coefficient of 0.78 for groups of children with reading problems. Why does this occur? Because research has found that decoding abilities develop independently from language comprehension. A person’s ability to comprehend language develops independently from their ability to learn to decode words. A child will fully understand and comprehend its native language before it ever learns to read, write and spell. Research has found that the two skills develop independently of each other. When the two differ (listening comprehension is normal and reading comprehension is statistically lower), a reading disability is now defined to exist. It is now standard protocol in the field of Speech and Language Pathology to use the discrepancy between Listening Comprehension and Reading Comprehension as one of the primary measures to decide if a reading disability exists.
Below are four bell curves showing test results of children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Figure 1 shows a middle school student with exceptional listening comprehension (story recall – SS 130) and lower reading comprehension (reading recall SS – 108). Although the Reading Recall score in Figure 1 is not alarming, if you investigate more, his word identification scores, sound-to-symbol knowledge, and phonological memory are at the 2nd percentile or less. This student also had very high math scores. He shows the aptitude for high learning, but he was experiencing significant trouble in reading, writing and spelling at grade level, and his self-esteem was taking a large dive. His teachers could not figure out why he seemed to be highly intelligent, but couldn’t demonstrate his learning in reading, writing and spelling tasks. Parents, teachers and the student were frustrated.
Figure 2 shows the bell curve of a young first grader who was struggling significantly to learn to read. His listening comprehension scores (oral comprehension and story recall) where both in the above average range but his reading comprehension was below the second percentile. He struggled more than the typical first grader in learning to internalize the principles of reading. His phonological processing skills were in the area of concern as was his rapid naming (scores not shown) which are the cause of his struggle to learn to read, write and spell like his peers.
Figure 3 shows the same similar profile we expect to see in a child with dyslexia. What must be taken into account, is that each of these students’ parents report that the child does learn in the classroom, has excellent recall of material orally explained in subjects like social studies and science, but then severely struggles if asked to read a textbook, write a report, or complete a written vocabulary exercise on the same subject.
Figure 4 shows a child with a near photographic memory for non-language based stimuli (picture stimuli). Her listening comprehension is above average, but her reading comprehension (passage comprehension score) is right around the 15th percentile. Her phonological processing scores and rapid-naming scores are low, causing severe problems in reading, writing and spelling.
Studies show that the best predictors of a reading disability is a large difference between listening comprehension and reading comprehension. When diagnosing dyslexia, other factors are taken into consideration as well, including rapid naming and phonological processing. In addition, spelling, writing and oral reading tests are given to see the full impact phonological processing and rapid-naming is having on the ability to read, write and spell.
Intelligence is not a strong predictor of the ability to learn to read, write and spell. Instead, scientific evidence shows that better measures are a large difference between listening and reading comprehension. In dyslexic individuals, we also test for phonological processing and rapid naming.
Many individuals with dyslexia show many high learning abilities. It is the dichotomy between the high learning abilities and the struggle to read that causes many of these children to be stereotyped as not trying hard enough, not paying attention or not caring.
The NIH and the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia tells us that: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. This Definition is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Many state education codes, including New Jersey, Ohio and Utah, have adopted this definition. Learn more about how consensus was reached on this definition: Definition Consensus Project.