What Causes Reading & Spelling Problems?

Brain Science & Technology Team Up to Help Struggling Readers & Writers

By Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow 

A hundred years ago illiteracy was not uncommon in the United States, but today a high level of proficiency of reading and writing is considered essential.  Modern brain science has revealed how reading develops over the first three years of formal schooling, Triple-Word-Form-Brain.pngconnecting  specialized neural circuits in the left brain and developing lightning-fast interconnections that link speech sounds, letter symbols and meaning. By the fourth grade, this neural network allows reading and writing to “run in the background,” leaving the bulk of the child’s cognitive resources free to send and receive information. Neuroscience also reveals what is different about the brains of people who struggle with reading, spelling and writing, including inherited factors, and pinpoints instructional routines that establish more efficient brain activation patterns. 

These language sciences are in their infancy so best practices are not always integrated into schools'  general education methods.  

What Causes Reading & Writing Problems?

By the time a child is in early elementary school, parents may observe that the child’s reading and/or writing skills are not developing effortlessly. Recent neuroscience shows that there are two main types of struggling readers and writers:

  1. Those with good listening comprehension but weaknesses in aspects of the writing code (word reading, spelling and/or writing);
  2. Those with weak listening comprehension, with or without difficulty with the writing coding.

The first is described, broadly, as dyslexia and is far more common than the second, known as specific language impairment. Young children with dyslexia may twist or omit sounds in certain words (e.g., amunal for animal or busgetti for spaghetti) or have trouble learning certain language patterns (e.g., ABCs, phonics or multiplication tables). But many times the only clear indication of trouble is spelling. Bright children with language processing weaknesses may be able to memorize words for a spelling test but typically they struggle with spelling in spontaneous writing. In dyslexia, the difficulty begins with the awareness of the sound structure of words. 

Effective Treatment for Each Type of Reading and Writing Difficulty

The treatments for dyslexia and specific language impairment are very different. The first critical step is a professional assessment to determine the type(s) of reading difficulty. Then, treatment(s) can be customized to meet the individual's needs and the most appropriate assistive technologies and/or accommodations can be recommended.

Language processing differences like dyslexia are not outgrown, but structured literacy methods can help children master upper-level reading, spelling and writing. Structured literacy methods (aka, Orton-Gillingham) have been used, tested, researched and validated for more than 70 years. This approach is multisensory, structured, individualized, explicit and analytic. It is logical and cumulative, helping the child to progress toward benchmarks as he or she gains control of predictable language patterns.

Successful use of structured literacy treatment is not just a matter of having the right materials and step-by-step instructions. Individuals vary a lot in their literacy processing patterns and may require quite a lot of adjustments to the methodology so even good, off-the-shelf programs can be difficult to apply without professional guidance. (See 10 Dyslexia Facts Literacy Therapists Wish Everyone Knew)

LSargent.jpgLexercise solves this problem using technology, bringing an experienced professional into your home via web-conferencing for private, face-to-face, interactive weekly sessions, followed by brief, daily online practice exercises as well as parent resources for emotionally sound, offline practice customized for each individual by his/her clinical educator.

Using Lexercise's blended learning approach, children average over 2 1/2 years of reading gains in one semester and a literacy boost that keeps them progressing long after treatment ends.




Click here to use our free Dyslexia Screening Test. To get answers to your questions and to get scheduled with a clinician, call 1-888-603-1788 or e-mail


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