By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), “Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.” Also, it is important to recognize that dyslexia is not due to either a lack of intelligence or a lack of desire to learn, and with appropriate and sufficient teaching methods, students with dyslexia can learn successfully.
Fortunately, there are effective strategies to help students with dyslexia. However, some common approaches to teaching reading (e.g., guided reading, balanced literacy) have not been found to be effective enough for the struggling reader. What research has found to be most effective is Structured Literacy. Structured Literacy instruction includes specific elements that are necessary for a dyslexic reader to make reading progress. Such elements include phonemic awareness (the ability to notice, think about, and work with individual sounds in words, such as separating the spoken word “cat” into three distinct phonemes), phonological awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words), sound-symbol association (e.g., identify printed letters and what sounds they make), syllable instruction, morphology (smallest unit of meaning in the language), syntax (e.g., grammar), and semantics (meaning). In order to be most effective, students with dyslexia need to be taught using an explicit instruction method, with a teacher trained in a program that meets that student’s specific needs, the instruction needs to be taught in a logical order (basic concepts before more difficult ones), and each step needs to be based on previously learned concepts (cumulative).
According to the IDA, a comprehensive evaluation to assess for dyslexia, as well as to assess for any other potential language challenges or learning disabilities, should include intellectual and academic achievement testing, as well as assessment of critical underlying language skills that are closely linked to dyslexia, such as receptive and expressive language skills, phonology (phonological awareness, phonemic awareness), and rapid naming (e.g., quickly reading single letters or numbers). Additionally, a full evaluation should assess a student’s ability to read a list of unrelated real words as well as a list of pseudowords (made up pretend words to assess a child’s ability to apply reading rules), in addition to a student’s ability to read in context (e.g., stories). If a student is found to demonstrate that they meet criteria for a diagnosis of dyslexia, a specialized program should be developed by the school in order to provide appropriate services and accommodations.
About the Author
With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.
She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”
Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.
Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).
She is the mother of one teenage girl.
To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.