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Dyslexia and Bilingual Kids – What you need to know

Dyslexia and Bilingual Kids

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Bilingual Kidspot

Raising Bilingual Kids with Dyslexia: Marie Robert, bilingual pediatric speech and language therapist goes through all you need to know.

What is dyslexia?

There are hundreds of definitions of dyslexia but, as an SLT (Speech and Language Therapist), I have always loved this one from the International Dyslexia Association.

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.

This definition is so complete. It states what dyslexia is, it states that it’s not dependent on amount of teaching or intelligence and (most importantly for someone like me) it stresses the secondary effects such as reduced enjoyment of reading and the ‘Matthew Effect’ (I.e. ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’) on vocabulary and syntax.

The more you read, the better you read, and therefore the more you know. The less you read, the less you want to read, and therefore the more you miss out in terms of learning opportunities.

How does dyslexia manifest?

Dyslexia is generally noticed first in the first year or two of active literacy instruction at school or at home (though the signs may have been there before then). It manifests itself in difficulties with learning to read and with spelling.

Dyslexic people can also have difficulty with grammar and comprehension of what they read so it is a very wide spectrum. It can also cause children to try to avoid literacy tasks as they find them much more difficult than their peers.

This type of deflection can make dyslexia hard to spot, as it can be tempting to say ‘Oh, she’s just not trying hard enough’ or ‘he just doesn’t want to read’.

I tell parents and teachers to look out for children who are not keeping up with their class, even after a bit of extra help.

Children tend to learn at a similar rate to peers in their class as they are exposed to the material together. So, if someone is way off the curve then you have reason to dig a little deeper.

What are risk factors for dyslexia?

Lots of things add up to your risk of being diagnosed with dyslexia and just like other disorders, while it is not an exact science, we know that certain things make you more at risk.

The biggest risk factor is having someone else in the immediate family (especially a parent) who is dyslexic. That’s why speech and language Therapists will often ask if there is a family history of reading difficulties.

We also look out for certain warning or ‘red flag’ signs in young children. Any child with a language delay or a speech (pronunciation) delay or disorder, whether or not it has been resolved before reading age, is at a higher risk of being diagnosed with dyslexia.

Finally, children who struggle with learning pre-reading skills are at risk of later being diagnosed with dyslexia.

Pre-reading skills include print awareness (learning the names and sounds of letters) and also phonological awareness skills such as identification and generation of rhyme, counting sounds or syllables and other sound manipulation tasks.

Does being bilingual cause reading disorders?

The short answer is that research says ‘nope, no and never’.  However, being bilingual can make being dyslexic more complicated due to having to learn to read in two languages (or more) with different sound systems.

As bilingualism can often be incorrectly blamed for reading difficulties, it is important to remember that a person who is dyslexic would be dyslexic whether they are mono- or multilingual.

Can you be dyslexic in more than one language?

Yes! Just like speech and language disorders, if your child is diagnosed with dyslexia in one language, then they can be considered dyslexic in all the languages they read and write in if the languages are orthographic (using roman letters and a letter-sound correspondence based system).

Remember, dyslexia is not just a reading but also a spelling disorder so it will affect both reading and writing.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

This will depend on what country you are in. In some places it is diagnosed by psychologists and in others it is the speech and language therapists who do the testing and diagnosis.

As parents, you will need to ask your doctor or school about the usual pathway for the area in which you live.

What can you do?

If parents suspect their child is dyslexic (or even feel they might need a test as an adult) then the best place to start is your school or doctor.

Once dyslexia is diagnosed, therapy and remediation might be available to you (depending on where you live) or certain systems can be put in place in school to help relieve the burden on your child and help them access their curriculum better.

Attending therapy with your child can give you a great insight into their difficulties and you’ll be expected to do homework with your child in order to help them progress.

Therapy itself can be extremely effective for dyslexia, especially if caught young. As with most things, knowledge is power, so I always recommend that parents arm themselves with as much good information as possible.

Finally, no matter how stressful the initial stages seem, always remember that, while it can be a difficult path and is a lifelong impairment, we now know a lot more about dyslexia than we used to, and most dyslexic people do learn to read and write!

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