Every child with dyslexia is unique. There is no one profile of strengths and weaknesses that typifies every person with dyslexia. There are signs of dyslexia that can be known, but not every person will have all the signs or struggle with the same things. One of the reasons for this is that there are a variety of underlying weaknesses that affect dyslexia.
Almost every person with dyslexia will have weaknesses from one degree to another in the following areas:
- visual processing
- auditory processing
- working memory
- executive function
Intelligence also plays a role. It can be difficult to detect dyslexia in dyslexic people with higher than average intelligence because they often figure out compensation strategies that can mask dyslexic weaknesses. This is sometimes referred to as ‘stealth dyslexia’. The degree of dyslexia a person has will be affected by their relative strengths in each of these areas and result in either mild, moderate, or profound dyslexia.
Having seven kids (and one husband) with dyslexia, I’ve just about seen it all. My mildly dyslexic kids learned to read independently, despite my early years of bumbling through programs that didn’t work, at about 9 or 10 years of age. The more they read, the better they spelled, and today as teenagers and adults you cannot tell that they are dyslexic except for the occasional incorrect homonym spelling (too, to, there, their, your, you’re).
My moderately dyslexic kids learned to read independently (without intervention with an OG reading program) when they were older – between 11 and 12 years old. They seemed to have more coexisting learning issues, like dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and attention issues (executive function weaknesses).
They can read, but they don’t enjoy it much and prefer to listen to books and podcasts and watch YouTube videos to learn. Their spelling, even as adults, still has errors although they are all becoming masters of assistive technology helps such as speech-to-text apps and phonetic spell checkers.
Profound or Severe Dyslexia
I have two kids who are profoundly dyslexic. They have a lot more confusion about just about everything. Learning the basics of language arts and math was slow and oftentimes full of frustration.
They definitely had more co-existing learning issues but their weak executive functioning skills were by far the most debilitating of their issues. Executive functions help us to plan, organize and prioritize our thoughts. This disorganized thinking, in addition to dyslexia, makes learning that much harder.
How to Test for Different Degrees of Dyslexia
There is no clear set of criteria for determining an individual’s degree of dyslexia. It can be predicted by how far certain test scores are away from each other, or standard deviations. Every case is relative and will depend on how the diagnostician determines it. We were not told a level with our profoundly dyslexic son. Yes, his test scores had some extreme numbers, but it was the long-term struggle he had learning to read even with the right kind of dyslexia instruction that led to him being labeled as profoundly dyslexic.
Dyslexic kids will grow up to be dyslexic adults, but with help, they can increase cognitive functions and can move out of the mild, moderate, or profound levels which is why many diagnosticians don’t classify.
How to Teach Profoundly Dyslexic Kids
The number one warning sign of a profoundly dyslexic child is their painfully slow progress, even with solid, professional dyslexia tutoring. By the time our first profoundly dyslexic child was school-aged, we knew a lot more about dyslexia.
We knew that he was dyslexic, but when he wasn’t learning well at home, we found a local certified dyslexia tutor. Progress was slow so we upped his sessions to 3 times a week. He even went to the tutor all summer with little improvement.
After three years, he still couldn’t pick up a book and read. He was almost 12 years old.
We switched to a program in our area that incorporated more working memory exercises, visual and auditory memory exercises and crossing the midline activities. His reading took off that year!
That awesome multi-sensory, Orton-Gillingham program is called NILD. Visit the NILD website to learn more or to find a tutor in your area.
Besides finding a qualified educational therapist to teach, these are other support strategies for teaching the profoundly dyslexic student:
Scaffolding: Scaffolding is providing additional support for kids while teaching. It could mean breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing individualized instruction with each chunk. When scaffolding reading, for example, you might preview the text with your child, discuss key vocabulary, or chunk the text and read and discuss as you go.
Teach them strategies: One hallmark strategy across all subjects for kids with profound dyslexia is to explicitly teach them strategies for completing their work. Examples of useful strategies are: mind-mapping for organizing their thoughts, lists of procedures and ‘cheat sheets’ for math, acronyms for remembering facts, and so on.
For more information on teaching strategies and providing scaffolding for dyslexic learners, check out my Parent Course: Teaching Organization with tons of tips for teaching organization to kids with executive function weaknesses.
Accommodations: Maybe your child is not able to read their assignment at all. In this case an appropriate accommodation would be to give them an entirely different piece of text to read, read it to your child, or allow the use of an audio version, and you may modify the writing assignment that follows. For more on the best accommodations for dyslexia, read this.
Assistive technology: Since kids who are profoundly dyslexic will be reading below their grade level longer, introducing assistive technology as soon as needed is super helpful. Speech-to-text apps record their words so they can express their true thoughts on a subject without worrying about spelling. Text-to-speech apps can read text online or e-books out loud to them. Phonetic spell checkers can actually decipher their attempts to spell and help them find the correct word.
Some Encouragement for Parents of Profoundly Dyslexic Kids
Yes, these kids need a lot of support!
It is important to remember that dyslexia and its accompanying learning struggles make school endeavors difficult. That is why it is called a learning disability my many.
In my experience, dyslexia is a learning difference. Many people with dyslexia that have so much trouble in school often take off once they leave school. The reason for this is that their strengths often lie in non-academic areas. That is not to say that they lack intelligence. It is to say that we are all created for unique purpose with a unique set of strengths that equip us to achieve that purpose.