Orthographic Awareness in Dyslexia Assessment

Posted March 19, 2024 by in Lifestyle
Person sitting and reading a book while holding onto a pair of glasses

Deficits in orthographic knowledge are among the most readily identifiable elements of dyslexia, playing a large role in the spelling and reading challenges that are most commonly associated with the disorder. However, a severe lack of orthographic awareness can be among the most difficult parts of dyslexia for a non-dyslexic person to fully understand. 

Orthographic Awareness: Seeing How Words Are Built

Orthographic awareness is proficiency in correctly learning to connect written letters and letter combinations with their sounds. While various experts emphasize different aspects of orthographic problems in children with dyslexia, the apparent connecting thread is the failure to make a clear and lasting connection between words and their spellings.

Imagine a child who knows what a human face looks like, but somehow cannot grasp the typical “layout” of the face. Every time she draws a face, she places the nose in a different location and occasionally may omit it altogether. In a similar way, a child with orthographic deficits may make inexplicable spelling errors or fail to recognize a familiar word when it is written, because of a kind of “blindness” to the logic of putting the right letters in the right places in order to make the word.

How Orthographic Deficits Present in Dyslexia

The relationship between dyslexia and orthographic mapping is that learners with dyslexia often show weakness in this skill, reflected in poor spelling, mistaking similar-looking letters and symbols with one another, and omitting parts of words when writing them. Dyslexic children also frequently misspell words by including all or almost all the right letters but putting them in the wrong order.

The effect of orthographic deficiencies in dyslexia may also be reflected in a reduced ability to use the “sounding out” of the letters in a word as a means of recognizing what that word is. However, this should be differentiated from deficits in phonological processing. Standardized tools such as the Tests of Dyslexia (TOD™) can help professionals build a detailed picture of a learner’s condition.

Difference Between Phonological and Orthographic Awareness

Problems with orthographic awareness may be independent of phonological processing issues. Whereas a child that has poor phonological awareness struggles with understanding and making the sounds of the language, orthographic awareness pertains more specifically to learning the relationship between the language’s sounds and the differing ways those sounds can be represented in different written words.

Dyslexic people who display poor orthographic understanding can have a relatively normal mastery of their language’s typical sounds while being confused by the complexities of their language’s symbols (letters). In English, all of these difficulties are further complicated by the fact that the same combination of letters can have several different sounds, and the same sound can be made by several combinations of letters. This sort of context-dependent spelling rule is precisely what is so hard for dyslexic children with orthographic difficulties to understand.

People with orthographic difficulties struggle to make the connection between a specific combination of letters and the sounds they make to form a word. Evaluating the precise role that orthographic awareness plays in a learner’s condition is vital in order to devise the optimal intervention for each dyslexic child. For more information on how comprehensive dyslexia assessments help build better learning plans, visit WPS Publish today.

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