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August 2019

The science behind the workbooks

By | Dyslexia | No Comments

‘Zebras Spell Really Well, Phonics and Spelling Rules’ and ‘Spelling Words with Double Vowel  Sounds? It’s a breeze!’ 

The predominant reason why people with dyslexia find processing letters and words  demanding is that they have difficulty processing speech sounds, this is described as ‘phonological processing’ skill. They may also have an underdeveloped verbal memory, and more general working memory difficulties which affects the overall speed of their linkage of  letters to sounds and vice versa. This slow processing then goes on to inhibit their reading  fluency which impacts on their recall of the text they have just read. 

‘Problems in learning to use the regular patterns of letter-phoneme correspondence in words  as an aid in identifying new words have been referred to as the single most important defining feature of specific learning difficulties.’(Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003)

A tried and tested way of developing phonemic decoding skill is to teach the spelling rules alongside teaching letter to sound correspondences starting at alphabet level using multi– sensory techniques. 

‘The pupil should be taught step by step beginning with single-letter sounds linked to letter names and letter shapes and working through stages through simple one syllable words to complex multi-syllabic words. The teaching drills should be based on multi-sensory techniques. One that utilizes the pupil’s senses of sight and hearing as well as writing down and reading back aloud what has been written – an all-around approach which is particularly successful with dyslexics’ (Beve Hornsby, 1995) 

In 2002 a study was undertaken in an inner city school in Oklahoma in which multi-sensory teaching was compared to teaching reading without this approach:

‘The results of this study show that first grade children taught with the multi-sensory teaching approach performed better in tests of phonological awareness, decoding and reading comprehension, than the control groups.’ 

And they go on to state that, ‘The multi-sensory training could be used not only to improve phonological and decoding skills, but also for improving spelling’ …  The two spelling and reading programmes I have produced gradually take the learner on a journey using multi-sensory techniques starting at letter to sound level, right through to exercising their skill at reading and spelling words with double vowel sounds. Imagery is used throughout and the learner is continually, being engaged by a variety of tasks, in order to learn a specific spelling rule, prior to moving on to the next one. 

Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S.E., & Shaiwitz, B.A. (2003) A definition of Dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 53(1-14)
Hornsby, B (1995) Overcoming Dyslexia, 73, Vermillion Press
Joshi, R.M., Dahlgren, M., Boulware–Gouden, R., (2002) Annals of Dyslexia, Vol 52 (237-238) 

Times Tables?’ It’s a Doddle’ 

‘Phonological processing skills play a critical role in learning to read write and spell, particularly for alphabetical writing systems. They also appear to be involved in mathematical computation’  (Wagner, Torgesen and Rashotte, 1999) 

The ability to rapidly ‘name’ or read both letters and digits is a fundamental part of phonological  processing tests. ‘Rapid naming of objects, colours, digits or letters requires efficient retrieval of phonological information from long term or permanent memory.’(Wagner, Torgesen and Rashotte, 1999).

And the ability to recall digit strings in forward order is a fundamental aspect of phonological memory tests. 

‘It is clear that phonological coding in working memory is potentially more useful when attempting to code new words, particularly new words but by bit, as a means of storing intermediate sounds.’(Wagner Torgesen and Rashotte, 1999) 

It would be sensible to conclude that low scores in both rapid digit naming tests and digit memory span tests would predispose the individual to having difficulty performing mathematical operations. Processing numbers slowly will place strain on the individual’s working memory and this will impact on their ability to perform calculations with integral steps and also to recall the different steps involved. 

‘Long term retrieval abilities are important to math and calculation skills. For example students with deficits in long–term retrieval may have difficulty recalling basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and or division facts when encountered within a math problem.’ (Korkman, Kirk, and Kemp, 1998) 

It is perhaps not surprising then that Dr Beve Hornsby, speech therapist, clinical psychologist and specialist teacher, lead at the ‘Dyslexia Clinic’ in St Bart’s Hospital from 1971-1981,and who also set up the ‘Hornsby International Dyslexia Centre’ stated in her book ‘Overcoming Dyslexia’, ‘Around 60% of dyslexics have difficulty with basic mathematics.’ (Hornsby, 1995) 

The ‘Times Tables? It’s a doddle!’ work book has been created to support children with dyslexia who have co-existent difficulty with recalling maths facts, leading to a real difficulty conquering the myriad facts in the twelve basic times tables. The workbook uses imagery and multi-tasking to support learning and includes textual problems to exercise the learner’s ability to turn number problems into words and vice versa. The learners have to select the correct answer to the times tables from a non sequential set of answers, thus there is no rote learning. The reader is engaged from the outset in working the facts out for themselves from given clues. 

Sarah Cowell© Dip SpLD, SpLD APC, 2019 


Wagner, R.K., Torgesen, J.K., Rashotte, C.R (1999) The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, 2, pro-ed

Wagner, R.K., Torgesen, J.K., Rashotte, C.R (1999) The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, 6, pro-ed

Wagner, R.K., Torgesen, J.K., Rashotte, C.R (1999) The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, 6, pro-ed

Korman, M., Kirk, U., Kemp. S.,(1998) The NEPSY Manual, The Pysch Corp 

Hornsby. B., Overcoming Dyslexia, 27, Vermillion Press

The impact of ‘auditory processing disorder’ on life at school

By | Assessment | No Comments

Sometime ago a delightful nine year old boy, I shall call Sam, came to see me with his mother, with a very specific set of issues that Sam was very aware of and concerned about.

Sam could not work out why he found it so hard to remember multiple verbal instructions and why he could not pronounce certain single speech sounds and blends very well. He found being around noise really stressful to the point that he had left the music room and sat in the corridor at school, because the noise to him was overwhelming. In the classroom he had moved to another table for the same reason on many occasions. He also felt he could not hear certain sounds either close to or from a distance. My initial thought was that this sort of hypersensitivity to sound can be associated with sensory neural deafness, which would also account for his hearing difficulty related to certain sounds. But Sam had passed a hearing test when he was four years old and he did not have a family history of progressive hearing loss and he had not had a bout of ear infections or illnesses over the following years that would trigger, this response.

The assessment results showed that Sam had above average numeracy skills and conversely below average phonological processing skills results, echoing Sam’s description of his difficulties. Sam’s spelling skill and untimed word reading skill were almost inevitably at the low average level. He had an above average expressive and receptive vocabulary, and this supported his reading in context which was at the mid-average level. Sam had secure attention
and concentration skill overall, but he had real difficulty reversing a list of letters dictated to him, he simply could not recall the letters well enough to re-order them. The ‘Object Recall’ sub test in the ‘Test of Memory and Learning 2’ Verbal Memory Index, also produced a below average result. The test required Sam to recall in sequential order the names of a set of objects. Images of the objects were displayed to Sam as they were named. This task disturbs the ease of recall of individuals with learning difficulty as the mixed visual to verbal cue, interferes with their recall as opposed to supporting it.

Sam had a history of speech and language difficulty, he found it hard to pronounce certain speech sounds and he wrote at a slow rate and he achieved a low average result for the ‘Beery Visual Motor Integration Test V1’, which is a test which assesses the individual’s ability to draw shapes. All this pointed towards Sam having fine motor dyspraxia, which also affects formation of speech, as it is in part a muscular process and Sam had said, ‘I know what I want
to say I just can’t get it out of my mouth.’

So what to do?

My recommendations included: Sam having support directed at developing his discrimination of letter sounds, using multi-sensory learning techniques, which would simultaneously develop his spelling, reading and continuous writing skill. To experiment with using ergonomic pencils and pens. To visit the local speech and language team for re-assessment and to have his hearing re-assessed across all the frequencies required to hear speech sounds both with and without background noise.

The Outcome

I was pleased to see an email in my inbox from Sam’s mother recently. She told me that Sam’s hearing assessment had due to her persistence, led to him being referred to a specialist audio-neurologist in London. Sam has as a result been diagnosed as having ‘auditory processing disorder’. This explains Sam’s hyper sensitivity to noise. Sam is not deaf as such, his difficulty is that his neural processing of sounds he has heard, is underdeveloped. Fortunately, our
auditory processing skills gradually develop until we are around fifteen years old. With the right support Sam can gradually develop his discrimination of speech sounds and his ability to distinguish general sounds and this will help him to cope with noisy situations and to feel less assaulted by sound. One relatively simple but useful intervention which can help students at school is the teacher’s voice can be amplified through a microphone connected to a headset worn by the student, this cuts out any extraneous distracting noise. Each child has their own pattern of need and so must be assessed by a specialist at an auditory processing clinic such as the one at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They take NHS referrals and will also see children privately.