In the world of ever-changing labels, four learning differences with very similar-sounding names stand out. Those four differences are dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia. What do these terms mean? How common are they in the general population? Can these areas overlap with each other? Will one form of therapy remediate the other? Let’s investigate these and other concerns that parents and teachers may encounter with children, how to distinguish one from the other, and how to support the identified student at home and at school.
To begin to understand these topics, let’s start with a Greek/Latin language lesson.
- Dys is a prefix (letter or letters added to the beginning of a word or root to change the form or meaning) that is added to all of these base or root words. Dys means bad, or wrong.
- Lexia = word
- Graph/graphia = write
- Calculia = count
- Praxis/praxia = action
Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin. It impacts the areas of reading, handwriting, spelling, and written expression. The deficit for dyslexia typically lies in the phonological component of sound manipulation. Dyslexia exists along a continuum. This means it varies from person to person, even among family members. (Hence the expression, “If you’ve met one person with dyslexia, you’ve met one person with dyslexia.”) Dyslexia is highly inheritable, meaning that it could be passed from one family member to another. At least 20% of the population are dyslexic or have dyslexic tendencies. When a person is identified as dyslexic, the difficulties he experiences with written language can be remediated to a degree, but that person will always struggle with reading fluency and writing well into adulthood. Dyslexia remediation will narrow the gap between cognition and performance.
According to the Texas Dyslexia Handbook, some signs of dyslexia could include, but not limited to:
- Difficulty breaking words into smaller parts
- Difficulty remembering the names of letters or their sounds
- Difficulty decoding single words in isolation
- Difficulty spelling phonetic words or remembering letter sequences in common sight words
- Difficulty recalling the correct sounds for letters and letter patterns in reading
- Omitting letters in words for spelling
- Difficulty reading fluently and with prosody
- Difficulty decoding unfamiliar words in sentences using knowledge of phonics
- Reliance on picture clues, story theme, or guessing at words
- Difficulty with written expression
- Reluctance to read aloud
- Reduced vocabulary acquisition due to reduced independent reading
- Use of less complicated words in writing that are easier to spell than more appropriate words
- Reliance on listening rather than reading
Learning differences have many overlaps in signs, symptoms, remediation, and accommodations. These difficulties can have several comorbidities, and if there is an ADHD identification, it could compound the difficulties even further
Dysgraphia is also neurological in origin. It impairs writing and fine motor skills. It can impede getting thoughts down on paper and written transcription of notes. It is estimated that 5 to 20 percent of all children have some type of writing deficit like dysgraphia.
According to understood.org, some signs of dysgraphia could include, but not limited to:
- Forming letters
- Writing grammatically correct sentences
- Spacing letters/words correctly
- Writing in a straight line
- Holding and controlling a pen or pencil
- Writing complete words with omitting letters
- Older students could struggle with syntax, grammar, and getting thoughts on paper
Dyscalculia is a difficulty that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem-solve, and perform other basic math skills. Dyscalculia is sometimes called “number dyslexia” or “math dyslexia.” About 35% of the population experience math difficulties of some kind, and 6.4% have dyscalculia or math learning disabilities.
Some signs of dyscalculia could include, but not limited to:
- Connecting a number to the quantity it represents (the number 2 to two physical items)
- Counting, backward and forwards
- Comparing two amounts
- Trouble with subitizing (recognizing quantities without counting)
- Trouble recalling basic math facts (like multiplication tables)
- Difficulty linking numbers and symbols to amounts
- Trouble with mental math and problem-solving
- Difficulty making sense of money and estimating quantities
- Difficulty with telling time on an analog clock
- Poor visual and spatial orientation
- Difficulty immediately sorting out direction (right from left)
- Troubles with recognizing patterns and sequencing number
(Taken from ADDitude)
Dyspraxia is a motor disorder that affects fine and/or gross motor skills in children. It goes far beyond “clumsiness”. It can impact day-to-day functional tasks/routines such as climbing out of bed, brushing teeth, and sitting upright in chairs. It can also impact the speed at which a task is completed. Dyspraxia is more common in boys than girls.
Some signs of dyspraxia could include, but not limited to:
- Bumping into objects, tripping over nothing, seeming clumsy
- Knocking things over frequently
- Trouble navigating uneven surfaces and/or stairs
- Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
- Trouble with fine motor skills – when handwriting, using scissors and eating utensils, such as a fork, spoon, or knife, tying shoes, buttoning clothes
- Becoming tired quickly
- Having poor posture or slumping over the desk while writing
Learning differences, like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia, are common in children who have the additional comorbidity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Up to half of children with ADHD in the U.S. have a comorbid learning disorder such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or dyspraxia. Sometimes, there are multiple comorbidities that can impede learning.
How can you help?
- Consult with the school or agency that your child/student attends. Voice your concerns. Take notes and present to the IEP team. Request additional assessments for your student.
- Once identified, request remediation in the area(s) of concern. Dyslexia treatment could help address some areas of dysgraphia. However, dysgraphia and dyspraxia could be best treated through occupational therapy.
- For dyslexia and dyscalculia, request multisensory instruction to help with remediation.
Additionally, the following accommodations are helpful in order to support the student identified with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and/or dyspraxia:
- allowing more time on assignments and tests
- allowing the use of calculators (dyscalculia)
- adjusting the difficulty of the task
- separating complicated problems into smaller steps
- using posters to remind students of basic math concepts (dyscalculia)
- tutoring to target core, foundational skills
- providing supplemental information via
- computer-based interactive lessons
- hands-on projects
Learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia have many overlaps in signs, symptoms, remediation, and accommodations. These difficulties can have several comorbidities, and if there is an ADHD identification, it could compound the difficulties even further.
Points to Ponder:
What do you think? Talk to your school, your child’s teachers, or other specialists at the campus. It is up to the parent and educator to understand the differences amongst these learning differences, request the identification, and understand how to help in the remediation process.
By using the Amplio platform, teachers can provide evidenced-based practices based on the science of reading, but also provide structured literacy, OG-based curricula that are VAKT by design. The curricula contain the components needed for explicit instruction and remediation for students identified with dyslexia.
Don’t “dys” the learning differences! Arm yourself with knowledge, and then impart the knowledge to others. Reach out to Amplio and talk to one of our experts today!