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Where am I in the Reading Universe Taxonomy?

Features of Structured Literacy
Features of Structured Literacy

Different Learning Disabilities in Reading

The most well-known learning disability affecting reading is dyslexia. However, there are two other common reading disabilities. All three reading disabilities can be understood in relation to the Simple View of Reading (SVR), which says that good reading comprehension requires two broad types of abilities: good word recognition skills and good oral language comprehension. In other words, to succeed in reading, all students must be able to read printed words well, and they must be able to understand what they have read. 

Teacher and student high five after reading instruction

Three Types of Reading Disabilities

The three types of reading disabilities are: 

1. Dyslexia, which involves problems specific to the word recognition part of the SVR. These students have difficulties learning to read and spell printed words, with oral language comprehension that is usually average or higher. Problems with phonological skills, such as blending sounds in words, are often fundamental to dyslexia.

2. Specific reading comprehension disabilities, which involves the opposite pattern to dyslexia. These students problems are specific to the language comprehension part of the SVR. Difficulties in language comprehension affect these childrens reading comprehension, despite the fact that they have at least average phonological and word recognition skills. Students specific language comprehension weaknesses can vary. For instance, one students difficulties might involve vocabulary, whereas another students difficulties might involve sentence structure.

3. Mixed reading disabilities, involving problems based in both word recognition and language comprehension. These students have decoding difficulties, but they may have poor reading comprehension even when reading texts that they can decode well, because of weaknesses in vocabulary or other language areas that also affect their reading comprehension. Students with mixed reading disabilities often have oral language comprehension that is somewhat below grade expectations, with reading comprehension that is even lower, because of the added impact of poor word recognition when they are reading. 

Eligibility for Special Education

In K-12 public schools, to be eligible for special education as a student with a specific learning disability (SLD), struggling readers have to meet certain requirements. These requirements include low achievement in at least one of the following areas:

  • Basic reading (i.e., word recognition)
  • Reading fluency, the ability to read text accurately, effortlessly, and with appropriate rate
  • Reading comprehension, the ability to understand what has been read

Students with dyslexia typically have low achievement in at least the first two areas, and often in the third as well; although their oral language comprehension is good, poor word recognition affects their comprehension when they are reading. In specific reading comprehension disabilities, the students' low achievement is often only in reading comprehension. Students with mixed reading disabilities have low achievement in all three areas; but unlike most students with dyslexia, their intervention needs include comprehension as well as word recognition and fluency.

Structured Literacy Approaches

Structured literacy (SL) approaches can benefit students with all three reading disabilities. SL is an umbrella term for certain intervention methods and commercial programs that share a focus on specific content and have specific instructional features. The content of SL involves important components of language and literacy, such as those displayed in the Reading Universe (RU) taxonomy. Features of SL include:

  • Instruction that is highly explicit, with important skills modeled and clearly explained by the teacher
  • Systematic, organized teaching, with instruction in the basic skills that students need to learn more advanced skills
  • Prompt, targeted feedback that helps the student improve
  • Planned, careful selections of instructional examples, tasks, and texts
  • Ongoing assessment to adjust interventions and maximize student progress

Students with all reading disabilities can benefit from SL approaches. However, they need different emphases depending on the type of reading disability they have. Students with dyslexia require SL interventions focused on word recognition, spelling, and fluency. Students with specific reading comprehension disabilities need SL interventions focused on the specific areas of comprehension in which they are weak for example, vocabulary or sentence structure. Students with mixed reading disabilities need interventions in both areas, word recognition and comprehension.

Many poor readers have problems similar to those outlined above but do not have disabilities. Sometimes children's difficulties relate to limited experiences with language or literacy, for example, or to weaknesses in curriculum or instruction. These students can also benefit from SL approaches. However, students with disabilities often require more intensity of intervention such as more time in intervention or smaller group sizes than will poor readers without disabilities. Teachers can use the RU taxonomy, which is organized according to the SVR, to find suggestions for helping all of these struggling readers in a variety of important areas of reading.


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