Summary of dyslexia & what can be done about it?

I thought I would republish this article which was originally posted on July 24th, 2011. It updated and combined several articles on dyslexia that I had written before, such as this “page,” as well as the textbook I wrote in the early 1990’s that started it all — a multi-sensory approach that could help improve both reading fluency and reading comprehension. If you are a parent or teacher that wants to know how to do the strategy, I am going to put it in the next section under the heading: “The Tape-Recorder Strategy.” That will be followed with all the rationale and technical information — which can be read at a later late.

Using a tape-recorder to improve reading:

When you use a tape-recorder (with both record and playback features), several learning processes are going on simultaneously. The main technique is the repeated readings strategy — which involves reading something three times, but in a slightly different way each time. Plus, there are a variety of other learning strategies being used as well, such as using post-it notes or highlighting (signaling) main ideas.

  • First reading: Ask your child to read a a sentence, paragraph or short article from a newspaper or magazine. Have them read the passage slowly read into a tape-recorder or equivalent equipment with record and playback features. At this point, tell them not worry about comprehension, just to record each and every word in their usual voice.
  • Second reading: Once the recording is finished, have them put on earphones or ear buds to listen quietly to what they recorded, carefully following the text with the eraser end of a pencil or their finger. Following along is crucial in order to “attend” to what they are hearing.
  • Third reading: Then, once the recording and listening steps are fully completed, they should go back over the written copy and pick out the main ideas.  I would recommend post-it notes or a highlighter pen if the material is not borrowed. If a summary has to be written, then I would definitely use post-it notes because they can be moved around into their correct sequence and used as the basis for writing.


At the time my text book was first published, it was considered a seminal work on “learning strategies” because of an eight-to-ten-step process I had developed using a tape-recorder. The good news is, that while the content in that book is twenty years old now, the ideas within it are timeless.

What has changed since my original work, of course, are the number of electronic devices (e-books and smart phones that have memo pads and built-in organizers) that are available today that weren’t available then.

However, my favourite tech device still remains the Franklin Spelling Ace because it is phonetic. Type in “fizishun” and you will instantly get “physician.” I hear that there is now an updated version that also includes the dictionary meaning so you know you have the right word, as well as a synthesizer that repeats the word.

Defining dyslexia:

The term dyslexia is explained differently depending on where you live. In the U.K. and Australia, for example, dyslexia is a generalized syndrome, much like we in Canada and the U.S. refer to “learning disabilities.” However, in the context of this article, dyslexia will refer to reading and related processing difficulties related to phonemic awareness, decoding skills, vocabulary development, visual and auditory integration and memory and cognition processing.

Sequencing & memory

Memory and cognition involves at least three inter-connected processes — immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory (where facts, colours, sounds and emotions are stored). So when information or emotions are taken in when we are reading, something happens that allows us to hold on to that information long enough to be processed into our long term memory. Later, when we need that information again, all we need to do is think of a word or idea and, all of a sudden, it’s there. At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory.

Silent Reading & Sub-vocalizing:

Reading is not only a visual and memory processing skill. It also involves auditory processing, an aspect of dyslexia that few discuss. For example, we have to be able to read “silently” without moving our lips. Think about that. As you are reading this text, you are silent, yet you are “hearing” the words in your head. That is called “sub-vocalizing, a very important aspect of learning to read because we are internalizing sounds — although there are differing opinions on this.

In the case of hearing impairment or profound deafness, individuals have to learn to read “visually” which is helped by “signing.” However, for those who can hear, given what I learned in my reading clinic, it is imperative that individuals be able to read silently with ease for letters, words and information to be readily processed into memory.

The Reading Process:

Before I get into how to use a tape-recorder to compensate for dyslexia, let’s understand that reading involves two processes that overlap — “Learning to Read” skills (decoding, word identification and sentence integation) and “Reading to Learn” skills (comprehension — finding main ideas, drawing conclusions, making inferences and so on).

Traditionally, those processes were thought to be separate and distinct but for some time now, we have known they must be simultaneous — although once the first phase is automatic, reading is almost entirely about comprehension.

That said, any time we encounter reading materials that are technical or new to us, we have to resort to decoding and figuring out word meanings again.


The crux of the matter is then, that by the time the “tape-recorder strategy” and three steps are completed, the reader will not only know how to decode the material, but have a clear understanding of it as well.  Of course, after some practice, the tape-recorder may no longer be necessary — meaning the dyslexia will have been overcome.


Endnote: Credit where credit is due. Such researchers as S.T. Orton and A. Gillingham, Marie Carbo, G.R. Alley and D.D. Deshler come to mind, as well as D.J. Johnson and J.W. Blalock and D.G. Bachor and C. Crealock, without whose work I could not have written my original book. 

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