What parents can do

Get effective intervention for your child using a structured literacy program provided by a qualified professional. Fees paid for private intervention programs for learning disabilities may be tax deductible as a medical expense For more information; check the Canada Revenue Agency website (click here or here) and/or talk to an accountant. The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada has prepared a fact sheet on federal tax deductions and credits.
Encourage your child to read out loud every day for 10-20 minutes, using text that is appropriate for their reading level. If a child is in an intervention program, appropriate reading material may be provided.
Read to your child everyday or encourage them to listen to age-appropriate or grade-level audio-books. This will ensure vocabulary and comprehension development, and keep them interested and excited about books. These books may be at a significantly higher level than their current reading ability. Check your local library for audiobooks or purchase them at sites such as audible.com.
If your child has a diagnosed reading (print) disability, apply for free access to downloadable audio-books through the Canadian Equitable Library Access program.

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For older students encourage the use of assistive technologies, including speech-to-text software (for writing), text-to-speech software (for speaking), text enlargement, enhanced spelling/grammar checkers and graphic organizers and outliners.
Have a discussion with the child’s school and psychologist about appropriate accommodations , such as extra time for tests or having a quiet place to do tests.
Provide emotional support to your child. Celebrate and support their strengths and abilities. Encourage their participation in sports, music, arts or other activities that the student enjoys.

What is taught in ‘Structured Literacy’ (Orton-Gillingham)?

Phonemic awareness

Research has shown that many dyslexics have poor phonemic awareness, which is the ability to separate and manipulate the sounds of a word. Structured literacy instruction involves various exercises to improve phonemic awareness.

Letter-sound associations

Letter-sound associations are taught in two directions: visual to auditory (reading) and auditory to visual (spelling). Students must also master the blending of sounds and letters into words. The instruction of sound-symbol associations is often referred to as phonics. Although phonics is a component of structured literacy, it is embedded within a rich and deep language context.

Handwriting

Handwriting instruction can improve reading and writing skills.  Efficient handwriting skills can improve writing quanttiy, quality and speed.

Syllable instruction

Structured literacy includes teaching of the six basic syllable types in the English language. Knowledge of syllable types and syllable division rules is used in decoding larger multi-syllable words.

Spelling

Structured literacy instruction includes explicit instruction of spelling rules and generalizations.

Morphology

A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in the language. Structured literacy includes the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes. This knowledge helps students improve their reading and spelling, as well as their vocabulary.

Fluency

Some struggling readers, even after improving their decoding skills, have challenges in developing automaticity in word reading. Reading slowly makes it challenging to retain meaning. Fluency activities such as fluency drills and repeated oral readings can help to improve reading rate and subsequently, comprehension. Fluency, however, is often slower to improve than decoding for students with fluency issues.

Syntax (grammar)

Syntax is the set of principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence in order to convey meaning. This includes grammar, sentence variation, and the mechanics of language.

Semantics (comprehension)

Semantics is that aspect of language concerned with meaning. Structure literacy includes instruction in the comprehension of written language.

For more information about ‘Structured Literacy‘ check out the articles at the International Dyslexia Association and the University of Michigan.

Effective Instruction

Dyslexia and related reading and language difficulties are the result of neurobiological variations, but they can be treated with effective instruction.  The earlier your child receives effective instruction the better, but people with dyslexia can be helped at any age. While many children learn to read successfully with approaches such as ‘Guided Reading’ or ‘Balanced Literacy’, research has shown that students with reading disability need instruction that is:

  • explicit, systematic, cumulative and multisensory. This is known as ‘structured literacy‘ instruction.
  • intensive, with additional daily practice.
  • provided by professionals with expert knowledge, skills, and abilities. Read more about how to select the right professional to get effective instruction for your child.

‘Structured literacy’ instruction has its roots in the Orton-Gillingham approach developed in the 1930-40’s by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. It is an approach that explicitly and systematically teaches the foundations of reading, writing and spelling, including, for example, phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, explicit decoding strategies, handwriting, syntax and semantics.  Although initially developed for struggling readers, there is evidence that all readers benefit from this approach to teaching reading.  The International Dyslexia Association recently suggested the term ‘structured literacy’ to describe this approach that explicitly and systematically teaches reading, spelling and writing.

‘Structured literacy’ (i.e. the Orton-Gillingham approach) is:

  • Explicit – concepts are taught using direction instruction.
  • Systematic – the elements of the language are taught sequentially with intensive practice and continual feedback.
  • Cumulative – lessons build on previous knowledge, moving from simple concepts to more difficult concepts.
  • Multisensory – lessons engage the learner in visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile responses.
  • Individualized – lessons are tailored to the student’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. pace, amount of review, understanding of other challenges such as anxiety, ADHD, dysgraphia).
  • Metacognitive – students are taught to understand and monitor their own learning.
  • Supportive – self-confidence and motivation increases as the student experiences mastery of the content.


Dyslexia and related reading and language difficulties are the result of neurobiological variations, but they can be treated with effective instruction.  The earlier your child receives effective instruction the better, but people with dyslexia can be helped at any age. While many children learn to read successfully with approaches such as ‘Guided Reading’ or ‘Balanced Literacy’, research has shown that students with reading disability need instruction that is:

  • explicit, systematic, cumulative and multisensory. This is known as ‘structured literacy‘ instruction.
  • intensive, with additional daily practice.
  • provided by professionals with expert knowledge, skills, and abilities. Read more about how to select the right professional to get effective instruction for your child.

‘Structured literacy’ instruction has its roots in the Orton-Gillingham approach developed in the 1930-40’s by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. It is an approach that explicitly and systematically teaches the foundations of reading, writing and spelling, including, for example, phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, explicit decoding strategies, handwriting, syntax and semantics.  Although initially developed for struggling readers, there is evidence that all readers benefit from this approach to teaching reading.  The International Dyslexia Association recently suggested the term ‘structured literacy’ to describe this approach that explicitly and systematically teaches reading, spelling and writing.

‘Structured literacy’ (i.e. the Orton-Gillingham approach) is:

  • Explicit – concepts are taught using direction instruction.
  • Systematic – the elements of the language are taught sequentially with intensive practice and continual feedback.
  • Cumulative – lessons build on previous knowledge, moving from simple concepts to more difficult concepts.
  • Multisensory – lessons engage the learner in visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile responses.
  • Individualized – lessons are tailored to the student’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. pace, amount of review, understanding of other challenges such as anxiety, ADHD, dysgraphia).
  • Metacognitive – students are taught to understand and monitor their own learning.
  • Supportive – self-confidence and motivation increases as the student experiences mastery of the content.