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Academic Interventions for Children with Dyslexia Who Have Phonological Core Deficits

Part 1

By Julie A. Frost and Michael J. Emery



ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities And Gifted Education




Classification and Identification

Suggested Interventions

Resources for Teachers


Learning and Other Disabilities

Education and Kids

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General Information about Learning Disabilities


Approximately 3% to 6% of all school-aged children are believed to have developmental reading disabilities, or dyslexia. In fact, almost 50% of children receiving special education have learning disabilities, and dyslexia is the most prevalent form. Consequently, dyslexia has been given considerable attention by researchers and extensive literature exists on instruction and remediation methods.

Dyslexia is a neurocognitive deficit that is specifically related to the reading and spelling processes. Typically, children classified as dyslexic are reported to be bright and capable in other intellectual domains. Current research indicates that the vast majority of children with dyslexia have phonological core deficits. The severity of the phonological deficits varies across individuals, and children with these deficits have been shown to make significantly less progress in basic word reading skills compared to children with equivalent IQs. For example, some experts report that between ages 9 and 19, children with dyslexia who have phonological deficits improve slightly more than one grade level in reading, while other children with learning disabilities (LD) in the same classroom improve about six grade levels. Without direct instruction in phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondences, these children generally fail to attain adequate reading levels.


Phonological core deficits entail difficulty making use of phonological information when processing written and oral language. The major components of phonological deficits involve phonemic awareness, sound-symbol relations, and storage and retrieval of phonological information in memory. Problems with phonemic awareness are most prevalent and can coexist with difficulties in storage and retrieval among children with dyslexia who have phonological deficits.

Phonemic awareness refers to one's understanding of and access to the sound structure of language. For example, children with dyslexia have difficulty segmenting words into individual syllables or phonemes and have trouble blending speech sounds into words.

Storage of phonological information during reading involves creating a sound-based representation of written words in working memory. Deficits in the storage of phonological information result in faulty representations in memory that lead to inaccurate applications of sound rules during reading tasks.

Retrieval of phonological information from long-term memory refers to how the child remembers pronunciations of letters, word segments, or entire words. Children with dyslexia may have difficulty in this area, which leads to slow and inaccurate recall of phonological codes from memory.

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Classification and Identification

Historically, classification criteria for developmental dyslexia have been vague and, consequently, open to interpretation. For example, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, revised 3rd edition (DSM-III-R), developmental reading disorder (dyslexia) may be diagnosed if reading achievement is "markedly below" expected level; interferes with academic achievement or daily living skills; and is not due to a defect in vision, hearing, or a neurological disorder. Because of such imprecise guidelines, educators and clinicians use a wide variety of criteria when defining dyslexia.

School psychologists classify children based on federal and state learning disability placement criteria. The federal guidelines for LD placement are as follows:

  1. Disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes (memory, auditory perception, visual perception, oral language, and thinking).
  2. Difficulty in learning (speaking, listening, writing, reading, and mathematics).
  3. Problem is not primarily due to other causes (visual or hearing impairment, motor disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or economic environment or cultural disadvantage).
  4. Severe discrepancy between apparent potential and actual achievement.

While the federal guidelines are more specific than the DSM-III-R criteria, they are still rather nonspecific. Consequently, eligibility criteria for LD services for reading disabilities vary from state to state.

Fortunately, there is some general agreement among educators, clinicians, and researchers in terms of identifying phonological deficits in children with dyslexia. Phonological processing impairment is generally identified by significantly impaired performance (generally, a standard score less than 85) on phonological processing tasks. The following include some assessment measures that may be used to identify these phonological core deficits:

General reading ability Metropolitan Achievement Tests - Reading
Gray Oral Reading Tests, 3rd Ed.
WRMT-Word Identification
Storage and Retrieval SB-4-Memory for Sentences
Verbal Selective Reminding Test
Rapid Automatized Naming Test
Boston Naming Test
Phonological awareness WRMT-Word Attack
Test of Awareness of Language Segments (TALS)
Test of Auditory Analysis Skills (TAAS)
Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization Test
Decoding Skills Test
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