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Optilexia: The hidden number one cause of reading difficulty

Optilexia: The hidden number one cause of reading difficulty

Darren is eight. He’s a sweet boy who loves learning and wants to be a doctor when he grows up. But he has one big problem – he can’t read.

Darren can recognise a certain word on one page, but then not be able to read it on the next page. He guesses constantly, even with short words like ‘of’ or ‘for’, which by eight years old, he should know. He’s fallen way behind his classmates and, worst of all, is starting to realise it. His confidence is failing and his mother has noticed that he’s starting to get stressed about school and panicky when it comes to reading time. He’s becoming a different child than he used to be.

The root of reading difficulty
With 20% of children in every year group just like Darren failing to pass a reading test, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s really going on. Darren is the classic example of a child struggling with optilexia. Optilexia is the number one cause of reading difficulty, and is often hidden until reading ability starts to break down.
The term describes a pattern of sight-reading rather than decoding. Optilexics are usually bright, visual learners who have used their visual-spatial strength to sight-memorise words rather than learn phonics. They may do very well in the early years of primary education, but within a year or two, their reading progress begins to stall.

Where it all goes wrong
Optilexic learners usually follow a familiar pattern. As bright, visual learners they are able to pick up the alphabet very quickly, easily memorising letters. Then, they progress to memorising simple words, by committing the shape of short words like ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ to memory. When they move on to early reader books, they rely on the pictures to give them visual clues to guess words they don’t recognise. Phonics instruction is basically ignored by them because their sight-reading strategy seems to be working quite well.
There may be no red flags appearing at all until the reading material grows too complex to memorise every new word. At that stage, these children start to guess more and more wildly, as their visual memory capacity fails to match increasing input. Eventually, the child’s confidence and ability collapses, usually between the ages of six and nine. The word ‘dyslexic’ may begin to be discussed in parent-teacher meetings, as the child slips to the bottom of the class in reading.

What can be done?
The good news is that with the right tools, children displaying optilexia can catch up to the rest of the class – and usually within less than a year of remediation. As optilexia is at its core a strength in the area of visual-spatial processing and a corresponding weakness in auditory processing, you can re-train the brain’s auditory function to get things working properly again.
In fact you can actually use that strong visual processing, which has been the very thing to lead them down the wrong path in the first place, as a tool to activate the auditory function! A visual approach to phonics is essential to helping these children succeed.
There is an approach called ‘Guided Phonetic Reading’. Once you get children decoding correctly, it usually takes between six to nine months of practice for the new reading habit to be formed.
At this point, the optilexia disappears and a child, like Darren, who was heading down the dangerous road to very poor literacy, can get to the stage where he feels absolutely comfortable reading unaided. The greatest joy is to find your child, who has struggled so much, lying on the sofa reading a book or magazine by choice.

About the Author

David Morgan is the founder of Morgan Learning Solutions, publisher of the Easyread System. Easyread is a consultation process that uses ‘Guided Phonetic Reading’ to teach struggling learners how to read. Morgan Learning Solutions specialize in cases of Optilexia, dyslexia, auditory processing weakness, and more. Find out how at the Easyread System website:

Picture: iStock

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