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What Is Surface Dyslexia? How Can We Help?

In an earlier blog, I wrote about Deep Dyslexia. Today, I share ideas about Surface Dyslexia. Both types have challenges with oral fluency. (Fluency includes rate, accuracy, and intonation.)

Surface Dyslexia and Fluency

Children with Surface Dyslexia demonstrate such proficient use of phonics that they use this skill for all areas of decoding. When confronted with irregular words that do not follow phonetic rules, the efforts to sound out words fail to be useful. As a result, fluency falls apart.

Helping With Fluency

Ideas that help children with Surface Dyslexia also aid those with Deep Dyslexia. Consider the suggestions below.

  • Set up Buddy Reading with peers. Reading in pairs protects the child with poor oral reading. Asking a child with weak fluency to read orally in front of a small group or the whole class usually creates embarrassment. (Note: If you are a parent reading this, please request that your child’s teacher avoid asking your child to read orally in front of peers.)

  • You may want to purchase commercial recordings for the child to listen to and follow along with eyes and fingers. When a child hears the text while seeing the print and sliding a finger under the words, three senses provide input.

  • Enlarge the print. For a child struggling with oral reading, larger print often makes a significant difference. Consider using a size that would be appropriate for a child with poor vision. (Larger print has been the most successful modification I have used.)

  • According to Marianne Wolf in “New Research on an Old Problem,” repeated reading of short passages is currently considered the best way to improve fluency.

Drop Everything and Read (DEAR)

In many classrooms, DEAR or similar programs provide times for everyone (teachers included) to read silently. The program insists that each child chooses what to read. You never harm a child who wants to read easy material. Conversely, a great deal of damage occurs when children read material that is too difficult on a regular basis.

When a child who struggles with reading participates in DEAR, encourage the child to use recorded books. Otherwise, the child may pretend to read by turning pages when children in the area turn theirs. Although you can encourage the child to follow words with eyes and fingers, do not make this an issue if the child is unwilling or unable to do so.

In summary, you help a child with fluency challenges in the following ways:

  • Avoid asking the child to read orally in front of peers.

  • Provide auditory input through partner reading or recorded texts.

  • Encourage the child to repeat short selections until the words can be said almost by memory. In this case, less = more. More practice over fewer words promotes better fluency. Read the remaining words to the child.

  • Enlarge the text enough to assist a child with limited vision.

Dr. Frank Guszak retired reading professor from U.T. Austin, suggests that when oral fluency does not improve, test silent reading. Some children will never read well orally but can maintain good fluency and comprehension when reading silently.

Works Cited

Carlson. “Types of Dyslexia.” Welcome to the Dyslexia Homepage. Macalester College, 1998.

CAST UDL Book Builder. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 2006-2011.

Castles, A. and M. Coltheart. Varieties of Developmental Dyslexia. Cognition, 47, 149-180. 1998.

Frandsen, B. and S. Smith. Dyslexia Analysis. Austin, TX. Family School, 1990.


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