Reading Terms Glossary

Acquired Dyslexia

Acquired Dyslexia, also known as deep dyslexia, is dyslexia caused by extensive left-hemisphere brain damage. This damage must be sufficient to produce aphasia (normally Brocca’s aphasia) and normally also a left hemiparesis. Acquired Dyslexia is identified by the occurrence of semantic errors in reading aloud. 

Even in a simple reading situation such as single words presented without context and time pressure for reading aloud, the reader with acquired dyslexia will often produce a reading response that is related in meaning to the stimulus word but may be quite different from it in spelling and pronunciation, such as reading the word “canary” as “parrot”.


Attentional disorders used to be diagnosed as either “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’ or as “Attention Deficit Disorder.” The new classification (in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-4) breaks the major category of Attention Deficit Disorder into two subcategories: Inattention, and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. ADHD can lead to a variety of academic problems, particularly in learning to read. When a student has been assessed and diagnosed with ADHD a reading assessment is recommended.

Assessing Poor Readers

Poor readers make up approximately 20% of the population and dyslexics are a subset of poor readers and make up around 7% of the population. 

Poor reading skills can result from a variety of causes and it is important to identify the cause in order to help with the problem. For example, some poor reading skills result from the failure to develop good pre-reading skills and the subsequent failure to fix the pre-reading problem when the child enters school. Examples of pre-reading skills include things like letter names, some knowledge of the sounds that letters make, and the realization that the words we know in spoken language can be broken up into individual sounds, and that those sounds can then be represented by written letters and letter combinations. Another source of poor reading skills is specific reading disability, or dyslexia. 

Helping a poor reader develop better reading skills is often dependent on identifying the nature of the underlying problem using good assessment procedures. If your child is a poor reader you should seek assessments that will identify the cause of the problem and then ask your school to adopt procedures that are appropriate for your child. One thing you can do right now is complete the free assessment you will find on this web site. You can also get a complete assessment that will indicate whether your child is likely to have dyslexia.

Attentional Difficulties

Attentional difficulties are developmental disorders characterized by developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, overactivity, and impulsivity. Three main traits are:

  • Poor sustained attention or vigilance;
  • Impulsivity or difficulty delaying gratification; and
  • Hyperactivity or poorly regulated activity. Increased variability of task performance and problems complying with rules are often key features.

Children with attentional difficulties sometimes have much higher reading performance than listening performance. The reason for this difference is that some ADD students seem unable to maintain focus on an oral message that they have a single opportunity to grasp. This contrasts to reading where they have the opportunity to re-read information that was not initially comprehended. 

These traits often cause learning difficulties at school, particularly in skills such as reading, and a reading assessment is often recommended.

Attentional Disorder

An attentional disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, overactivity, and impulsivity. Symptoms are neurologically-based, arise in early childhood, and are chronic in nature in most cases. Symptoms are not due to gross neurological impairment, sensory impairment, language or motor impairment, mental retardation, or emotional disturbance. 

Three main traits of an Attentional Disorder are:

  • Poor sustained attention or vigilance;
  • Impulsivity or difficulty delaying gratification; and
  • Hyperactivity or poorly regulated activity. Increased variability of task performance and problems complying with rules are often key features.

Children with attentional difficulties sometimes have much higher reading performance than listening performance. The reason for this difference is that some ADD students seem unable to maintain focus on an oral message that they have a single opportunity to grasp. This contrasts to reading where they have the opportunity to re-read information that was not initially comprehended. 

One typical consequence of an attentional disorder is difficulty in reading comprehension. This may be due to missing key language instruction due to inattention, and may be due to a reading disability. A reading assessment is often recommended.

Auditory Dyslexia

Auditory dyslexia is the oral precursor to dyslexia which refers to a reading problem.  Essentially, auditory dyslexia is the cause of dyslexia.

Auditory dyslexics are not able to link the auditory equivalent of a word to the visual component. 

Auditory dyslexia has also been called ‘dysphonetic’ dyslexia. This person has difficulty connecting sounds to symbols. The Auditory dyslexic might have difficulty sounding out words with spelling mistakes showing a difficulty with phonics.

Behavioral Disorder

Often referring to children who exhibit extreme or unacceptable chronic behavior problems. These children lag behind their classmates in social development and are often isolated from others either because they withdraw from social contact or because they behave in an aggressive, hostile manner. Behavior disorders result from persistent negative social interactions between the child and the environment. 

Children with behavioral disorders are also more likely to have learning difficulties at school, typically evidenced in difficulty reading. A reading assessment is often recommended.

Below Average Performance

Below average performance describes results achieved on a test where the result is below the norm when compared to the main group of test subjects. Often used to describe results which are in-between “average” and poor performance. 

A student who appears to be making an effort to do well yet continues to score at the below average level will need to be evaluated as to the cause of such results. A reading test is often recommended.

Brain Based Disorder

Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia are all examples of disorders that typically result in learning difficulties and which are based on a disorder of the brain rather than environment or choice. 

A person with a brain-based disorder is highly likely to have learning disabilities, and an assessment is necessary, particularly in areas such as reading.

Build Vocabulary

An increase in vocabulary is an essential part of developing reading skills. Methods to build vocabulary include direct instruction, listening to literature, participating in discussions, and reading to build vocabulary based on context. 

Efforts to build vocabulary are hampered if a reading disability is present, and all participants should have a reading assessment to identify any possible reading difficulties.

Comprehension Definition

Comprehension refers to understanding language in any of its forms, but in the vernacular, it has come to be synonymous with listening comprehension. When people use the term “language comprehension”, they are typically not referring to sign language, written language, or symbols. Typically, the term is reserved for describing spoken language.

Core Evaluation

A core evaluation is a comprehensive student evaluation and typically includes a developmental assessment, a review of pertinent records, a parent interview and may include a family assessment. A developmental assessment is conducted by qualified personnel with sufficient expertise in early childhood development who are trained in the use of professionally acceptable methods and procedures to evaluate each of the developmental domains: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development and adaptive development.


Decoding is the ability to figure out how to read unknown words by using knowledge of letters, sounds, and word patterns. Decoding is the ability to pronounce unfamiliar words in a way consistent with the conventions on the English language. For skilled readers decoding is almost automatic, so the reader can devote full attention to comprehension of the reading material. Decoding skills are essential to being a fluent reader. 

There are some methods of teaching reading that rely heavily on the teaching of decoding skills. Phonics based reading instruction is a classic example of direct teaching of decoding skills. Phonics involves teaching beginning readers that letters make sounds and you can say those sounds to yourself and if you then blend the sounds in a word together fast, you will hear yourself say the word. The idea is that with lots of practice doing this, you will soon be able to read most words without the sounding out process.

Decoding Test

Decoding is the ability to pronounce unfamiliar words in a way consistent with the conventions on the English language. For skilled readers decoding is almost automatic, so the reader can devote full attention to comprehension of the reading material. A decoding test provides an assessment of the reader’s ability to decode written words.

Diagnostic Assessment

In education, a diagnostic assessment includes basic measures of reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics using tests endorsed by the school or school district. The assessment results provide important insights into the student’s current skills in math, reading, and writing.

Diagnostic Reading Test

A diagnostic reading test such as the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test (SDRT) is a group-administered, norm-referenced multiple-choice test that assesses vocabulary, comprehension, and scanning skills. It provides information on student progress, targets individual students who are in need of additional reading support, and provides data on the effectiveness of support and intervention programs. SDRT test results provide preliminary student placement information. 

The SDRT provides a grade-level equivalent for each student’s overall reading level and vocabulary, comprehension, and scanning skills. The overall reading level is compared to the student’s grade level, including month of instruction, to determine how the student is doing compared to the expected reading level. 

If the diagnostic reading test indicates that the reader is below grade level, then a more comprehensive reading assessment must be performed, to identify whether the low score is due to dyslexia or another cause.

Dyslexia Biological Basis

There is a clear biological basis to dyslexia. Genetic studies suggest around 50% is inherited, prevalence across cultures is similar (and independent of socio-economic status and IQ), and early research indicated that more males than females are affected.  However, more recent research suggests there are approximately equal numbers of males and females that are dyslexic. Differences in brain structure in dyslexia include an unusual symmetry of language areas and microscopic differences in the arrangement and connection of neurons. The visual and auditory problems point to a mild disorder of ‘magnocellular’ systems, specialized for very rapid information processing. Associated features include problems in distinguishing left and right, poor direction sense, difficulties with time and tense, and subtle problems with both visual and auditory perception.

Dyslexia Causes

Dyslexia is a disorder in which people of at least average intelligence have extreme difficulty learning to read.  Dyslexia disorder is primarily caused by difficulties in processing the component sounds of oral language. For example, a young student who has difficulty in processing the component sounds of language would have difficulty telling if two words rhymed or started with the same sound.  The technical term for this difficulty is difficulty in processing phonological information. A phoneme is the smallest segment of sound making up a word so phonological information consists of the individual sounds that make up words. This difficulty creates problems in learning to read because a student with phonological processing problems has difficulties attaching speech sounds to letters and letter combinations.  If a beginning reader cannot attach sounds to letters, they cannot use sounding out procedures to identify words, and this greatly slows down the acquisition of reading skills. For example, a beginning reader who has difficulty in attaching speech sounds to letters and letter combinations would have difficulty attaching the sound “cuh” to the letter “c” in the word “cat” and would have even greater difficulty in sounding out the entire word and then repeating the sounds rapidly so that the word could be identified.  If dyslexia is suspected, a reading assessment should be conducted. Individuals may be tested for dyslexia as they near school age. Tests selected vary according to the age of the individual. Young children may be tested for phonological processing, receptive and expressive language abilities, and the ability to make sound/symbol associations.

Dyslexia Definition

Dyslexia is a specific difficulty in learning to read that cannot be attributed to other factors such as low intelligence, physical disabilities such as poor vision or hearing, lack of knowledge of English, or lack of exposure to printed material as a child that results in the lack of important pre-reading skills such as the ability to recognize letters and the ability to attach sounds to letters.


Dyslexia Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of dyslexia is unexpectedly poor reading, given the individual’s general ability. However, spelling problems, problems remembering telephone numbers and appointments, and bad handwriting can also be signs of dyslexia, particularly in the many high-achieving dyslexics who have managed to compensate for their reading difficulties.

Other symptoms include difficulties in learning things by rote (for example the months of the year), a tendency to clumsiness, poor concentration and phonological problems (finding it hard to sort out the sounds within words).

Fluent Reading

Reading with fluency involves reading where the reader does not have to “sound out” the words being read or struggle with their meaning. Effortless reading is essential to reading comprehension, since pauses to sound out words interfere with the flow of reading.

Hearing Problems and Reading

Hearing problems in children can be due to many different reasons. For example, the ear canal may be blocked by too much ear wax or by a small foreign object or it may be that an ear infection is causing the trouble. About one in 1,000 babies is born with a serious hearing problem (i.e. deafness or profound hearing loss) and another one in 1,000 children develops a serious hearing problem before they are 6 years old. Profound hearing loss at birth may be caused by the rubella virus , lack of oxygen or an injury during birth , certain drugs given to the mother during pregnancy, hemolytic disease of the fetus, infections ( viruses / bacteria ), or hereditary diseases. 

Hearing problems will likely impact reading ability due to gaps in pre-reading skills. A reading skills assessment test would be recommended.

Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)

When a disabled child has special educational needs, he or she will more than likely receive these services through the public school system. After a child is evaluated and deemed eligible for special education, an Individualized Educational Plan will be prepared to suit the child’s requirements. The law requires school districts to provide free and appropriate education for all children, including those with special needs. After a child has been evaluated by a multidisciplinary team the team and parents get together and construct a written plan on the educational services to be offered and the goals to be focused on.

Learning Disability in Reading

Unexpected difficulty learning in one or more realms related to academics, such as reading, writing, mathematics, and social skills, in children with at least average intelligence. It is quite common for reading difficulties to be one of the first indications that a learning disability is present. 

Some children have difficulty learning to read because they have not had early experiences that lead to an understanding of what reading is about (a way of deriving meaning from text). These children when they are young also often lack knowledge of letters, and a sense that letters make sounds that map onto the spoken language they have already acquired. These children are often identified in kindergarten or first grade by school personnel and can catch up with their peers in reading skill with appropriate school-based interventions. An intervention is any special instructional activity that is designed to strengthen a weak academic skill. 

Other children have difficulties that appear to be brain based. This means that the source of their difficulties is probably inherited and it means that their reading difficulties are much more difficult to eliminate with regular educational interventions. Children that have this second kind of difficulty are often diagnosed as having a specific “reading disability” or “dyslexia”. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in the area of reading and writing. The term is derived from the Greek word “dys” (meaning poor or inadequate) and “lexis” (words or language).

Listening Comprehension

Listening comprehension is understanding speech – the spoken word. Listening comprehension, as with reading comprehension, can be described in levels.

  • Lower levels of listening comprehension would include understanding only the facts explicitly stated in a spoken passage that has very simple syntax and uncomplicated vocabulary.
  • Advanced levels of listening comprehension would include implicit understanding and drawing inferences from spoken passages that feature more complicated syntax and more advanced vocabulary.

Students with reading dyslexia often have normal listening comprehension, so listening comprehension is not an indicator of the presence or lack of reading disabilities.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonics is the ability to hear similarities and differences among phonemes. Strong phonemic awareness results in the ability to rhyme, to list words that begin and end with the same sound, to break words into individual phonemes, and to blend phonemes together to make a familiar word. Phonemic awareness is essential for learning to read, and if these skills are lacking, then intervention is required to build such skills.


Phonics is an approach to reading instruction that emphasizes letter-sound relationships and generalized principles that describe spelling-sound relationships in a language. Readers who have reading difficulties due to lack of exposure to spelling-sound relationships can usually greatly improve reading skills through an intervention program based on phonics. 

Students with dyslexia may  not gain much benefit from a phonics-based intervention, and if the phonics intervention continues for too great a period it may actually hamper fluent reading.

Poor Reading Performance

A poor reader’s reading deficiency may be due to a number of different causes ranging from deficient environment, to mental retardation, dyslexia, a learning disability, an attention deficit disorder, lack of motivation, etc.

Reading is a skill that improves as children proceed through school and readers are most often described in terms of how they compare to their fellow students in the same grade. These comparisons are often reported in terms of grade level percentiles which indicate how a child performs relative to his or her peers. Percentiles indicate that percentage of students who achieved a particular score. So, for example, a child who scores at the 50th percentile is right in the middle with respect to performance. Fifty percent of the students scored lower and 50 percent of the students scored higher. If a student scores at the 80th percentile it means that 80 percent of the students achieved a lower score, and only 20 percent got a higher score. So a student who scores at the 80th percentile has done very well.

Students who score at the 20th percentile or lower are identified as being poor readers. Students scoring at this level should be receiving some kind of reading services and may even have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that formally identifies the services they are receiving to help them improve their reading skills.

Prior to developing an Individualized Education Plan, the student must be assessed. A key area for assessment is reading skills.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the process of understanding and constructing meaning from connected text. Connected text is any written material involving multiple words that forms coherent thoughts. Phrases, sentences, paragraphs and so on are examples of connected text that can be read with comprehension. Reading difficulties become most apparent when the reader is unable to grasp the meaning from a text passage. Reading comprehension may be affected by the difficulty of the text, the vocabulary words used in the text, and the reader’s familiarity with the subject matter, among other factors.

Skilled reading comprehension involves higher level cognitive processes such as relating what you are reading to what you already know, and creating inferential bridges to span between things that are written and things that your experience tells you must be true. For example, reading the sentence “the notes were sour because the seam was split” makes no sense until you get the word “bagpipe” and then you can relate the sentence meaning to what you already know. As examples of inferential bridging, consider the different meanings of the following very similar sentences: “Superman held up his hand and stopped the car.” “The policeman held up his hand and stopped the car.”

Reading Problem

A reading problem is when a reader has difficulty meeting reading milestones for a given age or grade. A child can have difficulty with one or more aspects of the reading process. A reading problem may also be referred to as a reading difficulty, reading disability, reading disorder or dyslexia.


Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery is an early intervention program to help low-achieving 6-year-olds learn to read. Originally developed by New Zealand educator and psychologist Marie M. Clay, Reading Recovery provides an alternative to traditional reading practices for educationally disadvantaged and learning-disabled students.

Reading Skills

Reading skills enable readers to turn writing into meaning and achieve the goals of reading independence, comprehension, and fluency. If reading skills appear to be lacking, then a reading skills assessment is recommended.


Specific Reading Disability

A reader having a specific reading disability (also called dyslexia) has average to above average general intellectual ability, but well below average reading ability. The Reading Success Lab profile for a reader with a specific reading disability is characterized by average to above average performance on the simple perception task, the letter identification task, and the listening comprehension task. But below average performance on the word task, the nonword task, the word meaning task, and the reading comprehension task.