“I love cooking cats and dogs”
What do you understand from this sentence? If you were a little horrified with the answer, thinking that the individual enjoys cooking cats and dogs, you are not wrong. But, did you notice that the sentence is missing something?
“I love cooking, cats and dogs.”
One simple comma and the entire meaning of the sentence is changed. That’s the power of punctuation. It is a useful tool in writing, reading, comprehension, and speaking.
But, learning what various punctuations are, what they mean and how to use them can be a cumbersome task. Even more so for individuals with learning differences like dyslexia. This blog sheds light on the connections between Dyslexia and Punctuation, specific challenges faced by individuals with dyslexia, and some possible ways to circumvent them.
Dyslexia and Punctuation: Is there a connection?
Dyslexia is a developmental learning concern that has been known to cause difficulties with various language-related tasks like reading, writing, spelling, etc. The main reason behind these difficulties has been posited to be issues with phonological or auditory issues. This could explain why individuals with dyslexia might have a hard time differentiating between and reading words that sound similar.
Although some studies have also found visual and working memory impairments to be the root cause which could explain why individuals with dyslexia have trouble differentiating between, reading, and writing similar-looking letters and words. This could also be why they have trouble remembering various rules of language, grammar, words, spellings, etc.
These reasons combined can also contribute to difficulties with punctuation. Studies have shown that learners with dyslexia tend to skip using punctuation marks while writing and don’t show appropriate affect, like pausing after a full stop or reading something ending with a question mark in the tone of a question. Although not every individual with dyslexia might end up facing trouble with punctuation, studies have found a significant number of people do face various challenges with it.
Challenges that might persist
Dyslexia affects various parts of speech in different ways for every individual. Punctuation, according to various studies, is one of them. Challenges with punctuation can usually look like this:
1. What does it mean?
When reading an essay, an article, or a story, individuals with dyslexia can often skip over reading the commas, colons, semi-colons, double quotes, and even full stops. They fail to add the required effect and voice modulation to denote these punctuations not because they don’t see it but because they might not understand or have a hard time remembering what it means.
So instead of stopping in the middle to think about or ask someone what a random dot in the middle of the page means, they might just disregard the existence of punctuation and end up reading the entire paragraph like a sentence.
2. Where to put it?
Even if individuals with dyslexia might learn the name of various punctuation marks and what they look like, they still might have trouble actually using them while writing.
Just rote memorization of the symbols is very different from actually understanding what they represent in various sentences, and paragraphs and how to accurately use them while writing. Individuals with dyslexia might end up overusing commas or not adding a full stop after ending a sentence or might even use an apostrophe where a semi-colon was supposed to be used.
3. What does it look like?
Another common trouble that individuals with dyslexia often face is confusion between similar-looking symbols. This could include difficulties distinguishing between a ‘b’ and a ‘d’ or ‘p’ and a ‘q’ and can even extend to punctuations where they might have trouble between a ‘,‘ and a ‘;‘ or a ‘.‘ and a ‘:‘.
Even if the individual might remember that since a particular sentence is framed like a question so it needs to end with a question mark, they might get confused between an exclamation mark and a question mark, having difficulty in remembering and distinguishing what the question mark actually looks like.
Strategies that individuals with dyslexia can employ to get better at punctuation
1. Dramatize it till you internalize it
This technique can help individuals in understanding and remember what various punctuation marks mean. The goal is to make dramatic pauses and voice modulations whenever a comma, full stop, question mark, exclamation mark, etc. is encountered.
This dramatization will make the learning fun and ensure that the individual realizes what exclamation mark stands for and which expression while reading.
2. Mark the occasion
While practicing reading or writing, the correct use of punctuation marks should not go unrewarded. By marking the occasion like a day the individual reads the entire story with all correct pauses, emotions, and modulation, and good performance is highlighted and applauded.
These incentives not only encourage the individual to continue learning but also increases their confidence that their efforts can produce the desired results.
3. Individualized Lesson and Support
As highlighted above, individuals with dyslexia can have various kinds of difficulties with punctuation, including not being sure what various punctuation marks mean, how to use them, and where to use them. There can be some individuals with dyslexia who face all of these challenges, yet others might encounter some or none of these.
These individuals would then benefit from lessons that are particularly customized to their needs, address the specific challenges they face and build on their strengths to help circumvent them.
4. Fill in the gaps
This strategy can be particularly helpful for those individuals who have trouble remembering how and where to use various punctuation marks. The educator can provide a printed essay with no punctuation used and ask the learners to use appropriate marks wherever needed so that the essence of each sentence as well as the entire essay becomes coherent.
For reducing the level of difficulty, the places which require a punctuation mark can be marked with a blank to fill and various options to fill the blank can be given. Then the task of the learner will only be to choose the option that correctly fills the blank and makes the sentence more comprehensible.
5. Video games
There are several online games available that aid in building and strengthening various skills and increasing conceptual clarity. Punctuation is one of them.
Individuals can select the game based on the area where they need help with, like identifying the names of various punctuation marks, differentiating the similar-looking and sounding ones, remembering their correct usage in a sentence or a paragraph, etc.
Games allow for customizing difficulty levels that gradually increase and provide a creative and engaging way to learn and practice their punctuation skills.
Any other grammar area that is affected due to dyslexia?
Dyslexia is primarily a language-related developmental concern, affecting various areas like reading, comprehension, and even grammar.
Individuals with dyslexia can face various grammatical difficulties like trouble with using the correct tense, not knowing when to employ active voice and when to employ passive voice, and having difficulties remembering the rules to accurately structure their sentences.
Also, going beyond the well-reported difficulties with comprehension and reading, a study showed that while writing, individuals with dyslexia pursuing higher education not only have a higher frequency of memory-related spelling errors but also show a poorer quality of texts.
Punctuation is an important part of the language but is not very easy to learn. It can pose additional challenges for individuals with dyslexia who have trouble with symbolic parts of speech.
Different individuals with dyslexia can face different trouble with punctuation like not knowing what a punctuation mark means, how to use it or what it even looks like. This can pose obstacles to both written and verbal language and communication.
Various activities like dramatizing it till you internalize it, marking the occasion, individualized lessons, and support, fill in the gaps, worksheets, and video games can help individuals in overcoming challenges faced with punctuation and other grammatical concepts.
- Rack, J. P. (2018). Dyslexia: The Phonological Deficit Hypothesis. In A. Fawcett & R. Nicolson (Eds.), Dyslexia in Children (pp. 5–37). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315504773-2
- Wright, B. A., Bowen, R. W., & Zecker, S. G. (2000). Nonlinguistic perceptual deficits associated with reading and language disorders. In Current Opinion in Neurobiology (Vol. 10, Issue 4, pp. 482–486). Current Biology Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4388(00)00119-7
- Triantafyllidou, C. A Review of Prosody, Punctuation, and Dyslexia: Implications for the Use of Speech Technologies.
- Robertson, E. K., Joanisse, M. F., Desroches, A. S., & Terry, A. (2012). Past-Tense Morphology and Phonological Deficits in Children With Dyslexia and Children With Language Impairment. Journal of Learning Disabilities. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219412449430
- Tops, W., Callens, C., Van Cauwenberghe, E., Adriaens, J., & Brysbaert, M. (2013). Beyond spelling: the writing skills of students with dyslexia in higher education. Reading and Writing, 26(5), 705-720.