What is Surface Dyslexia: Its Signs, Examples, and Management Strategies

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REVIEWED BY  NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S MEDICAL REVIEW PANEL ON JULY 27, 2021

If people find it difficult to tell words that are not voiced out as they are spelled, it is the sign of surface dyslexia. For example, the words like island, honor, bought, Right, etc, are words that differ in grapheme and phoneme. Hence, this disorder is like the subliminal level of difficulty to read. A dyslexic person may have learned basic reading, but they are likely to get confused when the print and pronunciation of the words differ. It was recognized first by Marshall and Newcombe in 1973.

In this post, we intend to cover:

  • Signs of Surface Dyslexia
  • Surface Dyslexia Examples
  • Management Strategies for Surface Dyslexia

So, let’s begin!

Signs of Surface Dyslexia

You must understand that surface dyslexia is not confined only to reading difficulty. It can gradually manifest into an inability to perform a correct move or perceive coordinates. Hence, surface dyslexia signs largely comprise:

1. Reading-related issues

You may spot a surface dyslexic person/child by these signs:

  • Late speech: It is considered one of the results of surface dyslexia. The child is not able to form words because of lack of ample reading or inability to read words as a whole.
  • Inability to read words by sight: You will find the person always breaking the word into letters first before voicing out; it causes interrupted reading.
  • Spelling same words wrong: You are looking into the copy of a surface dyslexic when the same words repeated in the paragraph are spelled incorrectly. You may find bad and dab as spellings for the word ‘Bad’, for instance.
  • Inability to sound out words that differ in spelling and pronunciation: Surface Dyslexic readers may find it difficult to read words whose pronunciation differs from spelling. In case of repeated words, the dyslexic cannot correctly pronounce those words that differ in spelling and sound.
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2. Behavioral difficulties

Surface dyslexia is one of the possible reasons for semantic dementia. Surface dyslexia is not limited to reading disorders only. Going forth, the person may show an inability in doing following activities as well:

  • Remembering dates: A person suffering from surface dyslexia may tend to forget dates. So, be ready to tackle situation where the person has forgot anniversaries or birthdays, or bills’ due date.
  • Daily schedule: Surface dyslexia may interfere with the ability to stick to daily schedule. The dyslexics may tend to forget to-dos from the list of actionables.
  • Inability to associate pictures with words and vice versa: When suffering from surface dyslexia, the person may not be able to recall picture corresponding to word, or tell the word by looking at the picture, some researches suggest.

3. Other affected skills

Communication skills get the hit when surface dyslexia shows its impact. One can observe the impacts in the following activities:

  • Words’ arrangement in a given order
  • Word recall
  • Information retrieval
  • Word pronunciation
  • Homophenes differentiation
  • Vocalbulary build-up

In a typical WIAT test for checking basic proficiencies, the examiners assesses the students on all the above parameters before suggesting the relevant IEP course.

Surface Dyslexia Examples

If we take a look at all examples of surface dyslexia, we will find that there is distinct loss of perceptual wisdom. The subjects cannot read by sight, or perform organization activities, to begin with. Other examples that show how surface or orthographic dyslexia manifest are:

  • Omission of letters in spellings where similarly structured phonemes appear. For example, you will find mostly ‘e’ ommitted in spellings where it comes along with cursive ‘l’.
  • Confusing between letters like small-case qs and ps, or b and d, m and w, and cursive h and p, and other similar ones.
  • Tendency to incorrectly sound out all letters; low to nil understanding of the concept of silent letters in English language
  • Loss of speaking and reading skills due to a brain injury. Sometimes, due to brain injury, a person loses the ability to read and write like a normal person. It is called orthographic dyslexia. Such patients need to re-learn these skills from the scratch.
  • Showing average proficiency in some of the reading skills, but failing when the discrimation part is to be employed.
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Management Strategies for Surface Dyslexia

Surface dyslexics require support of therapies and various types of practices to reduce the impact of this disorder. The most effective key lies in practice and imparting the correct remediation activities. Some of the effective activities worth doing with a surface dyslexic are:

  • Repeat writing tasks: You can ask the surface dyslexic subject to increase the number of repetitions of practicting the words that prove confusing.
  • Play word recall games more often: Once the child or a developmental dyslexic recalls the word from the given picture, you can repeat the process using flashcards. The idea is to work up the memory retention and recall by practice and mitigate the impact of neurological complexity.
  • Give repeated reading sessions: Helpers or remediators can introduce reading apps, sight words books, or dyslexia-friendly reading books to the surface dyslexics and ask them to read them often and at regular intervals. Thus, the activity helps train the brain to recognize the sentence and develop reading ease.
  • Complete the sentence activity: When the reading sessions interventions are done amply, the practitioners may take the task of completing the sentence activity. They can write the missing tail of sentence and repeat the activity to build the skill through neuroplasticity. It helps the most when the disorder results from a traumatic injury.

Summing up,

Surface dyslexia is not an in-borne problem always. It may also occur due to an unaddressed reading disorder, or sometimes due to traumatic brain injury.

The problem is manageable up to a great extent if the counselors intervene in correct remediations. It is rather easy to recognize this disorder if involved agencies pay timely attention.

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Hence, keep giving your children reading tests to ensure that no aspect of reading inefficiency is ever missed. Though might not be completely curable, it is certainly possible to manage effectively.


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