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sweet2ndchance

Letter confusion (Updated)

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So ds is an older 6yo, he will be 7yo the day after New Year's day. He was a very late talker (3yo) and spent 4 years in speech therapy due to apraxia. He still has some speech issues but he is not currently in therapy because he is considered "age appropriate" for the time being but his SLP said to have him tested again if his speech doesn't improve spontaneously by the age of 8. (She doesn't expect it will spontaneously resolve due to the apraxia.)

I've been working with him on letter sounds, phonics and reading since just before his 5th birthday, about the same time he graduated from speech. Of course, he worked on letter sounds and such before that with speech but the focus was more on producing the correct sound rather than reading. Anyways, he is doing well, I don't consider him to be behind at all right now. He can read and decode words but fluency is still a struggle for him. He has great working memory and after he has sounded out all the words on a page, he can go back and read the page fluently with few, if any, mistakes. He also can usually remember a new word from one page to the next.

So with all that out there, here is the problem. He still often confuses b, d, p and q. I have taught him these letters and how to tell them apart from day one. When he writes, he always gets the correct letter, b starts at the top, d starts like a letter 'a', p starts with the line going down and q starts with the round quarter part. But when he reads, he will interchange all four of those letters. Today for example, he kept trying to make a 'p' sound for b in bike. I would tell him there is no p in that word, look again and then it was a 50-50 shot whether he tried the 'b' sound or the 'd' sound. He substitutes the 'q' sound less often than p.b and d but he does do it sometimes.

He also frequently swaps n and u; m and w; and i and j. We have worked ad nauseum on telling these letters apart with all the usual tricks and lots of practice. But I'm not seeing much improvement. He does not interchange them when he writes, only when he reads. My other kids, which only one had a speech issue but it was hearing related not neurological, all picked up on the confusing letter tricks fairly quickly and made steady progress making mistakes less and less until eventually they didn't make them at all. But this ds doesn't seem to be making any improvement despite working on it for the last year and a half or so. Letter confusion isn't really part of apraxia at least that I'm aware of. And it is so odd to me that he only does it when reading and not when writing. I know reversals are common though the end of second grade but it's the no noticeable improvement despite working on it that has me wondering about him.

Anyone else dealt with a child like this? Did the problem just spontaneously resolve or did you do something to help it resolve?

Edited by sweet2ndchance

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I’m not an expert- but in using Barton with my dyslexic dd, she has you slow way down and work on those types of easily confused letters in pairs. So you start work with p/b. Pigs go down in the mud. Balloons go up. You cue the child ahead of the word, “oh that’s a tricky word, let’s check” and have them slow down and then use the hand motion to go with the phrase, as they compare it to the word. And you practice and practice before you move to the next pair. But you don’t throw them all out at once, and this working on words in isolation and cueing seems to help cut off the guessing. 

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My son is nearly 8.  He doesn't confuse letters in writing but he did cursive first and writes very infrequently in manuscript, occasionally I'll ask him to print spelling words.  He does sometimes confuse b and d still when reading.  He usually catches it himself because of context.  But a word like bigger may be read as "digger".  He also sometimes reads "was" as "saw".  I do not think he is dyslexic.  I think he is impatient to be done with his reading.   Does your son enjoy sitting down to read or is he rushing to be done?  I think some letter confusion is normal at this stage.  Your son is also a full year younger than mine.  

Does your son self-correct?  Does he get stuck on the word?  Or does he not realize the problem? 

I think the above cues are a great idea.

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I would x-post this on the learning challenges board. There are some wonderful parents over there with an epic ton of knowledge.

Ruth in NZ

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My younger girl (she’s not even 4 yet, but this seems hardwired to me) has way more trouble with these than my older one did. I’ve found that introducing pairs really slowly helps, getting her comfortable with one pair before introducing another confusing one helps, and making sure she’s not guessing by reminding her to look carefully helps. 
 

Basically, you’re working on mindful practicing instead of just floating along. In my experience, that’s what you want to do in most areas when there are conceptual issues that don’t just naturally resolve with experience.

Edited by square_25
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I will x-post this, thank you for the suggestion, lewelma.

He did have the letters introduced slowly and separately, practiced, practiced practiced before moving on, and lots and lots of cueing. We work on words in isolation more often than I have him read short books, stories and passages. We do this because he rushes and tries to "fake" fluency but his guesses are wrong at least 90% of the time and I have to make him slow down and sound out words so that he gets the words right. I do stories and passages without pictures for him a lot because if there are pictures, he tries to guess his way through even more. Even if it means I have to type out a story myself and print it out because the one I want him to practice has pictures. I figure this is because he is the only non-reader in the house and he wants desperately to be like everyone else right now and not in the time it takes to learn to read when it doesn't come naturally to you. Math comes naturally to him. Amazingly naturally.But reading not so much.

He recognizes there is a problem but he rarely self corrects which is why I posted. The self correction is what I consider to be progress toward correcting reversals and swapping. With my other kids, they would slowly self correct more and more until they didn't do it anymore. This kid, after more than a year of practice, still doesn't self correct hardly at all. We are still cueing almost every time. His only saving grace is that his working memory allows him to remember the word in a story, usually until the end most of the time. But often if he sees that same word again in another story, we have to start over with the cueing and remembering the word.

I'm not ready to jump to a diagnosis for him, some of his siblings were just late bloomers when it came to reading independently but the issues were dramatically different than this ds's issues. I am really just curious if there is anything I'm missing that could help him beyond the garden variety supports that he doesn't seem to be internalizing yet.

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He's still really young. I would just keep working on words in isolation and see what develops. Drop the readers entirely- if he wants to flip through them on his own, that's something I wouldn't stop, but I'd stop using the readers in a lesson. Just use a white board, or type up individual word lists like you've done and use a word frame.  Keep the cueing, and work on nonsense words a LOT. Tell him "this isn't a real word so you will have to sound it out". That sort of thing. They can't guess if it's not a real word. 

You can go look at @ElizabethB's Phonics Page website and there is a massive amount of info between there and Don Potter for other strategies/tips. But I would nip the guessing in the bud as soon as you can, because it is a really, really hard habit to break. 

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I think it's a very positive sign that he doesn't confuse these when writing! If he has the sounds connected with writing the letters, I would have him air write when he misreads a word. "What sound would this make if you wrote it?" Have him use large arm movements from the shoulder down to the pointer finger, like described in this post on reversals

Unfortunately there's no "magic bullet" type of answer for reversals. I would plan on it taking short, daily exercises, possibly for a year (that's how long it took to help my dd "undo" her reversals--she was actually 9 though. For kids under 8, reversals can still be normal, and it's possible it could take longer. He's having to unlearn something that he has always thought was true--directionality doesn't typically matter with objects (a chair is a chair whether it faces right, left, or is upside down!) 

I would try working on one letter from a pair at a time and try to really solidify that letter. If you work on too many at once, some kids can't really differentiate well. That might mean just working on b, u, m, and i for example. (Even that might be too many to master at once--some kids do better if you just work on one or two letters overall at a time.) Connect the motion of writing the letter (air-writing, tracing on sensory material etc...) with saying the sound and with seeing the letter. If you use scented salt trays, you can involve another sense too. You may also want to choose different tactile surfaces to associate with different letters to further differentiate them.

For b-d reversals, I found that doing the "bed" with a twist helped. I taught twins for a friend and had them make the b by using a fist with the thumb up on the left hand, and the d by making a fist with the thumb up on the right hand. Then I had them fist-bump themselves. They loved fist-bumping, and when you do it that way, there's no way to make the letters backwards. I did have to remind them to do it though--they were *just starting* to correct themselves sometimes about age 7. So, he may just need more time and to work on fewer letters at a time. Hang in there, I know it's tedious!

 

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So an update for anyone who is curious....

I decided to really focus on one or two reversals at a time and he has made HUGE progress. I started with b/d. I had always taught my kids "b starts with the baseball bat. d starts with the donut" to be able to tell them apart. I thought to myself, "This approach obviously isn't working for this kid" so I searched for other approaches. He has always had a nearly perfect sense of right and left, even when he was a non-verbal toddler. So we spent an entire day learning about our "built-in b and d detectors" also known as your hands lol. We held up our hands, palms facing away from us and thumbs extended toward the opposite hand. Then we looked to see which hand the straight line part of the letter lined up with. I even drew his hands with washable marker (which he loved) to help him remember. We played a Simon says like game with holding up his "b hand" and his "d hand'. He loved all of it! For a few days after, we did an activity everyday about b/d and practiced using his "b/d detectors" He got to the point that he could tell the difference really quickly and didn't even need to put his hand up to the letter to figure it out. Apparently I was just using the wrong trick with this particular kid to learn b/d.

The next letter I've tackled with him is u/n. He loves stories and he loves animals. Iif you can tell an animal story, you are his new best friend lol. So I made up a story about an umbrellabird who lives in the Alphabet Forest where all the trees are shaped like letters of the alphabet. We looked at the shapes of all the letters and discussed whether or not the letter was too tall and skinny or too round on top so the nest would fall off or if the top of the letter came together too steep and the bird would get its foot stuck in the branches. As it turns out, the only letter tree suitable for an umbrellabird nest is the letter U tree, lol. ;-) The umbrellabird cannot make a nest on the top of the n, it is too round and the nest would roll off. He will quite proudly now point out the letter u now wherever he sees it and the letter n that the umbrellabird's nest will roll off of, lol.

I also changed direction with his language arts curriculum, partly because of circumstance and partly because of the issues he has been having. Knock on wood, he is doing really well with this new curriculum. I don't follow it to a t and I do make changes to make it more O-G and better suited for our family beliefs overall but we are all breathing easier now. He still doesn't love reading but there is a lot less fighting him to get it done. Today we played a game with a letter dice (I grabbed the one from Scattergories lol) creating word family words (a reading approach I've never been a fan of) but he was effortlessly reading all the word family words and nonsense words he made (with more than 90% accuracy and almost no help) and ASKING to keep playing! After 4 rounds, I told him we needed to move on but he requested that we play that game every day now as part of school!?!? He has never asked to play more reading games much less ask to do one everyday!

So I'm going to keep tackling the letter reversals one by one and practicing them in ways that I know will stick with him. It's alot of work but it's a good thing he is my youngest and for right now only hs'ed kid, so I have more time to do it than when I was homeschooling a houseful of kids still. And we will stick with this new curriculum despite the fact that I didn't like it when I first looked at it because it wasn't O-G or Spalding based and used methods I didn't care for and didn't align with our family values but I'm finding out that this curriculum seems to be a great fit for this season in life despite all that and I am able to adapt it easily when necessary.

Thanks everyone for all the input. It really did help me think very critically about what we were doing and why and make some needed changes I'm not ready to say if he is or isn't dyslexic yet, I think he could still swing either way but he is making positive progress for now.

 

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I'm so glad he's doing better!! I know he's a lot older, but he does remind me of my younger girl: she needed explicit descriptions of letter differences to recognize them, whereas my older girl just looked at the letters and remembered them, it seemed. 

Oh, and I love the umbrellabird story! 🙂

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