Overcoming Severe Dyslexia: A Live Case Study with Weekly Updates

Meet Maddie, a 10-year-old who has been diagnosed with severe dyslexia, moderate dyscalculia, ADHD, and low IQ (low 80s). People who have evaluated her have said that they have never seen dyslexia as severe as this before. Her parents have been told by more than one professional that Maddie will probably never read, and that they should try to find things that Maddie can be successful with outside of academics, because she will never be successful in academics. Her mom, Kimberly, refused to accept this and has worked tirelessly to try to help Maddie, with little success. “At this point, I have tried so many different things with little to no success that it is hard NOT to believe the professionals telling me that she is just never going to be able to read,” Kimberly told Edublox.

Below is a video of Maddie reading unprepared from a book, a Second Grade Reading Word List, as well as a Third Grade High Frequency Word List.

We have been touched by Maddie’s story and have chosen her to be a live case study. Starting on March 12, 2018, we will post at least one update per week on our Facebook page, and also copy that update on this page.

Below you will find


A shortened version of Maddie’s story can be found here.

Maddie’s story, as told by her mom

Maddie was in public school for kindergarten for two years, but because her reading was so low she was retained. The school offered her no additional help, and most certainly no specialized help, so I pulled her out of school to homeschool. My theory was that they just weren’t teaching enough phonics, and if I taught her phonics, she would be able to read. That obviously did not work out, so I tried a different program, **** (name omitted). This program did not help at all, so I eventually took her to be tested for learning disabilities. Her results obviously showed severe deficits, and she was subsequently diagnosed with dyslexia.

We were recommended to use an Orton-Gillingham-based program, so I did my research and found what seemed to be the “gold standard” for home use, the XXXX system (name omitted). I purchased the system, and I immediately encountered many problems. The developer offers unlimited free phone support for anyone using her system, and I was calling every day with some new issue that had popped up. I think she got quite tired of my calls, and most of the time she told me that in all her years of working with dyslexic children and adults, she had never encountered many of the problems that I was having. She eventually recommended that we work with a specialized tutor who could better address our needs. So, I found a highly qualified NILD educational therapist who specializes in severe dyslexia and uses the system.

We have been working with her for over a year via Zoom on the computer. Maddie is now able to sound out words, but she does it slowly and painstakingly, and even though we work on fluency every day, she has very little to no fluency, even with simple CVC words. She continues to guess at words, even when reading words that she knows phonetically how to sound out, so she makes a high percent of errors when reading. Even the educational therapist seems baffled by this. Only a few days ago, she told me that she had never had another student whose fluency did not improve with her tutoring. Also, there has been very little improvement in directionality issues, BDPQ reversals, naming problems, and overall language, vocabulary, and verbal skills, despite the specialized tutoring, speech therapy and visual therapy.

She has severe issues with naming, with almost everything, even just in daily life. For example, we were making chili for supper the other day, and she kept calling it spaghetti. She quite frequently mixes up the words for SOUP and SPAGHETTI (and apparently chili looked enough like soup that she mixed that up too), though I have no idea why. She also mixes up the terms “minute”, “hour”, “day”, “week”, “month”, and “year”. She might say that she needs to cook something in the microwave for two hours instead of two minutes, or she might say that Valentine’s day is one month away instead of one week. Another example is bodies of water: she might call the ocean a river or vice versa, which makes it very difficult when studying geography, history, etc. Another example is mixing up the terms “street”, “town”, “city”, “state”, “country”, and “continent”. If asked what state she lives in, she might say the name of our town or the United States of America instead of our state. These severe naming issues make daily life very difficult, because it is hard to understand anything she says. She has severe difficulty describing anything, instead she frequently says words like “thing”, “stuff”, “it”, “that”, or “you know” because she can’t think of the words she needs to describe something.

We have also reached a point in the XXXX system where there seem to be SO many rules, that I can’t even keep up with them all, so how can I expect my child to be able to learn to read while trying to remember so many rules. There are rules about spelling, rules about syllable division, then there are exceptions to the rule, then exceptions to the exceptions. We are not even halfway through the system, so I can only imagine how many rules there are left to learn, and we are already feeling overwhelmed by them. If I had to learn to read that way, I would never be able to read, and I’m afraid that is what will happen if we continue on this course.

I have been quite intrigued by reading through all of the information on your website. I had thought myself quite well-versed in dyslexia, but the more I actually look into the theories on dyslexia, the more I realize that there really is no consensus about what it is or what causes it. As you have so aptly described in one of the articles you referenced, you cannot cure something if you do not know the cause. I had thought all along that the root cause was a disability in the way the brain processes language, as well as a deficiency in phonemic awareness. Most programs try to remediate the phonemic awareness and expect that this will remediate the reading, but that has not worked in our case. I also find the studies comparing the brains of poor readers with and without dyslexia and comparing dyslexic readers to younger readers at the same reading level very interesting. I had never thought that these differences in the brain could be merely a result of poor reading rather than the cause.

I had recently found the book Equipped for Reading Success and ordered the book and read it over a few days. I was quite interested in his description of orthographic mapping and his methods to improve mapping and thus improve fluency. His theory is that there is no such thing as dyslexia, only children who have poor phonemic awareness and poor orthographic mapping because of this. So his theory, and the whole book, is that if you remediate the phonemic awareness, the dyslexia will no longer exist. At first, I was quite excited by this idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this couldn’t be. Here’s why: the symptoms of dyslexia that Maddie has are so much more vast and pervasive through all areas of life, not just reading, that it is impossible that remediating only the phonemic awareness would “fix” everything. It makes much more sense to me that the problem would be much broader than just phonemic awareness, and your article on understanding dyslexia reflects this idea.

I thought you might be interested in seeing some samples of her writing.

She also wrote this story a few days ago. I had her correct all of the mistakes, so I will just type what she originally wrote:

The hunt

The mom cheetah (I spelled that for her) and her cud (cub) is going on a hunt. they are going to hunt for mise (mice). The cud (cub) has fond (found) a mase (mouse). She is going tor (toward) it. She is going to ete (eat) it. her mom is qrod (proud) fo (of) her cud (cub), but she must len (learn) hou (how) too (to) rely (really) hunt.

And here’s an example of Maddie’s math work:

A shortened version of Maddie’s story can be found here.

Maddie’s assessment results

The first testing was done in September 2015, after Kimberly had spent about a year trying to teach Maddie a phonics-based reading program at home. The second testing was done after about seven months of using an Orton-Gillingham-based program at home.

First assessment, September 2015:

Maddie was administered ten subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fifth Edition (WISC-V). She achieved a Full Scale IQ score of 87, which is Low Average.

Maddie was also administered the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, 3rd edition (WIAT-III) to assess her current academic achievement. Her results are reported below:

Maddie was diagnosed with a reading disorder.

Second assessment, September 2016:

To evaluate Maddies overall intellectual capacity, she was administered the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence – Second Edition (WASI-II). On this test, Maddie achieved a Full Scale IQ score of 81, which is in the Low Average range and above approximately 10 percent of her same-aged peers.

To examine Maddie’s visual-motor integration and visual perception skills, the Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration was administered. Compared to others her age, Maddie obtained an overall standard score of 85 (16th percentile), visual perception standard score of 96 (39th percentile), and motor coordination standard score of 84 (14th percentile), all of which fall in the Low Average range.

To evaluate phonological processing, the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing was administered. The scores are calculated by comparing Maddie’s performance to a group of individuals her own age.

To evaluate Maddie’s levels of achievement across a variety of academic tasks, she was administered the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT- III). The WIAT-III measures current academic skills, including reading, mathematics, and oral language.

Maddie was diagnosed with…  

  • Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Reading, Severe
  • Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Mathematics, Moderate
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

Maddie’s Edublox program

The program below has been customized to address Maddie’s deficits. Kimberly will be working with her for 2 hours per day, 5 days per week X 13 weeks. Part of Kimberly’s work will be to supervise the Edublox Online Tutor Reading exercise. An Edublox tutor will teach Maddie via Skype for 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week X 13 weeks, and 40 minutes per day, 5 days per week X 13 weeks will be spent on the cognitive exercises of Edublox Online Tutor — Maddie will do these cognitive exercises on her own. After the 13 weeks the amount of work will be reduced to one hour per day. To improve Maddie’s vocabulary a language exercise will be implemented, which does not require any active time.

Below is an outline of the 13-week program:

20 minutes:

Edublox Reading Tutor: exercises numbers 1, 2 and 3 of a sub-world.

20 minutes:

Edublox Reading Tutor: exercises numbers 4 and 5 of a sub-world.

40 minutes:

Hands-on exercises

Directionality exercise for 2 minutes
bdpq exercise
for 2 minutes
Edublox Reading/Spelling exercise
Crumple Papers exercise for 2 minutes
Beansbags exercise for 3-4 minutes

20 minutes:

Development Tutor: exercises numbers 1, 2 and 3 of a sub-world.

60 minutes:

Math exercises

Do Counting exercise 3 every day for 5 minutes before starting the math exercises.

Topics must be introduced in the following order:

1.   Addition (For later: Step 2)
2.   Subtraction
3.   Multiplication
4.   Division
5.   Fractions
6.   Money
7.   Time 

30 minutes:

Flash reading/spelling exercise by a live Edublox tutor

Maddie’s Diary 

Our first official day of the Edublox system, and Maddie really enjoyed it! Her favorite parts were the online system and learning new words! She said learning the “new, hard words” was fun. Her least favorite part was math. She said it was “really hard”, but I liked it because I could tell that it was really making her think.

I love the directionality exercises and the bdpq exercises. We have done some similar to these in vision therapy (which we did for almost a year), but not to this extent, and they never reached the point of automaticity that we will be achieving here.

The exercises are very well designed, they are multisensory, and I am very hopeful that they are exactly what we have been missing. I am SO excited that we have finally found something that I think is really going to work after having tried so many things that have failed!

Today went even better with all of the activities and exercises. Maddie is really working hard, and it shows. She has been interested in reading EVERYTHING today! She is even trying to read over my shoulder as I am typing this  and that is a first! She was recognizing words all over the place when we went shopping today.

The only problem is that she is still not attending to small differences in words. For example, she noticed the word “Women” and was really excited, but she read it as “woman”, which is one of the words she is working on. She also noticed the word “vegetable” but she read it as “vegetables” for the same reason. I pointed out the difference between the word and what she read it as (and I told her the correct word), but I am concerned that she did not notice the difference herself. Later today, she noticed the word “oranges” and read it correctly, and she was very excited as she pointed out that she could read it.

Our first week of Edublox has been an adventure! We are trying and doing new things, and they all seem to be just what we needed. So far, I haven’t seen any huge results, but Maddie does seem to be a LOT more interested in reading. She also is noticing the words that are all around her, and have been all of her life, though she has taken little notice of them. Most of the time, when we are driving or walking through stores, she takes no notice of signs or anything, but this week, she has been interested in so many of them. I have been very surprised! A lot of them she has been able to read, though some she has needed help on. I think that it is just a confidence and awareness that maybe she COULD read those words now, whereas before, she felt like there was no use in trying.

Maddie has always been a hard worker, and she is working very hard at all of the exercises in Edublox. She LOVES the computer portion of the program, and she loves how supportive and encouraging it is. She is always telling me the nice things that it told her about how well she was doing, and I think it really boosts her confidence to see how much she is progressing from day to day. She actually seems to enjoy almost every portion of the program, but I think her other favorite part is when she is learning new words with Susan. I would say that her least favorite part of the program is math, but she still works hard and does her best, and she loves seeing how far she has come and how much she is learning!