Dyslexia in bilingual children

Dyslexia in bilingual children

As adults we understand the benefits that being bilingual means. However, children are not able to see the long term benefits, especially when acquiring a second language becomes a struggle.

It is important to note that most authors indicate that a speaker does not have to be fully competent and fluent in both languages in order to be considered bilingual. However, being bilingual refers to having access and using two or more languages on a daily basis (Baker 2006, Martin 2009).

In order for children to properly acquire a second language the need to communicate is vital. In British schools where the main language of development tends to be a second language for most students, proficient literacy and language skills will be developed.

Even if we are all aware of the benefits a bilingual education gives children, what happens when there is a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia?

It is important to understand that dyslexia is a continuum; this means it will be present through all of the person’s life and will have an impact in more areas than just learning (reading). Scientific research has proven that dyslexia is a neuro- developmental disorder with a biological origin. There is also broad evidence stating how dyslexia has a high genetic component meaning that most people can be born with it. (Frith, 2002, p48). Therefore it is important to note bilingualism should never be an excuse for difficulties in learning.

Dyslexia is a more complex condition than just a difficulty regarding reading and spelling skills. Therefore, early warning signs such as difficulty with language processing, verbal memory and verbal processing speed are also present in children at risk of dyslexia. It is important to note that dyslexia occurs in a range of intellectual abilities.

Even if we are all aware of the benefits a bilingual education gives children, what happens when there is a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia?

In order to address the questions at hand it is important to understand what happens when children develop in a bilingual environment. In Hutchinson et al, 2004 study they concluded early simultaneous bilingualism promotes higher development of sound and phonological awareness, which can transfer across languages. Therefore a poor acquisition of phonological skills, in both languages would be an indicator of poor literacy acquisition. (Loizou and Stuart, 2003).

When it comes to vocabulary, there are two ways in which we interpret words; their meaning and also the sense the word invokes. Vocabulary is a fundamental aspect in learning to read and assessing a child’s language proficiency. In other words vocabulary is not only necessary for writing or using technical words, but a way in which we develop a mental lexicon in order to arrange and share ideas about the world. Within the broad symptoms of dyslexia one of the most common ones is a lower verbal memory and fluency.

In contrast it has been proven bilingual people have more knowledge regarding language. In other words bilinguals do not have to relearn language structure when acquiring a new language as they already know how language works. Therefore bilingual’s have more ability to generalise and apply linguistic understanding across languages. (Durgunoglu et al 1993) That is why most children learn to read and write in one language and can easily transfer knowledge to the second language. Of course factors such as specific characteristics of each language should be taken into consideration. For example Spanish speaking children, who learn how to read and write in English, have more facilities when it comes to transferring their knowledge from English to Spanish.

The reason behind it being that English is considered a more complex and opaque (sound do not always have a one to one letter correspondence) language, whilst Spanish has a simpler structure and is more transparent.

Even when being bilingual seems positive both socially and developmental wise, what impact does it have on dyslexic children?

It is important to clarify bilingualism does not cause dyslexia; studies have shown bilingual children learning to read have similar deficits in both of their languages (Klein & Doctor, 2003). However, the acquisition of a second language in children with dyslexia might have a slower development due to all of the linguistic difficulties related to dyslexia. Therefore it is vital to support children from an early stage.

Hoeft et al., 2007 in their neurological studies have proven “early bilingual exposure might have a positive impact on the developmental plasticity of certain regions of the brain in people with dyslexia”. Most importantly it has been proven that children with dyslexia benefit from early intervention. Intervention can be done in any of the child’s languages; however, if available treatment in the most frequent language of reading is available, it is best for support to be given in the most used language when it comes to reading. Strategies given to the student can be used through both languages.

When it comes to identifying dyslexia the biggest difficulty for both parents and school staff is to clearly identify children’s difficulties, which might be masked or mistaken by a lack of knowledge in English or a second language. Therefore when difficulties in different areas such as: articulation, language acquisition, phonics or pre literacy skills are present across or in any of the child’s languages, it is important to seek for a professional’s opinion.

Dyslexia can also have an impact in other areas such as memory, processing speed, organization, visual processing, auditory processing or attention. During daily life time activities a child might be described as “forget full with toys, school equipment, books…etc” other children might have a harder time when following schedules or directions. Other times children who seem to struggle when having to narrate or explain their daily activities should be monitored.

Do you think your child might have dyslexia or other learning difficulties, what to do next? Firstly it is important to ask for both the teachers and a professional’s feedback. In Spain it is common for a Speech and Language Pathologist to be more aware of learning difficulties in children. The ideal situation would be for both professionals together with parents to gather up information in order to determine if an evaluation is necessary or if a support plan should start to take place. With bilingual children an evaluation in only one the child’s languages is not enough. Most of the time it is necessary for reading and writing evaluations to take place in both the child’s languages, this gives professionals a clear idea of the areas of strength and weakness regarding the student. A complete evaluation in order to conclude a student has dyslexia or a learning difficulty does require from several professionals. The most common one being a: psychologist and a speech and language pathologist. Other times professionals such as optometrist, audiologists or even an occupational therapist’s input might be necessary in order to conclude where a students difficulties lie. After an evaluation specific working accommodations and strategies should be given in order to better support and help children access the curriculum. Coordination between school and the different professionals working with a child is vital in order to better support students. If you suspect or feel your child is not performing as expected in school please do not hesitate to contact our learning support department.

Valeria Ávila
Division of Speech Therapy
Valeria Ávila
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Is my child swallowing correctly? Can a speech pathologist help?

Is my child swallowing correctly? Can a speech pathologist help?

After a visit to the dentist or the orthodontist many parents are told their child has an infant or atypical deglutition, other doctors notice how their patient’s tongue tends to rest in the inferior teeth. Some doctors may even suggest a child must have treatment with a Speech pathologist before starting the orthodontic treatment in order to avoid further complications or delays with the process.

What is atypical deglutition?

When children are transitioning from mixed to all permanent teeth, several changes alter their facial bones and muscular structures (stomatognathic system). It is during this stage when a child transitions from an infant swallowing to an adult pattern of swallowing. Due to unknown causes many children do not transition to an adult pattern in swallowing when they replace all of their teeth. This persistency in an infant swallowing pattern is known as atypical deglutition.

Children or adults with atypical deglutition may have a hard time closing both lips. They push the tongue down and forward toward the teeth, the jaw moves backward therefore the body of the tongue moves down and away from the hard palate. Some children even bite their tongue when doing this movement.

A correct swallowing pattern

The correct swallowing pattern occurs when both lips are in contact. The tip of the tongue moves up against the hard palate, followed by the body of the tongue pushing against the medial part of our palate. This sequence creates a correct arch form and dental alignment.

Many adults and teenagers have an atypical deglutition and sometimes only notice it after finishing an orthodontic treatment, when their teeth move back to the starting position. This is due to the constant pressure the tongue makes against the incisive teeth, pushing them open.

Effects of having atypical deglutition

One of the most common effects of a lack of strength in the tongue is being an oral breather. Being an oral breather has a big impact in all aspects of our life, in severe cases it might even lead to sleep apnea (moments of non-oxygenation while sleeping). Improper oxygenation in children can lead to restlessness, lack of focus and even affect the growth and development of the whole orofacial system.

People who have an infant swallowing pattern can also attribute it to a suction habit with no nutritious purposes. It can be common for children or even adults develop a habit of sucking on a blanket, fingers or baby bottles. A persistent suction pattern leads to less strength and an incorrect position of the tongue.

Several people might even have nutritional side effects, such as needing to make more effort eating solids and hard to chew foods, and therefore end up not consuming several food groups.

As an alteration of the facial and chewing muscles is present, when having an atypical deglutition, most children might experience articulation difficulties. This does not mean that every child who suffers from articulation problems has atypical deglutition or vice versa.

Symptoms

If you suspect that your son/ daughter or even yourself might have atypical deglutition these are some of the symptoms to look out for:

  • When swallowing the tongue is placed between the teeth. An open bite tends to develop.
  • Having difficulties chewing solids, or swallowing a big amount of liquids. Most oral breathers even state they experience difficulties when chewing and breathing at the same time.
  • A child with a breathing pattern will keep his mouth open when watching television, playing, reading or during daily activities.  The tongue will be placed on the lower area of the mouth and rest in the inferior incisive teeth.
  • As the mouth tends to be open some drooling when sleeping or during daily activities might occur. Lips tend to lack the strength to stay closed.
  • When swallowing the child might make head movements, weird sounds, sucking of the lower lip, changing head postures etc…

All of these side effects can develop because of the lack of strength in the muscles that build up the tongue and facial expression.

Is there a solution?

Dentists and orthodontists are directly involved in treatment, but a speech pathologist with a specialisation in myotherapy can also help as we intervene in the re-education of breathing, strengthening exercises, and getting rid of inadequate suction patterns.

Treatment is not aggressive and tries to be the least invasive as possible. Keep in mind that to strengthen a muscle a specific exercising routine must be followed. The tongue is no different from the muscles in your legs or arms, and to build up strength a daily effort must be made. A weekly session with the speech pathologist will be held to help you learn the exercises and as progress is made monthly visits will be required.

If you have any more questions or think you or a relative may have a swallowing difficulty, don’t hesitate to contact us. We will gladly answer any doubts or arrange for an appointment with one of our specialists.

References

Vanz, Rúbia Vezaro, Rigo, Lilian, Vanz, Angela Vezaro, Estacia, Anamaria, & Nojima, Lincoln Issamu. (2012). Interrelation between orthodontics and phonoaudiology in the clinical decision-making of individuals with mouth breathing. Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics17(3), 1-7. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S2176-94512012000300010

Machado Júnior, Almiro José, & Crespo, Agrício Nubiato. (2012). Avaliação cefalométrica de via aérea e do osso hioide em crianças com deglutição normal e atípica: estudo de correlações. Sao Paulo Medical Journal130(4), 236-241. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1516-31802012000400006

Jiménez Jiménez, J. (2017). Importancia de la deglución atípica en las maloclusiones. OdontologíA Sanmarquina, 19(2), 41-44. doi:https://dx.doi.org/10.15381/os.v19i2.12917

Valeria Ávila
Division of Speech Therapy
Valeria Ávila
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

¿Es normal que mi hijo bilingüe se atasque al hablar?

¿Es normal que mi hijo bilingüe se atasque al hablar?

Question

Nuestra logopedia Valeria Ávila contesta a una de las preguntas más frecuentes que recibimos: Mi hijo es bilingüe, somos españoles y vivimos en Holanda.  Tiene 3 años y 2 meses y a veces se atasca al hablar. Me gustaría saber si es normal. Gracias.

Answer

Los niños al estar expuesto a dos lenguas a la vez pueden tener un desarrollo más tardío en el lenguaje en comparación con sus iguales monolingües. En los niños bilingües se suele considerar normal que exista un retraso aproximado de 4 a 6 meses en el lenguaje. Si se nota que el niño no logra expresar sus necesidades en ninguno de los dos idiomas, es necesario acudir a un logopeda para obtener una valoración más exhausta.

Muchas veces cuando los niños intentan comunicarse pueden tener unos pequeños “atascos”. Lo más importante como padres es mantener la calma y dar tiempo al niño para que intente terminar de comunicar su mensaje. Si notamos que transcurridos unos segundos el niño no es capaz de elaborar el mensaje podemos recapitular lo que el niño nos dice y ayudarle a terminar su mensaje.

Aun así si lo “atascos” van acompañados de movimiento motores, como suelen ser movimientos oculares o de cabeza, prolongaciones o repeticiones constantes de un sonido de la palabra, lo más aconsejable es acudir a un especialista en este caso un Logopeda colegiado para explorar en profundidad el caso y poder dar pautas especificas a los padres.

En caso de tener más preguntas, no duden en contactar con Sinews.

Atentamente, Valeria Ávila Logopeda/ Speech and language therapist

Valeria Ávila
Division of Speech Therapy
Valeria Ávila
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé