Introduction to Dyslexia and the Orton-Gillingham Approach


The word dyslexia is derived from the Greek. 

“dys” (poor or inadequate)     “lexis” (words or language)

The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators:

Dyslexia: can be summarized as difficulty in the use and processing of arbitrary linguistic / symbolic codes.  This is an aspect of the language continuum, which includes spoken language, written language, and language comprehension.   February, 1995



decoding, encoding, spelling, fluency, comprehension, writing, speaking, listening

Characteristics of Dyslexia can include:

  • Lack of awareness of sounds in words, rhymes, or sequence of sounds and syllables in words.
  • Difficulty decoding words – word identification
  • Difficulty encoding words – spelling
  • Poor sequencing of numbers, of letters in words, when read or written
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts in written form
  • Delayed spoken speech
  • Imprecise or incomplete interpretation of language that is heard
  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts orally
  • Problems with reading comprehension
  • Confusion about directions in space or time – right and left, up and down
  • Confusion about right or left-handedness
  • Difficulty with handwriting

The Orton-Gillingham Approach

Orton-Gillingham is not a program, it is an approach to teaching the structure of language.  It is based on years of study about the brain and how we learn, combined with the logical, sequential building blocks of language.  Each lesson is prescriptive, that is , based on the needs of the student, and diagnostic or individualized.  It always begins with the most basic components of language and moves as quickly or slowly as the student’s needs dictate.

It is an approach that uses multisensory techniques for learning.  All the senses are engaged simultaneously, in order to create the neural network that the student needs for manipulating the components of language structure.

The student should be made to understand how the brain works (at his or her level, of course.) The student should have a background about the history of language and a clear understanding of the Alphabetic Principle.  The student must also understand the difference between vowels and consonants.

Our language is based on the Alphabetic Principle, whereby letters represent sounds, and sounds are blended into words.

The alphabet has two kinds of sounds: vowel sounds and consonant sounds.

Vowel Sounds are made by having an unobstructed flow of air pass over the vocal chords.  All vowel sounds are voiced, in other words, your vocal chords vibrate.  Vowel sounds can be prolonged indefinitely, as long as you have breath.  This allows them to create a necessary bridge between consonant sounds.  Each vowel also makes three sounds: short sounds, long sounds, (where they say their name,) and the unstressed schwa sound in which they all make the /u/ sound.  Every syllable must have a vowel sound.

Consonant Sounds are made when the flow of air to the vocal chords is obstructed in some way, as with your lips, your teeth, or your tongue.  Not all consonant sounds are voiced, and most consonants make only one sound.

Contrary to popular opinion, the English language is 85% rule based, which means that you can teach a student to figure out eight and a half out of every ten words.  The remaining words become their sight vocabulary.

In teaching reading, the main goal is always comprehension.  However, to reach a proficient comprehension level, a student must have automaticity and fluency.

Automaticity is instantly knowing a sound when you see a letter.

Fluency is the ability to smoothly and accurately blend the sounds into words at an even and steady pace.  Tone, inflection, and the basic rhythm of language are all components pf fluency.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach is the teaching of language using multi-sensory strategies.

Students work should:

  • Build logically
  • Small to large
  • Simple to complex
  • Known to new

The key to helping a student to gain reading and writing independence is a well educated Orton-Gillingham clinician.  As the student continues to develop literacy, the OG teacher must be able to individualize instruction.  This means that the process should be diagnostic and prescriptive.

The Orton-Gillingham clinician is able to take the student from:

phonemic awareness and phonics to  reading fluency,

from reading fluency to reading comprehension,

from reading comprehension to written expression.

Who is Orton?

Samuel T. Orton was a neurologist and psychiatrist who is often referred to as “the father of dyslexia.” Orton was the first to identify the syndrome of developmental reading disability and to offer a physiological explanation for its cause.  He outlined the principles found in the Gillingham manual.

Who is Gillingham?

Anna Gillingham was a psychologist and a director of remedial teaching.  She took the research of Dr. Orton and created “phonics,” which she and educator, Bessie Stillman, published in the Green Manual.  (Educators Publishing Service)

 What is Phonology?

Phonics is the system of associating letter symbols with speech sound.

Phonetics is the science of speech.

Phonemes are the forty+ significant speech sounds.  They can be differentiated by their acoustic properties, the way they are produced by the vocal organs, and the their function in making speech sounds into intelligible words.

June Orton, 1964


Marcia Mann MA, CCC, Fellow, Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.

Anna Gillingham, Bessie Stillman, Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship

June Lyday Orton, A Guide to Teaching Phonics