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Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLD): A Primer

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, October 26, 2017 Byline:  By Melody O’Neil

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This is part two of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? 

Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLDs) refer to an array of difficulties related to the understanding or processing of both spoken and written language. The number and severity of language difficulties can vary widely from person to person. LBLDs can affect the following areas:glossary

  • reading
  • listening (auditory processing)
  • oral expression/word retrieval (expressive language)
  • oral comprehension (receptive language)
  • written expression (spelling, grammar, and mechanics)
  • mathematics

When we talk about reading, we’re referring to three main areas: decoding (word attack/phonological awareness), reading fluency, and reading comprehension.

LBLD, Dyslexia, and Related Disabilities

An individual diagnosed with an LBLD often has the specific diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a phonologically-based reading disability that results in difficulty decoding words accurately, which affects reading fluency and then reading comprehension. struggles of LBLD graphicNot all people diagnosed with an LBLD have dyslexia, although the majority will. It may be that their basic decoding and reading skills are intact; however, they may struggle with other areas of language processing and written or verbal expression. These difficulties may include:

  • dysgraphia, a disorder that affects spelling, punctuation, and handwriting
  • dyscalculia, a disorder that affects someone’s number sense, math reasoning, and ability to process math facts
  • executive functioning, which limits one’s capacity to initiate and complete tasks, stay organized, manage time, and plan
  • a language disorder (formerly called mixed receptive-expressive language disorder) that affects written and oral comprehension and expression

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), and anxiety disorders are often seen as comorbid, or commonly occurring diagnoses for people with LBLDs.

Understanding the Cognitive Profile

big picture thinkerAn extremely important piece in defining and diagnosing an LBLD includes looking carefully at the individual’s cognitive profile. A person with an LBLD is going to have difficulties in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, despite having average to above-average cognitive ability, specifically in the areas of verbal comprehension, visual-spatial abilities, and fluid reasoning or problem solving. Although the LBLD individual may have somewhat lower working memory and/or processing speed, they have an overall strong ability for reasoning, problem solving, and “big-picture thinking.” They are bright, visual, and hands-on kinesthetic learners who tend to struggle more auditorily (listening).


Next Steps

If you feel that your child/student is struggling at school and suspect that they may have an LBLD, the first step to take is to have either psycho-educational testing (done through the public school system) or neuropsychological testing (done privately). Testing will provide information regarding current levels of cognitive, academic, and language functioning. This will also help with making recommendations regarding possible next steps to take and services that may be needed. Most importantly, continue to encourage your child/student, understand they are struggling, and remember that support is available for all types of learners. 


About the Author

Melody O'Neil Landmark School AdmissionsMelody O’Neil is Associate Director of Admission at Landmark School





What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? Five Part Series

This is part two of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability?

Part One: What We Know About LBLD and Learning, by Bob Broudoflame
Part Two: Language-Based Learning Disabilities: A Primer, by Melody O'Neil
Part Three: Help Your Struggling Learner: Remediation Is a Key to Success, by Christine Ozahowski
Part Four: It's a Myth That Young Children Cannot Be Screened for Dyslexia, by Nadine Gaab, PhD
Part Five: Language-Based Learning Disabilities on the Homefront, by Angela Timpone Gowans

brilliance award winner icon Landmark360.org's post by Bob Broudo about LBLD and Learning won a 2017 Gold InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Award in the national competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications.

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Tags:  dyslexia language-based learning disability dyscalculia dysgraphia Executive Functioning language disorder decoding reading fluency word attack phonological awareness

The Five Components of Reading: The Keys to Unlock Reading Proficiency

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Monday, February 25, 2019

girl reading at desk with teacher

By Meghan Sebens

Reading is an integral part of our culture and has been for many millennia. While our social and academic lives are constantly infused with reading, this ability does not develop innately. ​The ability to read is shaped by the material we engage with, by our own internal processes, and most importantly, by the instruction we’re given. When we tease apart the concept of reading, we’re left with five vastly expansive underlying components. Although these areas range from pre-literacy skills to deep understanding of complex texts, they do not necessarily fall on a sequential spectrum. In fact, solid instruction covers many of these areas within a single lesson.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) within a spoken word. While this component of reading does not actually involve written text, it is fundamental to the skill of decoding. Some students may not need direct instruction in order to develop phonemic awareness. However, if phonemic awareness is not intact, difficulty will persist until it is remediated. Phonemic awareness instruction may consist of various wordplay activities. Can you show the number of sounds in gush (hint: it’s not four!)? Can you take out the /f/ sound in flip? Students build the ability to control sounds, and even syllables, within words. Without this capacity, phonics instruction will be incredibly challenging.


Phonics knowledge is the understanding that letters correspond to certain sounds. While in some languages, like Italian, a single spelling exists for each sound, in English, the 26 letters of the alphabet represent roughly 44 different sounds. Furthermore, English contains approximately 360 different combinations of letters to spell those sounds. The rules of phonics for English are more complex and varied than many alphabetic languages. Teaching phonics is incredibly important, especially for students who do not naturally synthesize the many rules of the English language. A systematic approach toward phonics helps students recognize expected patterns in English from the very basic to the more complex. First, students must apply these rules to reading and spelling tasks in isolation. Once patterns are reinforced, they are ready for varied practice and application in context.


The skill of reading fluency spans from words to connected text. At the word level, fluent readers are able to read words with automaticity, or accurate and fast word recognition. Within connected text, students can accurately and efficiently string words together to form phrases and passages with ease. Fluent reading should sound natural, like a conversation. Appropriate (not fast) pacing, accurate word recognition, and phrasing and expression that demonstrate an understanding of the text are all subgoals within fluent reading. Each individual student may need a different focus for instruction. Activities that build rate include repeated readings, listening to model readings, and chunking text into phrases. Accuracy can be addressed through error handling, word analysis and automaticity drills, and decoding practice. A student can increase prosody (phrasing and expression) with phrase-cued text, poetry, and reader’s theater. While one student may need to use repeated readings to establish appropriate pace, this may be counterproductive to students who approach reading too quickly. Relevant instruction and building self-awareness are important factors in addressing fluent reading.


Vocabulary is the understanding of word meanings. Although text is not the only place that children gain vocabulary, explicit instruction in vocabulary leads to consistent gains in reading. Teaching vocabulary can be accomplished by constructing word meanings and other associated information (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, examples), training students to use context clues, as well as familiarizing them with the morphological structure of words (prefixes, roots, suffixes). It is important to take into account the frequency and usefulness of terms selected for study. Words that cross a variety of domains (i.e., different classes or situations) can be practiced more and provide a higher benefit for the student’s knowledge base. Categorization helps students to connect like vocabulary terms and organize information more efficiently.


Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. It may begin with recall of stated facts from the text but generally stems far beyond this simplistic notion. Students should be able to engage with the text in order to draw inferences beyond the stated material, connect novel situations to their own lives or other readings, analyze broader themes, and more. In order to accomplish this, students need to be taught to independently use strategies that allow them to attack written material at a deeper level. Summarizing, visualizing, and questioning are just a few strategies that teachers may incorporate into comprehension instruction. Students must learn to identify comprehension gaps and use a variety of tools to reconstruct the author’s intended meanings. Some readers make the necessary connections from speech sounds to symbols almost imperceptibly, learning to manipulate phonemes, recognize words and phrases, acquire vocabulary, and extract meaning from passages with ease. For others, the sub-skills of fluent reading must be identified and explicitly taught. The degree of intervention and the recipe for effective instruction can be as individualized as the human brain, but research has shown that the five areas above, in combination with principles of effective teaching, are essential keys to reading proficiency.   For further information on the five components of reading and instructional strategies, I encourage you to review the National Reading Panel Report - Practical Advice for Teachers.


About the Author

Meghan Sebens

Meghan Sebens, M.S.Ed., is the reading supervisor, the testing coordinator, and an academic advisor at Landmark’s Elementary•Middle School.


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Tags:  reading stages of reading reading comprehension decoding vocabulary fluency phonics

The Whole Language vs Phonics Controversy Rages On

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, June 5, 2019


teacher and students working

By Donna J. Sullivan, M.A.

What a surprise it was to learn that controversy regarding the teaching of beginning reading is still alive and well!  Specifically, I recently learned that what is known as the whole language philosophy is still alive and breathing, despite the large body of highly scientific, rigorous research, especially under the auspices of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, pursued vigorously beginning in the 1980s. This highly conclusive research, long-term and multidisciplinary, yielded consistent, replicable results, which led to specific recommendations for the teaching of reading skills directly, contrary to the whole language philosophy.  

Whole language is a method of teaching reading that emphasizes learning whole words by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by using phonics.  Students are encouraged to guess at unknown words based on what fits into the reading material.

What Is Phonological Processing?

Phonological processing is the primary area where children with reading disabilities differ from other children. Phonological processing is the ability to identify the number and order of sounds (phonemes) in a spoken word. We are generally not consciously aware of the number and order of sounds in spoken words, but for many of us, learning to read enables us to do this to a greater or lesser extent. For individuals with a reading disability, if not remediated, this difficulty in segmenting syllables and words into constituent sounds persists into adulthood, and it is a major obstacle for learning to read regardless of age. Direct, explicit instruction is effective in developing this skill and should be available in every kindergarten, first grade, and remedial reading program.

Interestingly, I was involved in teaching a 30-year-old man, who had been previously involved in remedial programs, to read after developing his ability to perceive the number and order of sounds within words.  “Where were you 25 years ago?” he asked me in frustration. Think about it: when we spell and read, we are attaching symbols (letters) to sounds. If we cannot identify the number and order of sounds in a word, how can the alphabetic principle make any sense?

Direct, Explicit Instruction Benefits All Students

Explicit, systematic, direct instruction in sound/spelling relationships (phonics) should be incorporated along with phonemic processing. Every student benefits from this instruction, not only the reading challenged. Not all phonics programs are effective, however, especially those that are random and those that rely on visuals, such as pictures to represent specific sounds. Sounds should be taught orally in isolation and practiced each day until they become automatic. This need not be a long or tedious practice, but it should be consistent within a structured program. The use of systematic direct instruction in phonics is the primary reason that schools such as Landmark, which developed its own systematic phonics program, and others who use an Orton-Gillingham structured phonics approach, have been largely successful in teaching those with reading disabilities.  Children need to be shown exactly how to blend sounds into words, and they need to use decodable connected text to practice the sound/symbol relationships they have learned.

A reader needs to be able to decode at least 80% of the words on the page in order to comprehend what they are reading.  

Decodable text is made up of words that use only sound/symbol correspondences that children have learned to that point and a limited number of “sight” words that do not “play fair” and need to be learned individually. A reader needs to be able to decode at least 80% of the words on the page in order to comprehend what they are reading. This is not going to be interesting and exciting reading. What is exciting is the realization that one is actually decoding, actually reading the text, not guessing at it.

Now, it is true that reading these predictable, decodable stories is not going to develop language comprehension, which is emphasized in the whole language philosophy, and comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. During the early stages of learning to read, children’s oral language comprehension will be much higher than their reading comprehension level. This means that it is vital for the teacher to read more sophisticated stories regularly to children to develop vocabulary and comprehension skills, and they should encourage making inferences and discuss meaning with students based on the stories read to them. Then, after the children become more fluent, they will know how to apply comprehension strategies on their own.

Providing teachers with the knowledge and the skill necessary to teach reading effectively has to become our very highest priority in education.

There is a plethora of research to support direct systematic beginning reading instruction. This begs the question of why it has not been more widely implemented in schools?  The fact is that many of our teachers have not been exposed to recommended methods of teaching reading, and were not themselves taught by them. Having attended college as an adult in the 1980s, after 25 years at home with my children, I had one reading course as part of my program which was whole-language oriented. Subsequently, pursuing a master’s degree in special education, I had no additional reading course, because the assumption was that because we were all teachers we knew how to teach reading. This was despite the fact that a majority of the special needs students we would be servicing had reading difficulty as a primary issue. From this, my conclusion has to be that these proven methods have not been widely implemented because teachers may not know them, through no fault of their own. What a pity! The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicates that only 36% of grade four students, 34% of grade five students, and 37% of grade 12 students are at or above proficient in reading. That means that everyone else is less than proficient! 63% of our high school graduates cannot read at the level expected of a high school graduate! Providing teachers with the knowledge and the skill necessary to teach reading effectively has to become our very highest priority in education.

About the Author

Donna J. Sullivan, M.A. is the founding director of the Commonwealth Learning Center in Needham, an instructor and program coordinator for the Simmons College graduate program in Special Needs, director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Carroll School in Lincoln, and served most happily as director of Reading Programs at Landmark School from 1998 to 2003. Currently retired, Donna maintains contact in the field by providing private tutoring services and consulting in the field of reading. 

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