A Guest Post by Dr. Nancy Mather
Orthographic processing includes the ability to form and retrieve images of individual letters, spelling patterns, and the words of our language both accurately and rapidly. This type of processing includes memory for letter orientation, as well as the recognition and recall of common letter combinations, spelling patterns, and words.

Orthographic mapping is the process that readers use to store sight words for immediate retrieval (Kilpatrick, 2015). This mapping process involves forming the connections between the speech sounds, phonemes, and the printed representations, the graphemes.  The starting point is forming the connections between the speech sounds and print. After a typically developing reader has sounded out a word a few times, the word becomes an instantaneously recognized sight word. As skill increases, the reader develops and stores in memory images of frequently seen letter combinations and spelling patterns as well (e.g., con, er, tion). When the reader encounters one of these letter combinations again, both the image and the sound are activated.

For an individual with dyslexia who has a weakness in orthographic processing, this mapping process is slow and the reader needs many exposures to retain these patterns and words in memory. Often, only a partial image or incomplete representation is created in memory. Subsequently, when this reader sees a word (even one that has been seen many times before), it is not recognized automatically. Consequently, this developing reader depends on sounding words out for recognition, acquires sight words more slowly, reads less fluently, and spells words the way they sound rather than the way they look (e.g., thay for they, sed for said).

One aspect of orthographic processing is orthographic retrieval. This is the ability to retrieve complete images of words from memory, as is needed for spelling. Once a word has been retrieved and written, a writer examines the word to see if  it “looks right.”  For example, both rain and rane are accurate sound-spellings, but only one is spelled correctly. Knowing which one is the correct spelling depends on visual recognition of the spelling pattern.

Dr. Nancy Mather is an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson in the Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology. She specializes in the areas of assessment, reading, writing, and learning disabilities.

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