History and FAQs

SOUNDS IN SYLLABLES Multisensory Structured Language Therapy


Sounds In Syllables (S.I.S.) is a research-based language training program designed for students who struggle with decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling).  It is an intensive multisensory, systematic, diagnostic and structured approach.  The teaching plan is based on continuous assessment of the student’s needs.  Sounds In Syllables provides the foundation for successful reading, spelling, and writing that is the missing element in students with dyslexia. 

Sandra Dillon originally developed Sounds In Syllables in a large public school district’s Language Clinic established for middle school and high school students with dyslexia.  Prior to that, as a fifth grade teacher, she had become aware of bright students who could neither read nor spell; this led to her search for answers.  The writings of Dr. Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham led her to seek out training programs based on their work.  Sandra studied with Beth Slingerland and Beverly Wolf of the Slingerland Institute in Bellevue, Washington; with Aylett Cox and Lucius Waite, MD who had developed a two-year therapy level training program, Alphabetic Phonics, at the Scottish Rite hospital in Dallas Texas; and with Patricia Lindamood in San Luis Obispo, California who had developed Auditory Discrimination in Depth – providing the phonemic awareness piece to the reading and spelling puzzle.  

Sounds In Syllables evolved in the early 1980s to meet the needs of bright, yet severely reading disabled secondary level students.  Many of Sandra’s students were both gifted and essentially non-readers.  She observed many who could learn English’s sounds, symbols, and rules – yet they seemed unable to fully apply that knowledge to improve their reading and spelling skills.  She found that these students benefitted by a stronger emphasis on linking the motor skills involved in decoding and encoding and by building them in through a highly structured, therapy model to ensure neuroplasticity. 


(excerpts from Sounds In Syllables Multisensory, Structured, Language Therapy, by Sandra Dillon, 2015 edition)

What is meant by a therapy approach?  

Sounds In Syllables (S.I.S.) adheres to a medical/therapeutic model which includes an exam (assessment), a diagnosis (determination that something is causing a dysfunction or disability in the individual), and a prescription for treatment.  The S.I.S. therapy, which is based on the principles of neuroplasticity, provides the foundation for successful, diagnostic reading and spelling instruction for persons with severely involved dyslexia. 

How important are the S.I.S. procedures?  

The carefully structured procedures unique to S.I.S. are the most important part of this dyslexia remediation program.  We teach the letters, sounds, rules,…but the structured procedures are what changes the way the student reads, writes, and spells.

S.I.S. has a very strong motor-learning emphasis. Procedures ensure that students truly look at the letters, tracking left to right through the word while matching what they see with the vocal-motor movements of saying the sounds. Motor patterns for writing cursive letters are taught during the New Introduction section of a lesson and are paired with the name, visual image, and sound the letter represents. These linkages are reviewed daily and provide the connection to written spelling as well as a cueing system for the process of decoding words. 

Is S.I.S. only for individuals who are severely involved?

No. The structured procedures of S.I.S. are uniquely designed to treat the most severely involved cases of dyslexia in an intensive therapy model, and that is certainly the most powerful use of the program.  Additionally, many trained teachers have effectively used the program with small groups of mild to moderately dyslexic students of all ages….  In addition, S.I.S. has been used to provide an excellent introduction to the structure of the language for reading and spelling for general education students in small groups and classrooms. 

An approach that ‘assumes no prior knowledge’ and incorporates daily, simultaneous, multisensory reviews with no stone left unturned offsets group limitations. At worst, a few are ‘over taught’ (and often promoted). None, however, are left ‘under taught.'” (excerpt from 2003 IDA conference presentation by Sandra Dillon, Mary Gilroy, Meg Porch, and Dr. Bruce Porch)

How frequently must the therapy sessions occur?

In the beginning, it is most important to work with the students 4-5 times per week in sessions of one (1) hour. The frequency and length of the sessions is critical to build in reliable new behaviors that are accurate, automatic, habitual, and performed in an effortless, efficient manner (fluently). After the student’s procedures are strong, and while working in the upper levels of the program, sessions of three (3) times per week can be effective with many students.

The differences between [Orton-Gillingham] programs may seem minor at first glance, and indeed they would be when teaching students with talent for learning language skills, or with mild problems. However, when working with bright students whose learning is severely blocked by dyslexia, the minor differences count. Once you understand why and how, and for whom this approach works, you will be able to make those choices to the benefit of your students.

Sandra Dillon, founder/director emerita of MLTI-NM

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close