Samuel Torrey Orton


From his work with brain-damaged adults, Samuel Orton attempted to explain the occurrence of language disabilities in children who had not suffered brain injury yet displayed symptoms similar to those exhibited by the adults who had sustained language loss. Orton's hypothesis was that children who do not establish hemispheric dominance in particular areas of the brain display specific developmental language disabilities such as reading disability ((Myers & Hammill, 1976, p. 258). Orton's interest in reading disorders was said to stem from his daughter's difficulties in learning to read (Wingate, 1997, p. 150)

He developed a reading and spelling approach that was elaborated upon later by Gillingham & Stillman:

The sound equivalents for every letter of the alphabet were taught and then sound blending was worked on. Tracing of letters done to erase reversals and maintain left-to-right progression. For spelling, associations established between sound and letter and words are sounded out. Fine sound discrimination was stressed.

Anne Gilligham, a follower of Orton used modality combinations in her teaching. They included (1) visual-auditory: translation of visual symbols into sound; (2) auditory-visual: translation of auditory symbols into visual image; (3) auditory kinesthetic: translation of auditory symbols into muscle response for speech and writing; (4) kinesthetic-auditory: movement of a passive hand by another to produce a letter form; (5) visual-kinesthetic: translation of visual symbol into muscular action of speech and writing; and (6) kinesthetic-visual: the muscular feel of the speaking or writing of a letter, in order to lead to association with the appearance of that letter (Myers & Hammill, 1976, p. 263-264).

Anne Gillingham worked with Orton at the Neurological Institute, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, NY.

Terminology from Orton:

Motor intergrading: mixed or confused dominance or laterality mixtures (e.g., right handed, left eyed).

Strephosymbolia: literally, twisted symbols, used by Orton as a synomym for dyslexia.


Gillingham, A. (1958). Correspondence. Elementary English, 35, 119-122.

Gillingham, A., & Stillman, B. (1936). Remedial work for reading, spelling, and penmanship. NY: Hackett & Wilhelms.

Gillingham, A., & Stillman, B. (1960). Remedial training for children with specific reading disability in reading, spelling, and penmanship. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.

Myers, P., & Hammill, D. (1976). Methods for learning disorders ( 2nd ed.). NY: Wiley.

Orton, S. (1925). Word blindness in school children. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 14, 581-615

Orton, S. (1927). Studies in stuttering. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 18, 671-672.

Orton, S. (1929). The sight reading method of teaching reading, as a source of reading disability. Journal of Educational Psychology, 20, 135-143.

Orton, S. (1929). A physiological theory of reading disability and stuttering in children. New England Journal of Medicine, 199, 1047-1052.

Orton, S., & Travis, L. (1929). Studies in stuttering: IV Studies of action currents in stutterers. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 21, 61-68.

Orton, S. (1930). Familiar occurrence of disorders in acquisition of language. Eugenics, III, 4.

Orton, S. (1931). Special disability in spelling. New York: Bulletin of the Neurological Institute.

Orton, S. (1937). Reading, writing and speech problems in children: A presentation of certain types of disorders in the development of the language faculty. NY: W. W. Norton.

Orton, S. (1939). A neurological explanation of the reading disability. Education Record, 12, 58-68.

Orton, S. (1943). Visual functions in strephosymbolia. Archives of Ophthalmology, 30, 707-713.

Wingate, M. (1997). A short history of a curious disorder: Stuttering. Westport CT: Bergin & Garvey.