Research indicates that approximately 10% of people struggle with aspects of academic learning secondary to dyslexia, yet many do not fully understand what dyslexia is. When most people hear the term dyslexia, they think of a child who reverses their b’s and d’s or reads words backwards. That impression does not accurately capture the essence of the true nature of dyslexia and was generated many, many years ago before neuroscience and behavioral science provided the evidence for defining and describing dyslexia.
Dyslexia – the most common form of a learning disability – is a brain-based, hereditary, language-based learning difference that affects a person’s ability to read individual words. They struggle with “sounding out” words, or decoding, which in turn affects their ability to read and comprehend text. Decoding difficulty is connected to spelling difficulties – a person can’t spell what they can’t read. Early warning signs for dyslexia can be observed as early as the preschool years, and definitely can be detected in Kindergarten and first grade. But if dyslexia is a reading problem, why can we see signs in the preschool years? The answer is not simple, but has been demonstrated through research. There are certain early language development difficulties that are often associated with dyslexia, especially if an adult in the family struggled with reading as a young child or if a sibling struggles with reading and academics.
What are some common warning signs that a parent should know? A child may exhibit difficulty with the following:
If you are a parent whose child struggles in these areas, it may be time to consider having your child evaluated, even if he or she is in Kindergarten, so you can get a head start on early reading skills. Optimally, the evaluation would include assessing oral language such as receptive vocabulary, word retrieval, rapid naming, sentence formulation, and phonological awareness (such as letter names and sounds, rhyming, blending sounds in words) as well as reading and math skills. This testing should involve parental and teacher input and should provide “next steps” for parents. The case history of the child’s early developmental and their medical history are important as well as information related to any family history of academic difficulties. Even if a specific diagnosis is not given, parents receive a thorough profile of their child’s cognitive, academic, and language strengths along with areas to be strengthened.
When is it time to seek a comprehensive evaluation?
Children can be identified or assessed reliably as a student who struggles with reading as early as first grade and can be described as “at risk” during the preschool years and in Kindergarten. Needless to say, testing can occur at any time during a child’s academic career – even high school – to determine their learning profile and instructional needs. Some parents are told that children cannot be tested for dyslexia until third grade. Not only is that information not based in fact and research, it also results in delaying critical early instruction and intervention that is meaningful for their learning needs. A thorough and comprehensive evaluation helps families find the appropriate academic support for their children.
Dyslexia education and awareness is key for individuals who have dyslexia and their families, for educators, and for medical practitioners. Ten percent of the population may not seem like many people at first blush, but statistically, in a class of 30 students, three students may demonstrate reading and spelling difficulties that align with dyslexia. That means that even first year teachers could reasonably be expected to have at least one child in their classrooms who has dyslexia; imagine how many children a teacher might have taught over the course of five years or ten years of service in the teaching profession? Parents often seek the advice of their child’s pediatrician when a child struggles in school. Providing science-based facts about dyslexia to healthcare professionals is very important so they can help guide parents and urge them to proactively seek help from the school and/or independent practitioners.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. To address common misconceptions about dyslexia, Dr Joan Mele-McCarthy, Executive Director of The Summit School – an independent school in Edgewater, MD serving bright students with dyslexia and other learning differences – and Claire Kovacs of Chesapeake Family Life, will host a Facebook Live interview on Monday, October 29 at 12:30 pm via Chesapeake Family Life’s Facebook page.
For additional resources, please visit:
The Dyslexia Foundation: dyslexiafoundation.org
International Dyslexia Association: dyslexiaida.org
The Maryland Branch of the International Dyslexia Association: md.dyslexiaida.org
Decoding Dyslexia of Maryland: decodingdyslexiamd.org
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development – Learning Disabilities Research
Reading Rockets: readingrockets.org