As toddlers, children are already starting the journey of putting together language, sounds, and alphabet letters, and are filling their reading “tool chests” with the knowledge needed to later become readers. It is now possible to reliably identify young boys and girls who are in preschool and kindergarten and are at a high risk for reading difficulties, or dyslexia, and provide intervention even before they experience failure. If parents become aware that their child is experiencing some difficulties with language, especially if there is any family history of dyslexia, intervention and testing are recommended. There is a strong genetic link with dyslexia, so a family history of dyslexia or problems with early reading and spelling is a critical factor to consider. The good news is that early intervention can give a child the skills and confidence needed for academic success.
What are the signs parents should look for?*
In Preschool Years:
- Trouble learning common nursery rhymes or simple songs, such as “Humpty Dumpty” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
- Lack of appreciation or sensitivity to rhymes
- Mispronounced words ( “busketti”/ “ephelent”); persistent baby talk
- Failure to know or recognize the letters in his or her own name
In Kindergarten and 1st Grade:
- Failure to understand that words come apart, are made from separate sounds,
Difficulty connecting letter names and sounds,
Reading errors that have no connection with letter sounds; reading street as road or even big as goat,
Difficulty with learning common one-syllable words (the, said, was) or with sounding out the simplest words (mat, cat, hop, nap).
Strengths that you can note: Children with dyslexic characteristics often demonstrate strengths in the areas of curiosity, a great imagination, a good understanding of new concepts, surprising maturity, a large vocabulary for their age, enjoyment in solving puzzles and building models, and excellent comprehension of stories read aloud to them.
What parents can do:
- Monitor language development. Be on the alert for problems in rhyming, pronunciation, and using precise vocabulary.
- Be aware of the code. Notice if he or she is struggling to learn letter names and sounds.
- Watch progress. Be alert to problems in speaking, reading, writing, or spelling.
- Focus on strengths. The goal is to make sure that the strengths, and not the weaknesses, define the child’s life. (Some families with more than the average complement of dyslexics see an abundance of photographers, artists, engineers, architects, scientists, and radiologists.)
- Intervene early. Students who struggle do not benefit from repeating a year of the same type of instruction, but instead need intensive, multisensory instruction; especially in the areas of book knowledge, phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and writing skills.