Diagnosing and addressing dyslexia early isn’t just important to ensuring your child stays on track academically, it’s important to their self-esteem.
“When a first or second grader sees all the other kids ‘getting it’ and they don’t, they start to feel dumb,” says Anne Hahnel, a speech language pathologist in St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology. When parents wait too long to intervene, children become frustrated and discouraged and they often give up on reading academics. “I really hate to see kids have to wait until third or fourth grade to get intervention because, by then, they’re done.”
Roughly three quarters (74 percent) of children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade, often because their problem was not recognized early, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
“Through third grade you are really learning to read and spell and after that you are reading and spelling to learn, so if you don’t have those skills you are really going to struggle,” says Hahnel. But, she cautions, “just because your child is slow to read doesn’t mean he or she is dyslexic.”
So when should you intervene and what should you look for?
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity provides this age-specific guidance:
In preschoolers watch for trouble learning common nursery rhymes or the letters of the alphabet, difficulty recognizing the letters in his or her name and difficulty learning simple rhyming patterns. Mispronouncing familiar words and persistent “baby talk” can also be warning signs.
In kindergarten and first grade, signs of dyslexia often become more pronounced when children are learning to read. Listen for reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page. If your first grader does not associate letters with the sounds they make and cannot sound out simple words like “cat” or break words down into distinct sounds, it may be an indication of dyslexia. Also watch for signs that your child is trying to avoid reading or complaints that it is difficult.
For children in the second grade or older watch for slow and awkward reading, trouble reading unfamiliar words – including random guesses because they cannot sound out the word – and a general avoidance of reading aloud. A child’s speaking habits – hesitation when speaking, frequent use of vague words such as “stuff” or “thing” because they cannot find specific words, and a tendency to confuse like-sounding but unrelated words – can also be signs of dyslexia. By this point in their lives, children may have trouble remembering dates, names, telephone numbers, random lists, have trouble finishing tests on time, struggle when introduced to a foreign language and exhibit messy penmanship.
“I’ve seen children as early as kindergarten and as late as college age,” says Hahnel. She recommends giving a child until the spring of first grade to start mastering reading. “If they are not catching on by that point, you need to take a look.”