Do You Know How to Recognise the Early Signs of Dyslexia?

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Boy reading book

Is your child struggling with letter recognition, reading or number skills? Is your child discouraged about school and unable to focus or has poor attention? John Kerins of Neuron Learning outlines how to recognise the early signs of dyslexia.

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First things first, what is dyslexia? Dyslexia (pronounced: dis-lek-see-ah) is a type of learning difficulty.

The Dyslexia Association of Ireland says that a simple definition would be that dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which makes it hard for some people to learn to read, write and spell correctly.

Dyslexic difficulties occur on a continuum from mild to severe, and affect approximately 10% of the population. People with dyslexia may experience greater stress and frustration as they endeavour to learn, resulting in heightened anxiety, particularly in relation to literacy acquisition.

The latest research has identified two key areas of weakness which are typical in those with dyslexia:

  1. Phonological awareness, which is the ability to manipulate sound in words. It is one of the most reliable markers for dyslexia, especially in school age children. 
  2. Other predictors of reading skills are letter-sound knowledge. For example, does the child know the sound that the letter “k” makes? Does the child know the different speech sounds that would be associated with the letter “a” (for example, it could be “ah”, it could be the long “ay”, etc) and can they recall and name things quickly? 

These are things that many researchers have started to really hone in on, and form a starting point when looking for early signs of dyslexia. There are several long and large scale studies, where children have been followed over many years, that have shown that all of these skills predict long term reading ability.

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What Are the Early Signs of Dyslexia?

girl at school

The important points about dyslexia:

  • It usually centres around reading, writing and spelling skills. Spoken language can be a factor, but not in all cases.
  • It is unexpected, i.e., the individual has the ability and access to education in the normal way. They are intelligent but their reading is not proficient compared to their peer group.
  • It can be multi-functional. Therefore we need to consider neurological (brain), cognitive (understanding) and behavioural aspects. There is evidence that genetics can affect reading skills – in other words, dyslexia can be hereditary. 
  • Processing of information is the key. By this I mean, how efficient and effective is the student with phonics, fluency and memory. Also organisation, sequencing and motor skills are vital skills to master reading.

People with dyslexia can have problems with spoken language. They may find it difficult to express themselves clearly, or to fully comprehend what others mean when they speak. Such language problems are often difficult to recognise, but they can lead to major problems in school, in the workplace, and in relating to other people. The effects of dyslexia often reach well beyond the classroom.  

Other early signs can include:

  • Reading, spelling and writing difficulties
  • Problems learning and matching letters and sounds
  • Difficulties with rhyme and alliteration
  • Poor short- and/or long-term memory
  • Poor attention and focus
  • Poor visual and auditory processing
  • Poor sequencing
  • Weak in other school subjects

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Understanding Dyslexia

Our understanding of dyslexia has come very far in the past 30 years, with neurophysiological models developed in just the past five years explaining why letter-sound correspondence is so difficult for those with dyslexia.

Fortunately, support tools and treatment options have kept pace with the research, and children with dyslexia today have the potential to train their brains to overcome the learning difficulties that earlier generations were destined to carry with them for a lifetime.

Dyslexia is now recognised as a primarily auditory disorder, with weaknesses appearing specifically in phonological processing. Many reading intervention programs help learners compensate for these difficulties by working around the issues. We take a different approach — to “rewire” the brain for reading, targeting the issue directly, and starting with the brain’s most foundational abilities. fMRI data from Stanford University shows how Fast ForWord helps learners with dyslexia improve a range of language, cognitive, and reading skills.

Successful interventions need to address foundational language skills and processing rate for learners with dyslexia.

  • Exercises to improve phonological processing
  • Individualised work to build phonemic awareness, phonics, and targeted decoding
  • Sight word recognition, vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension
  • Guided oral reading support to build fluency (great for even the most reluctant readers!)

There are many types of learning difficulties, of which dyslexia is only one. Diagnosis is not a science. There are levels and indications, and often there are overlaps with other specific learning difficulties such as ADD, ADHD, dyspraxia and so on. Only a full psychological assessment will determine if any child or adult is dyslexic. Indeed other visual and hearing screens should be done to rule out any impairment, which could affect reading and learning abilities.

We have published a detailed Guide to Dyslexia at Neuron Learning which includes references to research sources, a discussion of various dyslexic types, and successful interventions you can consider for your own use.

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Did you find this list of early signs of dyslexia useful? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!

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