Did you know that the precursors of dyslexia can be reliably identified in children as young as age 3? Preschoolers cannot read, but they are actively learning language. Difficulties mastering language at a young age predict later difficulties mastering reading. The root of cause of dyslexia is a weakness in phonological processing, or the brain’s ability to process the sounds in language. Dyslexia is not caused by a hearing problem but by a problem with what happens between the ears and the brain. Most children naturally develop phonological processing skills over the preschool and early elementary years. For example, most 4 and 5 year olds naturally learn how to rhyme. However, the dyslexic youngster cannot rhyme or has great difficulty with it.
Why is early screening for dyslexia so important? Early detection paves the way for early intervention! Early intervention means kids do not have to fail before they receive the type of instruction their brains need in order to learn. This allows their confidence and self-esteem to remain in tact. This is extremely important because the emotional effects of dyslexia and other learning disabilities can be as devastating as the conditions themselves. It is no surprise that our brains are the most plastic and malleable when we are young. Research shows that the ability to quickly and effortlessly recognize words in our brain develops much more easily in young children. When students don’t receive the right kind of instruction until later in life, the storage of words in the brain is more diffuse.
Screening of phonological processing abilities can and should occur before students start Kindergarten. Ideally, this type of screening would take place in preschools, at Kindergarten orientation, or during check ups at the pediatrician. However, pre-K screenings are not the norm in our community at this time. If a genie granted me 1 wish, I would wish most fervently for universal screening of pre-K students for indicators of dyslexia! So, what should parents and early childhood educators do? Actively look for the early signs of dyslexia in your children and proactively seek early intervention screening from a qualified evaluator if you notice these signs. The warning signs of dyslexia in preschoolers are:
- delayed or immature speech
- mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words and persistent baby talk (e.g. saying “aminal” instead of animal)
- chronic ear infections
- stuttering or articulation problems
- late establishing a dominant hand
- difficulty learning to tie shoes
- trouble memorizing things like their address, phone number, or the alphabet
- can’t create words that rhyme
- a relative with a diagnosis of dyslexia or a relative who struggled with reading, writing, and spelling in school