By Sally Shaywitz, M.D.
From Dr. Sally Shaywitz, one of the world's leading experts on reading and dyslexia, Overcoming Dyslexia is a comprehensive, up-to-date, and practical book to help parents and professionals understand, identify, and overcome reading problems that plague children today.
Drawing on recent scientific breakthroughs - many of them in her own laboratory - Dr. Shaywitz demystifies the subject of reading difficulties and explains how a child can be helped to become a good reader.
In the following excerpt from Overcoming Dyslexia, Dr. Shaywitz discusses early diagnosis of dyslexia in young children as well as in older children and young adults.
I now want to gather together all the clues that combined will serve as an early-warning system for recognizing dyslexia. The clues will help you answer the question: Should my son or daughter (or I) be evaluated for dyslexia?
No one wants to be an "alarmist" and put her child through an evaluation for trivial or transient bumps along the road to reading. Evaluations can take time, and those carried out privately can be expensive. But I think we have to remind ourselves that our children are precious, one-of-a-kind individuals and have only one life to live. If we elect not to evaluate a child and that child later proves to have dyslexia, we cannot give those lost years back to him. The human brain is resilient, but there is no question that early intervention and treatment bring about more positive change at a faster pace than an intervention provided to an older child. And then there is the erosion of self-esteem that accrues over the years as a child struggles to read.
Childhood is a time for learning. A child who delays breaking the phonetic code will miss much of the reading practice that is essential to building fluency and vocabulary; as a consequence, he will fall further and further behind in acquiring comprehension skills and knowledge of the world around him. To see this happen to a child is sad, all the more because it is preventable.
Joseph Torgesen, a reading researcher at Florida State University who has carried out many of the critical studies on intervention, has this to say about the need to identify children early on and the cost of waiting: "To the extent that we allow children to fall seriously behind at any point during early elementary school, we are moving to a 'remedial' rather than a 'preventive' model of intervention. Once children fall behind in the growth of critical word reading skills, it may require very intensive interventions to bring them back up to adequate levels of reading accuracy, and reading fluency may be even more difficult to restore because of the large amount of reading practice that is lost by children each month and year that they remain poor readers."
Most parents and teachers delay evaluating a child with reading difficulties because they believe the problems are just temporary, that they wll be outgrown. This is simply not true. Reading poblems are not outgrown, they are persistent. As the participants in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study have demonstrated, at least three out of four children who read poorly in third grade continue to have reading problems in high school and beyond. What may seem to be tolerable and overlooked in a third grader certainly won't be in a high schooler or young adult. Without identification and proven interventions, virtually all children who have reading difficulties early on will still struggle with reading when they are adults.
Luckily, parents can play an active role in the early identification of a reading problem. All that is required is an observant parent who knows what she is looking for and who is willing to spend time with her child listening to him speak and read.
The specific signs of dyslexia, both weaknesses and strengths, in any one individual will vary according to the age and educational level of that person. The five-year-old who can't quite learn his letters becomes the six-year-old who can't match sounds to letters and the fourteen-year-old who dreads reading out loud and the twenty-four-year-old who reads excruciatingly slowly. The threads persist throughout a person's life. The key is knowing how to recognize them at different periods during development. Therefore, I have gathered the clues together to provide three distinct portraits of dyslexia: first, in early childhood from preschool through first grade; next, in school-age children from second grade on; and, last, in young adults and adults.
Sally Shaywitz, M.D., is the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at the Yale University School of Medicine. She and her husband are codirectors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Recognized as one of the country’s top doctors, Shaywitz has devoted her career to helping children and adults who are dyslexic.
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