In an article in “Contemporary Pediatrics,” Melissa Spangler discusses dyslexia. It is a common misconception about dyslexia that a child cannot be diagnosed or remediated until the child is in the third grade. Researchers now believe that early identification and intervention is critical for children with dyslexia to be successful in school. Students learn to read in kindergarten to third grade and read to learn in fourth grade and beyond. Students who have been overlooked begin to struggle in the fourth grade and beyond.

To identify children who might have a problem learning to read they may have some of the following problems:

1. Difficulty with rhyming, blending sounds, learning the alphabet, linking letters with sounds.

2. Difficulty learning rules for spelling. For example spelling the way they sound “bik” for bike or using letter names to code a sound, “lafunt” for elephant.

3. Difficulty remembering “little” words (want, said, of) that cannot be “sounded out.”

4. Listening comprehension is usually better than reading comprehension, for example a child may understand a story when read to him/her but struggle when reading the story independently.

For students with dyslexia, putting the emphasis on preventive or early intervention is necessary. There is no benefit to the child if special instruction is delayed for months while waiting for an involved testing process. By January or February of the first grade tests of early word reading, decoding and spelling begin to be useful in providing information about what the student has learned and what gaps of knowledge exist. This information may be used to plan instruction and guide ongoing management. Before second grade the focus of evaluation should be on the precursors of reading development. Measures of language skills, phonological awareness, memory, and rapid naming are more suggestive of being at risk for young children.

When a child is having difficulty with reading and spelling an evaluation is important for diagnosis, intervention planning and documentation. Diagnosis rules out common causes of reading difficulties and determines the child’s strengths and weaknesses that fit the definitions of dyslexia. Once identified these children need special help from a teacher, tutor or therapist trained in using a Multisensory Structured Language approach. It is possible that your child’s school may not have teachers trained in the scientifically based approaches that are effective for a child with dyslexia.

If you have concerns about your child or want more information try the International Dyslexia Association Fact Sheets: Dyslexia Basics can be found at Recommended reading for parents is “Overcoming Dyslexia,” a new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level by Sally Shaywitz.

Children with dyslexia have normal intelligence, but if not diagnosed, can feel unsuccessful and learn to dislike school.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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