Dyslexia: Warning Signs and the Importance of Early Intervention

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Cute little Asian 18 months / 1 year old toddler boy child sitting on floor, leaning against pillow, looking at a book
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In the United States, dyslexia affects an estimated 1 in 5 individuals, making it the most common learning difference nationwide. Dyslexia can pose challenges in reading and language comprehension, but there’s a silver lining: early identification and intervention can make a world of difference, especially for children who may be at risk.

In fact, a study published by the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students at risk for dyslexia who received intervention in the first and second grade made substantial academic gains compared to those who didn’t receive intervention until the third grade.

Additionally, early intervention supports not only academics but the social-emotional wellbeing of students. Self-esteem and motivation can decrease when a struggling student notices their peers do not need to put in the same amount of effort and time when it comes to reading and writing tasks. The earlier we can intervene, the better.

For parents who suspect dyslexia, here are a few of the early warning signs.

For preschoolers:

  • Difficulty learning and remembering the letters of the alphabet
  • Mispronouncing familiar words (basghetti instead of spaghetti or aminal instead of animal)
  • Confusion with directional words like right/left and up/down
  • Trouble recognizing rhyming patterns like bat, cat, mat
  • Forgetting names of teachers, friends or colors
  • May have difficulty retelling stories
  • Challenges recalling the right words (i.e. brings you a spoon when you ask for a fork)
  • Difficulty with multi-step directions

For school-age children:

  • Confusing letters that look similar (like b and d)
  • Struggling to read familiar words, especially if there aren’t pictures
  • Substituting words when reading aloud, like “puppy” if a picture of a dog is included
  • Trouble separating the sounds in words and blending sounds to make words
  • Struggling to remember how words are spelled
  • Avoiding reading aloud
  • Trouble with word problems in math

While it’s normal for children to have some of these challenges when learning how to speak, read and write, persistent difficulties may indicate a need for further evaluation. A family history of dyslexia or reading difficulties is also an important indicator since dyslexia can be genetic.

If you’re still unsure but want to act early, seeking an initial language and literacy screening is a good first step. From there, depending on the results, you can pursue a comprehensive evaluation. A formal diagnosis can help pave the way for tailored support services in school and accommodations throughout life.

It is important to note that while dyslexia has an impact on learning, it doesn’t reflect a child’s intelligence. In fact, the unique way individuals with dyslexia think and process information can actually be a key to their success. It’s like having a superpower! Dyslexic brains are especially good at thinking big picture, making connections and solving puzzles. Many individuals with dyslexia excel in entrepreneurship, thrive in STEM fields and express their creativity through the arts.

It’s time we flip the script. Dyslexia isn’t a roadblock—it’s just a different path. And with the right support and early intervention, children with dyslexia can reach their full potential.

Locally, families in Baltimore can access free screenings at The Odyssey School, designed to assess early language and literacy skills. While not providing an official diagnosis, these screenings can identify potential reading difficulties, offering guidance for further evaluation if necessary.

Bella Curran is a reading specialist and the Assistant Lower School Head at The Odyssey School, an independent K-8 school for children with dyslexia and language learning differences in Lutherville, Maryland.

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