To date, the earliest that a reading disability/dyslexia (RD) can be reliably diagnosed is in second grade and most exhibit enduring reading impairments throughout adolescence and into adulthood. However, research has shown that intervention is most effective in kindergarten and first grade and that intensive instruction for “at risk’ beginning readers” can help many of them to achieve average reading ability. A paradox.

So, why are we waiting three years to offer our children the help they need?

In these three years, children with RD are often perceived as being ‘lazy’ or as those who ‘do not try enough’. Teachers, parents, and peers may misinterpret the child’s struggle to learn as negative attitude or poor behavior and decreased self-esteem is often a result. These negative experiences leave children with RD vulnerable to feelings of shame failure, inadequacy, helplessness, depression, and loneliness.

After three years of these experiences, would you still be self-motivated to learn and stay curious about the social, emotional, and academic world surrounding you?

Early identification of children “at risk” in kindergarten or even before then offers a chance to reduce the clinical, psychological and social implications of RD. Identifying children ‘at risk’ in kindergarten or even earlier is also essential for the development, implementation, and evaluation of early remediation programs. Identifying early predictors of RD will also help educators, parents, and scientists to find ways to support the academic and cognitive development of children with RD and may also lead to strategies that will reduce the severity of RD.

A modified approach to the way we teach children how to read must involve the identification of children “at risk” and the development of early preventive strategies. The identification of a child with RD in mid-elementary school is too late. By this stage, the delayed development of reading has already affected vocabulary skills and reading motivation. Children who are weak readers at the end of first grade often remain poor readers by the end of elementary school. Improved early identification of children at-risk may further lead to changes in educational policies. The ability to assign independent educational plans for children prior to reading onset will be essential for designing and implementing customized curriculums for children “at-risk”. Most importantly, this may prevent the psychological and social impact of RD and maximize the intellectual, social and emotional potential in our children.

Submitted by Nadine Gaab, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; Faculty Affiliate Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School; Member of the Faculty of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education



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