Learn the difference between screening and diagnosing for dyslexia in children
Dyslexia is a neurological condition separate from intelligence.
Margaret Tuttle, director and founder of The Dyslexia Center of Princeton, said dyslexia is a condition in the brain that makes it hard for people, especially children, to recognize words accurately and quickly, makes it hard to sound out new words, and makes spelling challenging.
She said most diagnoses start in third grade but it can start in pre-school. In pre-K-aged children, parents should look for delayed speech, mixing up sounds and syllables in long words, chronic ear infections which can get in the way of hearing language sounds, a delay in establishing their dominant hand, trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet, and they may have the inability to create words that rhyme or understanding the idea of rhyming.
In grade school children, she said parents and teachers may notice slow, choppy, or inaccurate reading. Sometimes kids will skip or misread small words like "at," "to," "of" and "the." They'll show an inability to sound out words or an inability to recognize sight words like "said" or "does." They may mix up letters, struggle with sequences like in math, or struggle with following multi-step directions.
"Dyslexia is more than just flipping "bs" and "ds". It has a lot to do with memory skills and processing sounds," Tuttle said.
Screening and diagnosis are two very different things, she made clear.
In New Jersey in 2014, the state Department of Education communicated a law that requires schools to screen students with symptoms no later than the first semester of second grade.
But Tuttle said it's very important to keep in mind that schools won't diagnose. Schools will identify the child and may able to be classified for special services.
Parents need to take their child to a psychologist or a neuropsychologist who can properly diagnose dyslexia. They will use standardized tests to compare a child's reading and spelling abilities with what is typical for that child's age.
A really good professional will test for the five causes of dyslexia, Tuttle said.
One area would be a test for phonological processing. That's how a person manipulates and blends sounds in language. Second, they would test for visual sequential memory--how you remember what you saw in the order that you saw it.
The third would be testing for auditory sequential memory---remembering what you heard in the order that you heard it. Fourth, is a test for eye-hand coordination which supports handwriting and spelling. The fifth thing a psychologist will test for is visual perception. This does mean whether a child needs a pair of glasses or not. "Visual perception is being able to discern the fine details of print like which way a letter is pointing like a "b" or a "d", Tuttle said.
Once a child is screened in school and properly diagnosed with dyslexia, remediation can begin. Tuttle said with remediation, a child is literally asking their brain to do some new types of activities, like remediating their sequential memory for sounds. The child is literally doing therapeutic educational tasks that ask the brain to rewire itself.
Tuttle said this is an individualized process. She said schools have some good reading programs available. But there are, unfortunately, no programs in New Jersey schools that attack or address the underlying, cognitive processing and those brain skills that cause dyslexia.
Early awareness is key. Being proactive with a child's school to get them screened and potentially tested for special education is very important. Tuttle also said parents can combat the problem of dyslexia by looking for local resources that provide more than just "tutoring" but rather diagnose, intervene and address the underlying processing challenge.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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