Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with word decoding, or the ability to understand how a word’s appearance relates to what it sounds like. Regardless of their vision or intellect, people with dyslexia can experience difficulty reading, spelling, and speaking. What it’s like to live with dyslexia? Dyslexic individuals often report that they see letters “jump around” when trying to read. If that seems challenging as an adult, imagine what it must feel like for boys and girls entering school.

The importance of early detection of learning disabilities like dyslexia can’t be overstated. Dyslexia can have a profound impact on a student’s ability to read and write. Without these invaluable language skills, students with dyslexia can experience avoidable and lifelong educational, social, and economic problems. Let’s take a closer look at dyslexia and how special education teachers can intervene when they suspect a student may be dyslexic. 

How Are Young Boys and Girls Affected by Dyslexia?

What’s it actually like for young learners with this disorder? Children typically don’t encounter issues with dyslexia until they have a book in their hands and are surrounded by classmates. Because of their disability, they often have to read something several times before the message sinks in. They encounter a similar issue with spelling, often spelling a word differently over and over again. As a result, dyslexic students have to work harder to catch up to their peers, which leads to frustration, low self-esteem, and anxiety—issues that can stay with them well into adulthood. Despite often having above-average intellects, dyslexic students can come to feel “stupid.” That’s the last thing that special educators want for their students.

Intervening at a Crucial Time in a Child’s Life

Despite increased awareness, the majority of children with dyslexia aren’t identified until the fifth grade, with many students identified far later. What makes this so disheartening is that intervention is far less effective when administered after the third grade. A recent study published by the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students at risk for reading disabilities who received intervention in the first and second grade made gains nearly twice that of children who didn’t receive intervention until the third grade. Furthermore, the reading outcomes for first graders who received intervention were even greater than that of their second-grade peers, further proving the importance of early detection of dyslexia.

Why is early intervention so effective? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the connections in a child’s brain are most adaptable in the first three years of their life. These formative years are a crucial part of children’s physical, cognitive, and behavioral development, which is why intervention is less effective after a child reaches the age of three. Without aggressive, early intervention, children with dyslexia may be unable to overcome significant and persistent achievement gaps.

The Achievement Gap

In an article published by the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers looked at the achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers. The reading scores and verbal IQ of 414 participants were assessed yearly throughout grade school. Researchers found that the achievement gap between dyslexic readers and their peers was evident as early as first grade. In addition, the trajectories for these two groups never converged, meaning that dyslexic students were unable to catch up with their peers. As the article states, “If the persistent achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers is to be narrowed, or even closed, reading interventions must be implemented early, when children are still developing the basic foundation for reading acquisition.”

The article goes on to list potential consequences for dyslexic readers, including:

  • Lower high school graduation rates
  • Higher levels of unemployment
  • Lowered postsecondary attainment

By implementing effective reading programs in preschool and kindergarten, educators have better chances of closing the achievement gap and helping dyslexic students avoid these negative outcomes.

How Can Educators Identify and Help Dyslexic Students?

Although educational research supports the theory that early detection of dyslexia is important, there is much debate as to which screening method is the most effective. Universal screening with a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is among the most popular ways to identify a child’s risk for having or developing dyslexia. With this approach, students are screened twice a year from kindergarten through the third grade. Screening results are then used to inform teaching methods. However, there are limitations with this screening method: chiefly that it’s a broad approach that only identifies students in need of special education services after they’ve already encountered difficulties.

The ideal screening approach involves a progress monitoring system that assesses students’ response to intervention instruction. In Tier 1, an entire class receives “quality first” instruction. Tier 2 contains a small group of students who need more intense intervention in addition to regular instruction, while Tier 3 contains students with the greatest need for individualized attention. Screenings like this are crucial for the development of a child’s individualized education program (IEP), a unique document designed to help a student with disabilities receive special education services and achieve improved academic outcomes. Once it’s decided that a student with dyslexia is in need of special education, the baton is passed to special educators.

Make a Difference in the Lives of Young Readers

There may not be a cure for dyslexia, but reading difficulties can be prevented and developmental delays can be mitigated. Special educators can help students overcome these challenges by being mindful of the signs that a student may unknowingly be struggling with dyslexia, such as difficulty with word retrieval, remembering sequences, or understanding how words rhyme. Once a student has been identified as being at risk for dyslexia, a teacher can employ a number of teaching methods to improve their reading skills. For example, a teacher may employ differentiated instruction—switch up their teaching style—by having students read along while a story is being played on an audio device.

If you’re interested in helping students with dyslexia and other disabilities overcome developmental delays and achieve academic success, consider pursuing a Master of Arts in Special Education from The University of Texas Permian Basin. In addition to being affordable, flexible, and 100% online, our program will empower you with the skills needed to identify the characteristics of disorders like dyslexia and implement the appropriate intervention programs. Students with developmental and learning disabilities can overcome the academic challenges facing them, but they have a better chance of doing so with the assistance of passionate educational professionals like you.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online MA in special education program.