Paloma Forde looks at myths around the screening process.
Although significant progress in the identification of dyslexia has taken place, one challenge that persists relates to the early screening process for dyslexia. In this article, I emphasise the critical role of early screening and early intervention, address myths surrounding the screening process, and provide insights into how these practices can support children in today’s schooling system.
Parents often hear the discouraging myth that dyslexia can only be identified when a child reaches Year 3 or turns eight. This is not supported by extensive research and informed practice internationally. Children who are showing signs of dyslexia can be detected as early as nursery age if you know what to look out for. Early signs vary from child to child, but there are a few signs that continually show up with younger students such as difficulty in remembering nursery rhymes, showing a preference for pictures in books over letters and words and reversing words. (eg, “flutterby” instead of “butterfly”). Many reading this article will be thinking but surely many children show these signs in the early years? This is correct, however the key difference is for how long these children continue to show these signs. Keeping a close eye on these difficulties and keeping a record is vital in the journey of early detection, as well as ensuring that conversations are being held with the child’s parents and finding out if dyslexia runs in the family. A child is 50% more likely to have dyslexia if either parent has it.
There is a distinction between a full diagnostic assessment and a screening. A full diagnostic assessment, which is administered by qualified assessors or educational psychologists, relies on standardised scores and is typically offered around seven years old and above. The tests rely upon an expectation that the child has already been exposed to reading, writing and spelling skills in schools. Dyslexia screenings, on the other hand, can be carried out by SENCOs, teachers, or even parents in just 30-45 minutes, with results showing a child’s strengths, weaknesses and whether there is a likelihood of dyslexia.
Following a dyslexia screening, if a child is showing ‘at risk’ signs, schools need to provide appropriate interventions and adjustments to the learning environment. Interventions are tailored programmes designed to address the child’s specific needs, recognising that they require additional support to catch up with their peers. Consistency is essential to the success of these interventions.
One highly effective type of intervention is multi-sensory learning, rooted in a systematic and structured learning system. This approach incorporates visual aids, auditory elements, and tactile or kinaesthetic activities, creating a more engaging and interactive learning experience. Many interventions are computerised and adapt to the student’s needs through algorithms. Non-computerised programmes offer clear instructions for practitioners and parents to follow.
Alongside an intervention, schools need to provide reasonable adjustments, where teaching staff are expected to look at the learning environment and make changes to help support learning, eg providing photocopiable sheets, reading rulers, coloured overlays, wordbanks and writing frames. With early screening and intervention, dyslexic children can conquer challenges and achieve their full potential, not only in school but in all aspects of life.