There are 2 key questions every parent should get answered as quickly as possible when their child shows signs of dyslexia:
1. Is my child really dyslexic?
2. If so, what should we be doing?
In an ideal world, every child with signs of dyslexia would immediately receive the gold-standard of dyslexia diagnostic testing: one-on-one assessment from a highly trained diagnostic professional. Unfortunately, in the world where we actually live, relatively few have access to such care. Full assessments typically costs thousands of dollars, and skilled professionals–in communities where they can be found at all–often have waiting lists many months long. This is in part why, in a recent survey of over 200 families with dyslexic children, we found that:
• more than 70% of dyslexic children wait more than 6 months after their first signs of dyslexia before they receive testing
• over half wait more than one year
• fully one-third wait longer than 2 years!
Clearly, the lack of accurate, affordable, and accessible testing is prolonging the suffering of many dyslexic children, and the uncertainty and worry of their parents.
Fortunately, there are now alternatives to this “all-or-none” scenario. Accurate, affordable, and accessible dyslexia screening tests have become available, and can provide useful answers when full professional assessment is not immediately available. These screeners can eliminate the long delays before children at risk of dyslexia begin to receive the help they need.
All dyslexia screening tests seek, at a minimum, to answer this question:
How likely is this child to be dyslexic? (Note: Some screeners also test adults.)
By itself, a clear and accurate answer to this question can reduce parental uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety, and give parents the assurance they need to take action. Some screeners even direct parents toward the actions they should take, and the places where they can begin to find help.
If you’ve noticed that your child has shown signs of dyslexia, what should you look for to find a dyslexia screening test that is right for your child? The following are 3 key features a good dyslexia screening test should have.
First, a good dyslexia screener will provide a clear and accurate measure of your child’s overall dyslexia risk, which means their likelihood of being dyslexic. To provide such a measure, the screener’s design should include the following characteristics:
• It should be based on an accurate understanding of the science regarding the sources of dyslexic processing features, of the risks these features create for dyslexic signs and symptoms, and of the techniques used to assess them.
• It’s procedures for measuring these sources of dyslexic risk must be valid–that is, they must in fact measure an individual’s actual risk of experiencing the signs and symptoms of dyslexia.
• It must be reliable in two ways: first, a child should receive similar scores if taking the test on several occasions; and second, the test should have some way of telling whether a child’s answers on the test provide an accurate measure of that child’s true abilities.
• It should be able to distinguish between risk for dyslexia and for other sources of reading and spelling challenges, which differ from dyslexia and require different responses.
• It should be able to identify dyslexia risk in intellectually talented children.
Second, a good screener should go beyond identifying total dyslexia risk to provide a more detailed description of which processing features are contributing to overall risk. Such specificity is helpful, because interventions can be more effective when matched with these underlying sources.
It’s important in this context to remember that research on dyslexia has shown that dyslexia-related reading and spelling challenges don’t just result from a single brain function or factor. Instead, a person’s risk for dyslexic reading and spelling challenges increases due to differences in several brain processing areas. Among these processing areas, the four most important are:
• phonological processing, or the ability to process and manipulate the sounds that make up words;
• working memory, or the ability to keep information in mind while other parts of the brain are processing and manipulating it;
• naming or retrieval speed, or the ability to pull needed information from memory stores quickly in response to a visual or sound input; and,
• visual attention, or the ability to quickly identify important information–like the letter combinations in words–in a crowded visual field, for example a page of text.
Knowing how a child’s brain works with respect to these different information processing functions is extremely helpful, both for understanding a child’s dyslexia-related struggles, and for contributing to the next desirable function of a screener, which is:
Third, a good screener should provide individualized, specific, and clear recommendations that parents (and even teachers and tutors) can follow to help the dyslexic child find the road to success in school and in life. Appropriate interventions typically fall into 3 categories:
1. Training to overcome dyslexia-associated challenges;
2. Tools, often technology assists like keyboards, calculators, or text-to-speech readers to reduce some of the challenges to learning created by dyslexic processing differences;
3. Tactics, or specific accommodations that can be provided in the classroom to help the student get around unnecessary obstacles to learning and school performance.
We’ll cover these interventions in later blog posts.
If you think using a dyslexia screener might be helpful for your child, you can learn more about how the Dyslexia Screening Test App from Neurolearning fulfills these criteria for a good dyslexia screener by visiting our website at neurolearning.com.