Why is early intervention so important for kids with dyslexia?
Early intervention is very important because in many instances effective instruction can prevent dyslexia. It includes early screening because in order to identify children who are at risk we need to identify them early and introduce effective instruction at a time where we can really optimize a child’s access to print. It’s much better to intervene earlier than to wait until the child actually fails because remediation is demonstrably less effective.
And one recent study by Maureen Lovett, for example, she found that outcomes were almost twice as good if they were delivered in first and second grade and in third grade. We understand a lot about why that happens. In order to learn to read — because it’s an acquired skill — you have to give the brain an opportunity to learn about the relationship of what words look like and what words sound like.
Ultimately we want people to read at the whole word level. We want them to be lexical readers so that they recognize the whole word based on the statistical properties of the letter. To do that you have to access print early and you have to develop considerable exposure to print, and that allows the brain to program the systems that are needed for automatic reading.
If you don’t get early intervention and you wait to fail or if you get early intervention and you still struggle, those systems don’t develop well; and it’s very difficult to get the exposure needed to make those brain systems work.
What actually happens inside schools is that children are identified relatively late in their development. I think in special education, for example, the average age of identification is 10 years old. And many children are identified even later than that. It’s just the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be identifying children with reading and behavior problems as early as possible to prevent the cumulative problems that emerge, some of the ancillary difficulties such as anxiety.
One of the key attributes of children who don’t respond adequately to reading instruction is the development of anxiety.
Lovett, Maureen & Frijters, Jan & Wolf, Maryanne & A. Steinbach, Karen & Sevcik, Rose & D. Morris, Robin. (2016). Early Intervention for Children at Risk for Reading Disabilities: The Impact of Grade at Intervention and Individual Differences on Intervention Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology.1037/edu0000181.
Jack Fletcher is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston, a board-certified child neuropsychologist, and director of the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities.