There are about 27 accepted definitions of Dyslexia and experts cannot seem to agree on exactly what this learning disorder is and how it presents itself in young children.
There are dozens of Dyslexia Tests on the market, but not one single universally accepted test to try and identify this learning disorder. For this reason it is often best to have a global assessment done so that all aspects of reading and learning can be examined closely.
Here are some of the things I look out for when trying to determine whether a child does indeed suffer from Dyslexia:
- Eyesight and Hearing. It seems obvious, but more often than not I find that children who have been identified to have “reading difficulties” simply have difficulty seeing what they are reading or clearly hearing the individual sounds in words. For this reason it is important to make sure that the child has had a recent hearing test and eye test to make sure that this is not where the problem lies.
- IQ. The most simple definition of Dyslexia describes it as: “The inability to read, despite adequate intelligence and adequate exposure”. A child with low cognitive ability will most likely struggle with reading, but also with mathematics and with acquiring educational concepts and as such cannot be said to be suffering from a specific word reading ability such as Dyslexia.
- Age / Grade level. Reading is a very complex task and keeping in mind the definition used above, I feel that one cannot describe a child as dyslexic before we are certain that he / she has had adequate exposure to reading material and reading instruction. For instance, I am very cautious about diagnosing Dyslexia in children before they reach term 2 of the grade 3 year as it is still perfectly normal for them to struggle somewhat with learning letter / sound combinations and then sequencing these into words.
- Presence of other learning difficulties. Following the same train of thought as the point above, it is very important to try and establish whether other learning difficulties such as ADD / ADHD might be impacting on a child’s ability to remember what he has been taught with regards to reading. A child who is highly distractible and has not been concentrating during literacy lessons simply cannot be said to have had adequate exposure to reading instruction. When another learning difficulty such as ADD/ADHD is identified it is important to first address this issue and then to re-assess the child’s functioning in reading only once it is felt that the learning difficulty is being effectively managed.
- Large discrepancy between Verbal IQ and Non-Verbal IQ scores. Most intelligence tests give a measure of a child’s ability to reason using language (Verbal IQ) compared to his ability to analyse and solve problems using visual reasoning and logical thinking (Non-verbal IQ). If a very large discrepancy exists in a child’s scores on these two measures (typically the Verbal IQ score is much lower that the Non-Verbal IQ score) it might indicate the need to further investigate a possible diagnosis of Dyslexia.
- Sequencing problems: Children who find it hard to follow a sequence will battle to read words (as these are simply sequences of letters).
- Mirror writing / reading (also known as reversals). Children might confuse similar looking letters and numbers such as b/d; p/q; t/f; 2/5. Although this is not always the case.
- Auditory discrimination difficulties: A child with auditory discrimination difficulties might not be able to distinguish between similar sounding words or letters such as bath / bass; though / vow; shake / shape. It is important to remember that auditory processing relates to the way the brain interprets auditory information and as such encompasses much more than just hearing. For this reason it is important to test a child’s auditory discrimination abilities even if a recent hearing test shows that he has adequate hearing.
- Inability to analyse and synthesise words. Many children are able to identify sound / letter combinations (i.e. they know their letters) but are unable to read these letters when they appear in words or are unable to tell which letter the word “mat” starts with or end with.
- The inability to remember which letters represent which sounds. I find that children with Dyslexia can often remember the appropriate letter names (e.g Bee for B; Es for S; Kay for K) but they find it much harder to remember which sounds these letters represent – for instance the letter A has different pronunciations in the words apple / after / paper.
- Inability to decode words. Many dyslexic children are unable to effectively use word attack skills (sounding out the word) when faced with unfamiliar words and will rely entirely on trying to remember the word by sight (by remembering the form of the word).