• Raffi Bandarian

Early Intervention for Dyslexia

Updated: Mar 10

The Human Genome Project is continually mapping the sequence of genes responsible for everything that has been linked with genetic inheritance. They have found that certain conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, and speech disorders run in families. Studies point to between 30-50% of children who have a parent with dyslexia will develop the condition. An even higher rate of passing on the traits for ADHD exist for children with a parent who has the condition.

The environment a child grows up in begins inside the womb. As soon as a child is out in the world, there are a lot of environmental factors that impact their development. A child’s early environment includes the formative years known as "Birth to 5". Research points to these years as vital in shaping a child’s developmental trajectory. Campaigns plastered on billboards and buses continue to educate and inform parents on ways to foster a child's development during these important years.

So, what’s a parent to do when nature accounts for so many of the traits that their child exhibits? The best approach is to intervene and to do so early on to compensate for a child’s particular challenges. As a matter of fact, a recent National Institute of Health study showed that 67% of students identified as being at risk for reading difficulties were able to achieve average or above average reading ability when they received early intervention.

Children with dyslexia show deficits in one of two areas. The child may have difficulties with phonological awareness, which is the ability to recognize that words are made up of different sounds. Weakness in this area accounts for difficulty with reading accurately. The other area of deficit involves naming speed, or the ability to quickly name objects by sight, which contributes to reading difficulties. Some children have both types of deficits, making intervention for them early on especially important.

Parents would be hard pressed to determine the area of deficit without having their child formally assessed. So, the best approach would entail a formal psycho-educational assessment by a licensed child psychologist.

If my family history included family members with dyslexia, I would provide the tools to make sure my child is exposed to the fact that the objects around them are composed of sounds. One way to do this is ask your child to tell you if two words are the same or different. It’s easy to do and offers an opportunity to develop the fact that words have similar and different sounds. These tasks are best done before they are expected to perform tasks that require reading.

Another option is to give your child two words and ask them if the words rhyme. Rhyming words has been found to be instrumental in developing phonological awareness. For example, parents can use words like ‘bee’ and ‘see’ or ‘boat’ and coat’ for words that rhyme. Of course, a few words that don’t rhyme would help make the task challenging. Once they get good at that, they can be further challenged to think of a word that rhymes with a word that you give them. You can make it into a game by asking the child to think of a word that rhymes with ‘cry’.” A parent can even give a clue, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with 'cry' that is the opposite of ‘wet’.”

Using everyday objects, specifically toys is another engaging way to get kids to think about sounds early on. I take small toys and sort them by initial sound into small, plastic tubs. Then, I hand the toy from one of two tubs and have my child say the object’s name, then I say the object’s name with an emphasis on the first letter, and then have her sort the object into their respective tub. I pick sounds that have contrasting beginning sounds. For example, I use /b/ and /d/ as opposed to /b/ and /p/, which are similar sounding.

Children who need more formal interventions would benefit from a program that has helped kids discriminate sounds like the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program or (LiPS). This program is multi-sensory with a focus on differentiating sounds within words. It helps kids learn that all words are made up of individual sounds, which will eventually help them read words correctly. Trained professionals in educational therapy can implement this multi-sensory program to remediate reading problems.

To sum it up, parents would be wise to reflect on their own childhood and share that information with their partners early on to make sure that interventions are sought out before delays or problems arise. As much as our genes may shape our children as they develop, the environment can play just as critical, if not, a more important role in their development. And that's why a referral to an educational therapist may make all the difference.

We might not have control over our genetics, but we can directly control our children’s learning environments to create ideal opportunities for development. Working with an educational therapist on developing awareness of speech sounds as they map out to letter symbols is a worthy investment of time and resources.

If your child is struggling to read, seek out the support of an educational therapist to get your child the support they need.

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