Dyslexia: Early Warning Signs and Solutions for Parents

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For Dyslexia Awareness Month, nonprofit Learning Ally and pediatric neuropsychologist Nichole Dawson highlight early warning signs of this learning disability.

Many individuals with learning differences suffer from low self-esteem as a byproduct of their reading challenges, and large percentages end up dropping out of school.

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Is your young child struggling with reading? Have you noticed any potential “warning signs” that may indicate a learning disability like dyslexia? Research* shows that one in five people in the United States have some sort of learning disability – yet for many children, the problem remains unidentified and undiagnosed far longer than it should. Experts agree that early detection and intervention is extremely beneficial for children who are showing signs of dyslexia or other learning differences.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Nichole Dawson, Ph.D. helps families and children with reading and learning disorders, and has a son of her own who has dyslexia. With the national reminder of Dyslexia Awareness Month looming in October, Dr. Dawson has teamed up with national nonprofit Learning Ally to help inform the public about learning differences and their early “markers” or warning signs. For instance, she says, a child may have difficulties:

  •     learning the alphabet, identifying letters, and/or processing letter-sound relationships;
  •     learning nursery rhymes, preschool songs, the days of the week, the months of the year;
  •     learning to count and recognizing numbers;
  •     reading out loud (slow, “choppy” and error-prone);
  •     breaking word sounds apart, or blending them together.

Dr. Dawson also points to several other warning signs in children, including:

  •     a history of challenges in speech and/or language development;
  •     weak fine motor skills, messy handwriting and/or trouble learning to write letters, numbers, or even their own name;
  •     trouble with repetitive learning of facts, vocabulary, names of people and places;
  •     trouble with math, especially learning math facts and computation.

If a child is exhibiting some of these symptoms, parents should seek an evaluation by an expert in dyslexia and reading impairments. School psychologists, pediatric neuropsychologists, educational therapists, and speech language pathologists are among the professionals who are qualified to provide a diagnosis.

Although many children with learning differences actually have above-average intelligence, Dr. Dawson advises parents to listen to their instincts instead of waiting it out. “Studies show that a child’s reading skill level at the end of kindergarten is highly predictive of where their reading skills will be in third grade,” she says. “The idea that it might just ‘click’ one day if you wait long enough is in fact not substantiated by research.”

Many individuals with learning differences suffer from low self-esteem as a byproduct of their reading challenges, and large percentages end up dropping out of school if they never receive help. But the good news is that there are many resources that can help children with learning differences achieve reading success.

Dr. Dawson’s recommendation is twofold: “First, the child needs to receive good, highly explicit, evidenced-based instruction in a multi-sensory, structured language curriculum. Secondly, supports and accommodations are very important to minimize the negative impact of dyslexia on the child’s learning success. One proven accommodation is Learning Ally, which provides struggling readers with access to their curriculum via downloadable audio textbooks.”

Learning Ally is a 64-year old national nonprofit organization that helps individuals with print disabilities – including dyslexia, vision impairment, and other physical disabilities – achieve educational success, build confidence and develop reading independence. Learning Ally’s audio textbook library of 75,000 digital titles is the largest of its kind in the nation, containing a vast collection of core subject textbooks for K-12 and college, as well as popular literature titles.

Dr. Dawson often recommends Learning Ally to her clients. “It has been an essential resource for the children with whom I work who have language-based learning challenges and print disabilities,” she says. “Children get so excited when they are able to independently read the same books as their peers—something they previously could not do without the help of a parent or another adult reading to them. My 7th grade son with dyslexia downloads assigned books from Learning Ally onto his iPhone, plugs in his ear buds, and then can listen to them during free reading time in class.”

While reading disabilities so often present enormous challenges to families, some parents look on their children’s difference as a gift. Dr. Dawson’s son recently said, “Mom, I don’t know why anyone would not want dyslexia. It makes me really good in building things and being creative and being good with computers, and I can use audiobooks when I need to read something.”

About Nichole Dawson, Ph.D.
Dr. Dawson is a pediatric neuropsychologist in private practice in Hinsdale, Illinois. She works with children and families affected by a range of learning and processing differences, including dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, nonverbal learning disability, brain injury and other issues. Dr. Dawson has two children with learning differences, including a son with dyslexia, who have taught her the true meaning of overcoming challenges. In what little free time there is, she enjoys running, traveling and reading.

About Learning Ally™
Founded in 1948 as Recording for the Blind, Learning Ally serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, as well as veterans and lifelong learners – all of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Learning Ally’s collection of 75,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles – delivered through internet download, assistive technology devices, and mainstream devices like iPhone and iPad – is the largest of its kind in the world. More than 5,000 volunteers across the U.S. help to record and process the educational materials, which students rely on to achieve academic and professional success. Learning Ally, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is partially funded by grants from state and local education programs, and the generous contributions of individuals, foundations and corporations. Visit http://www.LearningAlly.org.

*National Dissemenation Center for Children with Learning Disabilities; and Sally Shaywitz, M.D., "Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading at Any Level," Vintage Books Ed., New York, 2005.

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