The importance of early identification of dyslexia in learning settings has not received the attention it deserves. Research on this matter has been minimal and very limited. A recent meta-analysis of research aimed at identifying the relationship between early reading and writing disability and academic achievement showed that there is a strong link between these two domains. Such early identification ought to allow timely interventions to be applied in order to prevent a downward slide into underachievement and low self-esteem.
The importance of early identification of reading problems in dyslexics goes back to the original premise that phonemic awareness is key to learning. Accordingly, it has been proposed that instruction be designed according to the child’s specific phonemic awareness (phonemic awareness refers to the ability to distinguish phonemes in language regardless of the order in which they occur). Phonemic awareness and the associated information processing are the first steps towards an optimized learning environment. The literature on the subject provides rich with examples of how such instruction can be delivered, as well as suggestions from experts on how to go about it.
The most common early identification methods are teaching phonics and providing instruction on how to recognize and spell words. Phonics instruction is commonly applied in the public school system. In this scenario, a parent, teacher, or specialist screens children for phonemic awareness and develops a set of reading instruction for their particular child. While this form of early identification has some value, it does not address some of the special needs related to people with reading difficulties.
The other common method for early identification of reading disabilities in people with developmental disabilities is to introduce the concept of phonemic awareness in the kindergarten classrooms. While it is true that early identification of reading difficulties helps to minimize the impact of reading disabilities on a child’s development, it is also true that early identification of reading disabilities is itself an important component of effective teaching. In most cases, people with developmental disabilities have at least some measure of phonemic awareness, although this awareness may vary by degree. It is not clear whether phonemic awareness is related to word reading failure or word reading fluency. However, the importance of early identification of reading difficulties in kindergarten, and the associated reduction in risk for reading failure and delayed development, cannot be overstated.
Although early identification of dyslexia is important in many ways, another important role for early intervention is to avoid delays in introducing new reading materials into the classroom. Although some texts, such as nursery rhymes and simple stories, can build basic word reading skills and help develop word comprehension, other texts, such as books or essays on history or literature, can be challenging for people with developmental disabilities. It is also not clear whether reading materials should be introduced earlier in grade level (low elementary) or high elementary (gradeschool) settings.
At the very least, early identification of reading problems is necessary for parents and teachers to decide whether a child needs further instruction in phonemic awareness and vocabulary building. It is also important for early intervention to avoid delays in introducing new instructional materials. For example, in some studies, delayed introduction of a novel teaching system has been related to reduced reading achievement for students. In addition, research has suggested that instruction schedule and class size have an important relationship in reducing reading problems. The importance of early intervention is especially apparent for children who are experiencing phonemic awareness difficulties.
The positive benefits of early identification of dyslexia are well-documented. Children who receive treatment early have a greater chance of completing school and encountering successful social lives. It is also important for teachers to recognize the potential benefits of early identification of reading difficulty. Teachers have the resources necessary to provide individualized instruction for students with reading difficulties.