Guest Post by Dr. Jackie Klaver, Ph.D, of Nashville Neuropsychology & Family Services
“The most important piece of information that I want families to know when they are considering formal assessment for dyslexia is that timing is really important!”
Demystifying the Process of Dyslexia Testing
Nothing worries parents more than their child’s development. As infants, we eagerly applaud them when they meet milestones such as crawling, walking, speaking first words, and putting together short sentences. Each phase of life brings a new set of developmental milestones. A big one when entering school is learning to read. Some children do this almost effortlessly. However, for other children, the process of learning to read is much less natural.
What is a typical process when learning to read?
There is a very wide range of abilities when children are first beginning to read. Concerns about dyslexia often emerge when certain skills are lacking rather than being associated with the specific timing of a child learning to read more independently. As a preschooler, children should begin to understand that each letter has a specific sound, and skills are often taught in fun ways such as through nursery rhymes and clapping out syllables. In kindergarten, children learn that putting sounds together makes words, which is further strengthened by focusing on learning the common sight words found in print.
When should a child be evaluated for dyslexia?
An issue with phonological awareness, a specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, is often the first red flag that a child is struggling to learn to read. This skill helps a child to decode, or break down, unknown words into sounds and then blend them back together. These skills also form the foundation upon which other phonics skills are built, affecting other aspects of reading such as accuracy, fluency, spelling, and reading comprehension.
What is the process of getting evaluated for dyslexia?
Oftentimes referrals for testing come from an early elementary teacher, but a parent who has older children who learned to read easily may also identify concerns. Screeners can be helpful in deciding whether a full evaluation is necessary, but in cases where there is a family history or when children are older than 2nd grade, a more comprehensive psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation is often the best way to assess a child’s cognitive abilities (IQ) and academic achievement in reading, writing and math. These evaluations will also screen for psychological issues that may be interfering with a child’s success. These testing sessions usually take 5-7 hours and are often completed in a single day to mimic the demands of being at school for several hours. Evaluations will rule-in or rule-out contributing factors that may be delaying the process of reading. For example, some children with attention problems may appear to have reading problems, but they are simply more distractible and lack focus when reading. In contrast to having dyslexia, once a child’s attention improves, their reading abilities tend to improve as well.
What comes next after getting a diagnosis of dyslexia?
Your child’s evaluator, a clinical or school psychologist, should review the results of testing with you, including a discussion of any diagnoses that are provided. As part of the recommendations, you will be encouraged to share the evaluation report with personnel at your child’s school. If they meet criteria for a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in reading, they will likely qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if they are enrolled in a public school. It is helpful to note that not all children with dyslexia meet full criteria for SLD, so schools may not be able to offer the specific type of treatment necessary to build the core phonological awareness skills through a multisensory learning approach, which is the current gold standard treatment approach for dyslexia.
Why is getting an evaluation important?
The most important piece of information that I want families to know when they are considering formal assessment for dyslexia is that timing is really important! Research has shown that children who receive intervention in kindergarten through 2nd grade have far better outcomes than those who receive services later. Rest assured that if concerns are first identified after 2nd or 3rd grade, interventions are still helpful. However, the eventual gap between the child and their peers may be wider as the reading demands increase in middle and high school. If you’re concerned about your child’s emerging reading skills, reach out and talk to their teacher or call a psychologist in the community. They’ll thank you later!
You can learn more about testing for dyslexia at Dr. Klaver’s website, https://www.nashvilleneuropsychology.com/.
Check out Dr. Klaver’s interview on NDC’s YouTube channel and subscribe!