Early Interventions and Identification of Dyslexia

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Developmental dyslexia and how it relates to brain function are complicated topics that researchers have been studying since dyslexia was first described over a hundred years ago. Having information about the likely explanation for and potential cause of the student's difficulties often relieves teachers' fears and uncertainties about how to teach the student and how to think about providing instruction that is relevant and effective. Current research on dyslexia and the brain provide the most up-to-date information available about the problems faced by over 2.8 million school-aged children (Hudson, R. & High, L. 1996).

Students with Dyslexia tend to perform below their peers in reading and language development. Early detection of Dyslexia can help educators be more prepared on how to teach these students and what their needs are. For years, parents, teachers and reading specialists have tried to determine the best practices for teaching students with Dyslexia. Research has shown that the earlier that Dyslexia is diagnosed, the better off the student will be. Early diagnosis can help with early interventions in reading and comprehension. This research will address what teachers need to know about teaching students with Dyslexia and how diagnosing Dyslexia early can help lead to early interventions in literacy which can lead to student success.

Unfortunately, many students do not get diagnosed early, because educators and parents are not aware of the overall big picture of Dyslexia or not familiar with it. There are a lot of misconceptions of dyslexia. Dyslexia often gets mislabeled as just a specific learning disability because it does not have its own Special education label. Dyslexia is filed under Specific Learning Disability under the Individuals With Disability Act and students who have an Individualized Education Plan with Special Education services. Dyslexia is very commonly misunderstood as a letter or number reversal problem. Many believe students often reverse letters such as d and b, or reads words reversed such as saw and was. Dyslexia is much more than this however. Most recently, research and studies have shown that dyslexia is not a seeing problem, but more a manipulating problem. Dyslexic students see letters and words the same as their average learning peer, but cannot manipulate the sounds the same. Dyslexia has been determined as a phonological processing disorder. With more research and studies, educators and parents are becoming more aware of the signs of dyslexia. Research has also shown that the earliest they can detect dyslexia, the better for the child.

For many years, dyslexia was categorized as a specific reading difficulty affecting children whom reading achievement was below that expected on the basis of a child’s age and IQ. In time, this definition has changed and is now recognized that dyslexia occurs across the IQ spectrum, although it is stated that those with higher IQ are likely to do better academically. (Snowling, M. 2012) Dyslexia often goes misdiagnosed and overlooked because people are not familiar with what dyslexia actually is. Teachers want to help children become successful life long learners, and some just need help with what practices and teaching may work. Some teachers may also have a misconception of dyslexia, and not know the signs that students with dyslexia may exhibit. Because of this, students may go undiagnosed, or may not get the early interventions that are needed to help them with early phonics. Because teachers may not be familiar with all the components of Dyslexia, research has been done over the last couple years to come up with ideas, practices, and strategies that have been proven to be successful interventions for students with dyslexia. Research has also been proven to support the success of early interventions with students with dyslexia.

Theoretical Framework:

The Phonological-Core Variable Difference Model from the Lenses on Reading book (An Introduction on Theories and Models. Morrow, & Tracey, 2017) provides some of the theoretical framework and support for this topic. The Phonological-Core Variable Difference Model suggests that the primary difference between individuals with and without dyslexia was determined by deficits in the phonological realm of cognitive functioning. (Stonovich, 2000; Morrow, & Tracey, 2017) They go on to discuss how controversial this term has been for years. Students were labeled as dyslexic just because their IQ scores were much higher than what their reading performance was. Although this factor has been proven false, often this misconception is still used for classifying students (Stanovich, 2000).

Stanovich went on to research and discover that IQ discrepancy was not an accurate way to determine dyslexic readers. He goes on to argue in his, Phonological-Core Variable Model (1988) that the primary difference between individuals with and without dyslexia was determined by deficits in the phonological realm of cognitive functioning. He discusses how dyslexia is a type of learning disability characterized by problems related to literacy learning in the absence of problems in other areas of cognitive functioning. He determined that the focus of a dyslexic child’s problems is a phonological-processing deficit (Morrow, & Tracey, 2017).

In addition to defining dyslexia, Stanovich wrote extensively about the academic consequences having dyslexia can bring to a student. Stanovich argued that research demonstrates that children with phonemic awareness deficits are slower to break the sound-symbol code of reading. As a result of this delay, these children are exposed to fewer text in school, fewer opportunities for vocabulary, practice reading, and less exposure to content general knowledge. (Morrow, &Tracey, 2017) This proves to hurt children as they get older, because as children get older, students who struggle with reading begin to have less motivation to read. Students who are less motivated to read, will read less texts than their peers, have a negative attitude about reading, and perform lower than their peers on reading assessments. Reading further expands the gap in reading between a student with dyslexia compared to their non-disabled peers.

During the 1980’s when specific research was devoted to investigating the concept of dyslexia, Stanovich (1988) argued that phonological deficits were central to dyslexic readers and their cognitive difficulties. Stanovich’s early emphasis on the area of phonological deficits, and students with dyslexia, would prove to be an important factor to future efforts to understand and treat at risk readers (Shaywitz et al., 2004).

Stanovich went on to publish a paper entitled “Matthew Effects in Reading” in which he discusses how children’s problems are initially specific to a certain area and then they spread out over time. For example, a student with dyslexia will start with having a deficit in phonemic awareness, but over time, this will spread to more reading difficulties and more areas of struggle. This study had tremendous implications to support the importance of early identification and treatment of children with dyslexia and phonemic awareness problems.

The double-Deficit Hypothesis indicates that there are two distinct areas of cognitive deficit in the most disabled dyslexic readers: phonological processing and rapid naming. Wolf, Miller, and Donnelly (2000) created and evaluated the RAVE-O program specifically to address the needs of readers believed to have deficits in their cognitive processing. (Morrow, &Tracey, 2017) The program’s goal is to increase readers’ speed in the areas of auditory processing, visual pattern recognition, word identification, and vocabulary. The program teaches a specific set of words each week that exemplify phonological skills. The RAVE-O program emphasizes rapid identification of the most common orthographic patterns and word families. Every core word is taught daily. Metacognitive strategies are also emphasized (Morrow, & Tracey, 2017). The literature review for this paper will focus on The Matthew Effects in Reading, Lenses on Reading: Third Edition, and other findings from Stanovich and other authors to support early interventions and identifications for dyslexia and the positive results it will have on students.

Review of Literature:

In the article, Matthew effects in Reading by K. Stanovich, the article points out reading difficulties and the effects these difficulties have on a learner. The Matthew Effect has a point of view as “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” This applies to skilled readers progressing along, and less skilled readers falling further behind as they get older and the skills get harder. The common finding that the magnitude of contextual facilitation effects is inversely related to the word-recognition skill of the reader has been seen as an example of interactive-compensatory processing (Perfetti & Roth, 1981; Stanovich, 1980, 1984; Stanovich, West, & Feeman, 1981) because it presumably results from the fact that the information processing system is arranged in such a way that the decoding processes that result in word recognition are deficient, the system compensates by relying more heavily on other knowledge sources. The extent to which the compensatory processing in children is obligatory and the extent to which it is strategic is an issue of much complexity and is currently being debated in the literature (Briggs, Austin, & Underwood, 1984; Simpson & Lorsbach, 1983; Stanovich, Nathan, West, & Vala-Rossi, 1985; Stanovich & West, 1983) Current evidence appears to indicate that to a considerable extent it is obligatory and automatic. It appears that reading skill is not determined by skill at contextual prediction, but rather that the level of word-recognition skill determines the extent to which contextual information will be relied on to complete the process of lexical access. The slower the word decoding process, the more the system draws on contextual information. The study shows that the the sooner students can identify words and manipulate words, the better readers the will become. This goes a long with my research question about the early diagnosis and interventions of students with dyslexia. Stanovich concludes his article by stating that he is hopeful that this framework might help to clarify aspects of the existing research literature and to focus future experimental efforts for struggling readers and readers with dyslexia. For example, the statement that reading ability is determined by multiple areas. Some of the differences in cognitive processes that are linked with reading ability may actually be the effects of reading efficiency itself (M. Jackson & McClelland, 1979; Palmer et al., 1985).

In addition, it will be interesting to investigate whether any of the important consequences of the ease of initial reading acquisition arise indirectly from instructional differences determined by reading ability. Some progress has been made on these problems, as there is an increasing amount of good research appearing on the effects of instructional variations on cognitive processes, dyslexia, and achievement.

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Early Identification of Dyslexia

The earlier that dyslexia is identified in a child, the better overall success a child will have with overcoming obstacles that it may cause. In a 2012 article by the Journal of Research in Special Educational needs, discusses methods for early identification of dyslexia and reviews evidence that teacher assessments and rating interventions should be theoretically motivated and evidence based. They discuss how scientific research on dyslexia has skyrocketed during the last 50 tears and a great deal is known about its nature. They go on to say that early identifications should be able to be recognized by educators, and in return, students will be able to receive early interventions. They define Dyslexia as a neurodevelopmental disorder with a probable genetic basis. The core feature of dyslexia is a problem with word decoding, which will impact spelling and reading fluency. Dyslexia will not go away. It is consistent across a person’s lifespan. To help children with reading difficulties, the article discusses that interventions need to be done early, and consistently. (Snowling, 2012) The article concludes that early identification of children at risk of dyslexia followed by the implementation of intervention is a realistic aim for practitioners and policy makers. In a 2018 article published by the Dyslexia IDA, Catts and Petscher, discuss how early identification is an essential component of an effective intervention program for developmental dyslexia. Research has demonstrated that children who are at risk for dyslexia have better outcomes when identified early and provided with appropriate interventions.

An article out of The Perspectives on Language and Literacy (Poulsen, M. 2018) discusses how preventing reading difficulties before they arise is by far preferable to attempting to remediate difficulties after a child has fallen behind. They go on to discuss how there are two components in preventing reading difficulties: to provide strong instruction for every child, and to identify which children may need additional support. All children need to learn the basic practices of decoding, but some children may require more support either because it takes them longer to learn the principles or they have difficulty applying it by themselves (Poulsen, M.) This article goes on to discuss how early identification of reading difficulties is beneficial because it allows early support and interventions in hopes of preventing or lessening reading difficulties. They discuss how the term early can be defined many different ways, but how early identification should lead to early interventions, which means when the foundational skills are taught such as letter knowledge and phoneme awareness; before the direct instruction.

Misconception of Dyslexia

People have a lot of misconceptions and myths about dyslexia and students who have dyslexia. For example, it's commonly thought that people with dyslexia aren’t very intelligent; that any child who reverses letters is dyslexic; that it is a vision problem; dyslexic students are lazy; and the most common misconception is that dyslexia is more common in boys than girls. Although, studies have shown that to be true, researchers have pointed out that while it’s true that reading disabilities are identified in boys more often than girls, studies suggest such identifications are biased. The prevalence of the disorder is nearly identical in the two genders. Boys are apparently sent for testing more than girls because when they get frustrated that they're unable to do classroom assignments or homework, they act out. Girls who have similar challenges tend to get quiet, move to a desk in the back of the classroom and try not to be noticed. (Castaneda, 2017) In an article from the International Dyslexia association, they discuss that despite the importance of early identification, there are significant challenges to carrying this out. Current procedures are successful in identifying at risk children, often, these procedures can lead to false identification. This false identification can be costly and result in students receiving interventions that do not need it.

Dyslexia isn’t characterized as a medical problem and isn’t typically diagnosed by doctors because they don’t have training in assessing, diagnosing or treating oral language, reading, writing or spelling issues, (Pierson, 2017) Dyslexia is typically diagnosed by a neuropsychologist, psychologist or someone with advanced training in language and literacy disorders. Because dyslexia involves difficulty with reading, it's not typically identified until children go to school and have to learn to read and write. Typically, that is around age 5-6. Early identification is important because students will often enter school already lagging behind their peers, and spend a year or 2 going through testing by the school to determine the child’s reading difficulty. If teachers and parents are aware of the early signs of dyslexia, a proper diagnosis can occur to ensure that the proper procedures and interventions are put in place to help that child be successful.


Many studies and a lot of data has been collected to support students with dyslexia, and early interventions and identifications. I have highlighted two studies and programs that have been proven successful with students with reading problems and dyslexic students.

Davis Dyslexia Program:

One evidence based research study first began in the 1980’s by a man named Ronald Davis. He designed The Davis Dyslexia program with the help of educators, neurologists, and psychologists. A year later, the RRC began offering dyslexia correction services to individual clients, and also obtained permission from McGraw-Hill to use its Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills to study the effectiveness of the Davis procedures. Between 1982 and 1984, testing was done before and after 30-40 hours of individualized counseling and instruction, with a study group consisting of 110 cases, 24 female and 86 males ages 6 to 61. The results showed an average increase of 21 percentile points in reading scores, and 17 percentile points in language scores. Grade equivalents in both areas also increased an average of 1.8, almost two grade levels.

In 1994, Davis wrote a book and developed a standardized approach to train other professionals to facilitate the program with individual clients. One set of facilitators established a center in Calgary, Canada in 2002, and started on a program of pre- and post-program testing of all of their clients, using the Ekwall-Shankar Reading Inventory. Their data from more than 360 consecutive clients showed average improvement of almost 4 full grade levels in reading over the course of a basic 5-day dyslexia program. More than one-third of their clients showed improvement of 5 or more grade levels; more than three-quarters improved their reading skills by at least 3 grade levels. Level of improvement correlated positively to student age. Children age 8 through 12 had average gains of slightly above 3 grade levels. Teenagers, age 13-18, averaged almost 5 grade levels of improvement during the one-week program. Adults, ranging in age from 19 through 57, experienced an average improvement in ability of 6 grade levels.

In the late 1990’s, Ron Davis also assisted educators in developing and piloting a primary level, school-based foundational program called Davis Learning Strategies. The Davis tools were modified for use with younger children in classroom group settings. Students in multiple classrooms at California public schools were provided with supplemental Davis-based instruction as they progressed from grades K-2. Their progress was later compared with students in demographically matched classrooms at the same schools, taught with the same curriculum but without the Davis component. The Davis groups scored significantly higher on tests of sight word recognition, and no children from the Davis groups needed further intervention or special education support. Results for first graders were later compiled and published in a peer-reviewed journal. The program is now offered in multiple languages in dozens of countries around the world, and tens of thousands of children and adults have successfully completed the basic program.

Wilson Reading Program:

The purpose of this study was to contribute to the literature on the promise of the Wilson Reading System for students with disabilities. School professionals monitored the growth of students over time using curriculum-based measurements. Participants included 51 students (53% male, 47% female) from six schools. All students were receiving special education and related services, and most had either a learning disability or a language impairment (62%). Certified teachers implemented the WRS. Results demonstrated students had significant growth in their reading over time.

The second purpose of this study was to provide additional information on the effectiveness of the WRS using curriculum-based measurements to extend the research base by examining WRS with students with disabilities in an applied setting. This study also provides schools with a context for how to evaluate an intervention. By tracking the achievement of students with disabilities, this applied research examined growth in the reading skills that have been documented to be critical for becoming a successful reader.

This study results for The Wilson Reading Program had a very high success rate for struggling students, especially those with learning disabilities. There was a significant trend that as students progressed through the WRS, their average oral reading fluency scores significantly increased. To examine if students with disabilities demonstrated significant growth in reading comprehension after having been exposed to the WRS for 1 year, a comparison was done using their fall, winter and spring scores. The results of the analysis revealed a statistically significant difference among the three times of year. There was a significant trend, indicating that as students progressed through the WRS, their average reading comprehension scores significantly increased. The study also showed that students with disabilities read more words correctly per week then students with disabilities not in the Wilson Reading Program.

Reflection on Implications For Curricular Design:

The research gathered from the studies and articles written have proven that early intervention and identification of dyslexia is very important. From research, students with dyslexia will always have a reading set back. It is the job as the educator to help limit the setbacks they have. Early interventions have been proven to be effective. Students need direct Tier 2 and 3 instruction in reading daily. It has been proven that students who participate in a research based intervention program 30 minutes a day in addition to their daily instruction will have a much better success rate.

As a reading specialist, and teacher, it is our job to use what knowledge we know to help our students become successful. The research has proven that there a lot of misdiagnosis and myths about dyslexia. It is the reading specialist job to assist and guide teachers with the proper materials and instruction needed so that these students can be more successful. The reading specialist in every school should be prepared to support these students and teachers in providing best practices and strategies, and daily Tier 2 instruction. Wilson Reading Program suggests students receive their daily reading instruction in addition to their daily 30 minutes of intervention to become successful. This is where the Reading specialist comes into place. The RS needs to assist the classroom teachers and provide these services to the students. Furthermore, if teachers are expected to use an intervention program like Wilson, foundations, or LLI, teachers will need to be trained and supported by the reading specialist. It needs to be a team of teachers and educators working together to support these students, not just the classroom teachers.

The school divisions and administration in buildings should also use the research based studies and information to decide what programs to adopt for their buildings and districts. There are a lot of programs that provide interventions for reading, but they need to make sure they pick a program that can address all the variety of learning needs, and can be applied by teachers and reading specialists daily. The success rate of the programs are important, but they need to look at all the factors that went into the success rates, and relate it to their building or district. Certain aspect cannot be changed, like socioeconomic status, so these factors have to also be looked at when trying to adopt an intervention program. The programs must also work with their scheduling and staff. For a program to be considered successful, there has to be successful implementation, and staff to provide the services. Teachers cannot do an intervention program on their own, and have to have additional staff to help provide additional services. These are all factors that districts should look into before purchasing a program.


Dyslexia is the most common learning disability and there are a lot of proven facts about dyslexia and what interventions and practices can work to help students with this disability. Individuals with this medical condition have difficulty in the areas of language processing. Dyslexia is a very complicated and deep area of study. There is not one student with dyslexia that resembles the next. Dyslexia ranges from mild to severe. Around 40% of people with dyslexia also have ADHD. And those with dyslexia use about 5 times more energy to complete mental tasks. There are a wide range of symptoms and signs, and dyslexia can very often go misdiagnosed, and untreated. Students with dyslexia need intense interventions to help them close the learning gap that they have compared to their nondisabled peers. Research has proven that early identification and interventions can help children with dyslexia become more successful.

Dyslexia does not reflect an overall defect in language, but a localized weakness within the phonologic module of the brain (where sounds of language are put together to form words or break words down into sounds). Children have a 50% chance of having dyslexia if one parent has it. And a 100% chance if both parents have it. Dyslexia is not a disease so there is no cure. It is eductaors and parents job to try and help these students. It’s a learning disability that includes difficulty in the use/processing of linguistic and symbolic codes, alphabetic letters representing speech sounds or number and quantities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 15% of the population has dyslexia.

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