As mentioned in the Dyslexia Overview page, some schools use early screening procedures to identify students who are at risk for developing reading problems. What is not certain, however, is what percent of those students who are a risk for developing reading problems are dyslexic? Most estimates suggest that the large majority of students at-risk for developing a reading problem are at-risk for reasons other than dyslexia. For example, many at-risk readers may not have not been taught letter names and letter sounds before they enter kindergarten or first grade.
The fact that lack of early reading experiences can create at-risk readers leads to the suggestion that only a small percent of at-risk readers are truly dyslexic. Some researchers have suggested that many (if not most) of the readers who do not improve after intensive early interventions are, in fact, dyslexic. Students who do not respond to early interventions or to best practice interventions are called “treatment resistant” readers in the reading research literature.
Schools that do not use early screening procedures often wait until 3rd or 4th grade to identify readers that need extra help. The process of identifying these problem readers is sometimes initiated by the school, but in many cases the identification occurs because parents push schools to formally look at a child who is not reading as well as they should read. The process of identifying an older child with a reading problem can occur within the school (involving a process often called a core evaluation) but in some circumstances parent may go outside the school for a diagnostic evaluation.
A grade 3 or older child who is formally identified as having a “learning problem” (schools rarely use the term dyslexia) will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) prepared that describes the procedures that will be used to correct the problem and describes the evaluation process that will be used to determine whether the corrective instructional processes are having the desired impact. The corrective instructional practices almost always involve some form of phonics based instruction where the emphasis is on teaching the child the sounds that letters make, providing lots of practice in identifying those sounds, and then teaching the child to rapidly blend the sounds together so they can hear, and thereby identify, the word.
Phonics based interventions work with many, but not all children. In fact, with some dyslexic children there is a sense in which phonics does more harm than good. Some dyslexic children who experience several years of phonics based interventions become very good at decoding (identifying ) words. That is, they can read a sentence with perfect accuracy. The problem is that they identify words so slowly that they cannot possibly read with comprehension without extensive re-reading. The reason for the comprehension difficulty with slow word reading has to do with the limitations of a cognitive capacity called working memory. (see Reading Information section on the Main Menu above for information about Working Memory).
The Reading Success Lab intervention procedures were specifically developed to be effective with children who did not respond well to phonics based interventions, though it turns out that the techniques are also effective with children who are not dyslexic, but are poor readers. (see information about Skill Builders in Our Products section on the Main Menu).
Another difficulty with the IEP process is that schools often do not do a very good job of tracking reading progress. The IEP often describes the measure of progress in terms like, “at the end of the school year Johnny will be able to recognize 80% of the words on the grade 3 word list.” This method of measuring treatment effectiveness has several problems. First, an IEP is often written at the beginning of the school year and it is very problematic if you wait until the end of the year to identify an intervention that isn’t working. Second, good reading is characterized by both fast and accurate performance. A definition of progress that mentions only accuracy of word recognition is incomplete at best. Third, the measure doesn’t really address the issue of comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading.
The Reading Success Lab Assessment Module addresses these problems by allowing continuous monitoring of reading progress. In fact, progress on all of the reading assessment tasks (except for reading and listening comprehension) can be evaluated as frequently as once per week. These reassessments also produce a progress report that shows improvement or lack of improvement over time. This allows teachers and parents to keep close tabs on whether reading treatments are having the desired impact. (see more information about progress monitoring in Our Products section on the Main Menu)
Most dyslexia researchers believe that dyslexia can be managed, but not cured. Unfortunately many schools believe that managing dyslexia means creating an environment where children do not have to read. This environment is created through the use of “accommodations” such as books on tape, using other children or adults to read assignments, and providing extra time for assignments and tests. The unfortunate property of the use of accommodations is that once they begin to be used heavily there is no longer an attempt to teach a child to read. Many schools begin the use of accommodations around the 6th grade, and correspondingly reduce efforts to improve reading skills.
A more effective approach is to provide the reader with strategies that can be used to develop effective reading skills in any situation requiring reading. The Reading Success Lab Designer Module provides an example of a strategy that can be used throughout school and beyond. The Designer Module can be used to develop practice materials (displayed by the Skill Builder Module) based on any content the dyslexic reader has to read. Examples include new terms from textbooks, technical terms from instructional manuals, and even practice materials from content such as driver’s license manuals. A reader using the Designer Module can greatly boost comprehension of new material by automating recognition of the new terms that will be encountered in that material (read more about the Designer Module in Our Products section on the Main Menu).