It’s not just about school results
Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can greatly impact a child's academic success. Early intervention makes a big difference in helping children to overcome these challenges and reach their full potential. The earlier dyslexia is identified and effectively addressed, the greater the chances that your child will be able to manage their difficulty, both in and out of school.
1. Fostering reading comprehension
Poor reading comprehension is the main obstacle to good school results
Dyslexic children often perform poorly at school because of poor reading comprehension. This is most obvious as they end primary school. and more of the teaching curriculum addresses subjects that require reading, such as history, geography, or even maths problems.
At that point, their difficulty with reading starts affecting more than their English lessons. This changes the nature of their challenge and the source of their difficulty at school: where it was clear that they struggled with English, now they seem to struggle with every class. But while it may seem - or they may feel - that they are simply not 'good at school' or not good at learning, that is not the case. The common denominator is most often poor reading comprehension.
Failing to read instructions in mathematics, being unable to revise a history lesson, or articulate an answer to a geography test are all direct consequences of poor reading comprehension.
Poor reading comprehension makes it difficult for dyslexic children to shine in areas where they could otherwise be gifted.
Without early intervention or support, a child's learning gap may continue to grow as they progress through school. Early intervention can help limit or reduce the impact of dyslexia on other subjects.
Early intervention is more effective
In fact, studies find that when the intervention takes place between the ages of 6 and 9, about 90% of children will be able to achieve grade-level reading abilities. This number drops to 25% when intervention is delayed beyond age 9. Providing adequate learning methodologies, support, and tools early is therefore critical in helping dyslexic children reach their full potential.
Data source: US National Institutes of Health (NIH)
But Dyslexia is unfortunately very easy to miss until after children have transitioned from the process of ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’, further impacting their reading comprehension abilities as well as how well they are able to acquire knowledge through reading.
Early intervention enhances learning and accelerates positive changes. Reading is an acquired skill, and children who experience difficulties with written language need to learn and practice using the right tools and methods to understand the relationships between letters, words, and sounds.
In summary: Reading comprehension is critical to everything a child will do in school until the end of secondary school. Struggles with reading or writing negatively impact their ability to learn, take exams, and can require more effort and work in the long run. Early intervention can help improve a child's reading comprehension.
2. Preserving your child’s self-esteem
Very importantly, by making it possible to address dyslexia, you can prevent behaviors and difficulties that will otherwise chip away at your child’s self-esteem.
Over time, these daily experiences can create a growing feeling of sadness, injustice and anxiety among dyslexic children. That is why early diagnosis and early intervention help address the situation before it has time to take root and grow.
The mental health cost of not addressing dyslexia
Dyslexic children are more likely to develop mental health issues*:
70% suffer from anxiety
50% develop symptoms of depression
20% express having somatic symptoms like belly aches or headaches
This is often the result of years of feeling misunderstood, or their own ability to understand why they struggle so much compared to their peers. Dyslexic children often express that they are anxious due to:
their poor performance at school
sadness at the idea of disappointing their parents
a feeling of embarrassment when comparing themselves to their peers
the anxiety that develops around daily school activities (fear that they will be interrogated in class or asked to read out loud, fear that there will be a test…)
the frustration that comes from the inability to reconcile their actual skills with their school results, and from feeling constantly underestimated
Their inability to comprehend why they cannot show what demonstrate what they are really capable of
Is it too late to start intervention?
The short answer is no.
In an ideal world, every school or parent would be able to identify dyslexia early, but in reality, this is not what happens. It often takes time, even for teachers to identify that a child's challenges with learning to read are due to a reading difficulty, let alone dyslexia.
This is avoidable with better training, awareness and testing, but it is the reality of the situation in most schools today.
So what does it mean for you if your child is already older than 9 and is not yet clearly diagnosed?
It is more difficult to intervene after 9 years old for a number of reasons. Let's go over these to understand how to address these:
First, your child has developed coping strategies. To 'survive' in a school system that is not adapted to their learning style, your child has found workarounds to be able to function and follow the classes they take. They memorise words, can identify their shapes, and fill in the (semantic) gaps to make sense of sentences where they can't read every word. Some of these will have helped them, but are 'bad habits' from a language acquisition perspective. What it means: Getting over these requires a little more time, as your child will require more repetition to correct patterns in reading and spelling.
They have progressed in some areas of reading more than others. While they can read and spell certain sounds, they still completely struggle with others. Their difficulty is not uniform: they may have the skills of a 9-year-old with certain phonemes, but that of a 6-year-old with others. What it means: Addressing this requires rebuilding the entire structure of language to create order in what is for them a 'spelling chaos'
They have less willingness to comply. By 10-11 years old, chances are your child has had different forms of support at school, or you have spent much time with them doing homework and trying to help. They feel like they have tried a lot, they have worked more than other students, and that without results. Their willingness to start something new, which they might also fail at, is a significant barrier and emotional burden. What it means: Your child first needs to understand their difficulties and results have nothing to do with their capabilities. You will need to help them see progress until they can notice it themselves, which may take a few weeks. Focus on quick wins and positive reinforcement, but make sure praise is warranted and sincere. Older children know when praise is exaggerated and appreciate when they know they have earned it.
Experts often emphasize ‘the earlier, the better’ because early intervention can encourage a more positive change at a faster pace than an intervention that is provided later on. However, it is important to remember that it is never too late to start intervention. What is essential is to act as soon as you catch it.
*sources: Clinic and Polyclinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, Munich | Front. Psychol., 24.03. 2020, Sec. Developmental Psychology | Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs 11(3), 11.2011