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This is an excerpt from the complete free booklet Teaching a Struggling Reader: One Mom’s Experience with Dyslexia. I have created this page because of how important it is for a child who is suspected of having dyslexia to start experiencing Phonemic Awareness activities as well as receiving Speech Therapy if they have language delays. The sooner these activities start, the potentially greater the impact. Early Phonemic Awareness and Speech Therapy could make a huge difference for the rest of their lives.…

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dyslexia early intervention

The importance of early intervention cannot be stressed enough. Many teachers will tell parents, “Your child is just a late bloomer. They’ll get it when they’re ready. Let’s just wait and watch.” Although it is true that kids learn in different ways and at different rates, it seems individuals with dyslexia are pretty much born with different brains. The earlier they receive intervention, the better they may become at reading. Tackling Dyslexia at an Early Age from Harvard Medical school states, “up to 70 percent of at-risk children who receive educational intervention in kindergarten or first grade become proficient readers.” This article also talks about changes that occur in the brain with early school-age interventions.

On January 27, 2005, Reading Rockets did an online chat with Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Dr, Shaywitz (co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, at Yale University) gave this list of signs seen in preschool children with dyslexia. If find it so important that I am including it in its entirety:

The most important clues in a preschool child are: 

  • A family history of reading problems
  • Delayed speech
  • Lack of appreciation and enjoyment of rhymes, e.g., not appreciating the rhymes in a Dr. Seuss book
  • Not being able to recite rhymes by age 3
  • Continuation of baby talk
  • Trouble pronouncing words
  • Trouble learning the alphabet (not the alphabet song, but knowing the individual names of the letters of the alphabet)

It is important to keep in mind that you are looking for a pattern of these clues, ones that keep occurring often. Not knowing a rhyme or the name of a letter once or twice is not what we are looking for. A pattern that occurs over and over again is what to look for.

A parent may be concerned their child could have dyslexia because of red flags in their child’s behavior or because of family history. It seems to me that if a parent is concerned their child younger than 5 may have dyslexia, that taking actions at that early age could be highly beneficial. I have done multiple searches and contacted many dyslexia professionals asking for specific interventions to help preschool children who may have dyslexia. My online searches found no specific recommendations for how to help preschool children who may have dyslexia.  Fortunately, I did receive very helpful information from two well-regarded Dyslexia Professionals.

Joanne Marttila Pierson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, the Project Manager of DyslexiaHelp at the University of Michigan stated, “Your best bet is to write about spoken language skills and development. As you know, spoken language undergirds learning to read, spell, and write, and so the better linguistic skills a child has, the better he is likely to do learning to read. For example, I have a developmental milestone checker here. As is suggested in this article, Is Preschool Language Impairment a Risk Factor for Dyslexia in Adolescence?, children with phonological disorders in preschool are at greater risk for reading disorder, which makes sense since the core deficit in dyslexia is in phonological processing (i.e., phonological awareness, phonological memory, rapid automatic naming.) And, books such as Beyond Bedtime Stories by Nell Duke are what you’d want to offer as resources.”

As Dr. Pierson stated, many children with dyslexia have speech delays. Receiving Speech Therapy from a Speech Pathologist could make a tremendous difference when they start learning to read. (It will also be useful even if they do not have dyslexia.) When both of my children were babies, I frequently used the Ages and Stages Questionnaires just to make sure they were developing on target. When the results showed my daughter’s speech was behind schedule, I got her evaluated. Because of this my daughter was able to start Speech Therapy at twelve months of age.

I’d always thought Speech Therapy was teaching children how to say words. Actually, articulation has been a very minor part of her therapy. It has focused more on helping her understand and express words. Speech Therapy helps children say, “I want the firetruck book.” instead of “I want that.” Early Intervention services are often free or very low cost for children from birth to three. Many school districts will continue with the (often free) services once the child turns three. You can learn more about Early Intervention here.

Reading to young children is perhaps one of the most important activities you can share. We read to our children multiple times a day during the early years. My daughter wanted to be read to even more than my son. She couldn’t talk so she would scream if I didn’t read to her for hours every day. I had the luxury of being a Stay-At-Home-Mom so we sat together reading book after book after book every day. I am not exaggerating when I say we read for hours each day for months, possibly years (those years are such a blur that I don’t remember how long they lasted.) I now wonder if she craved being read to so much because she could not understand what language was and if being read to helped her try to figure it out. This article discusses 10 Benefits That Highlight the Importance of Reading with Young Children.

Another Dyslexia professional, Susan Barton of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, also contacted me. She stated, “Most dyslexia professionals will not screen or test a child younger than age 5 1/2, plus the child must be at least halfway through kindergarten. But if you suspect dyslexia, I recommend you start doing the activities described in the following books now.”

  • Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum by Marilyn Adams Ph.D. and Barbara Foorman “Ph.D. M.A.T”
  • Preparing Children for Success in Reading: A Multisensory Guide for Teachers and Parents by Nancy Sanders Royal based on the work of Beth Slingerland. 

Since I could find no online links to share that explicitly said how to help preschool children who may have dyslexia, I searched for ways of teaching phonemic awareness in early childhood. Reading Rockets has a list of specific activities that promote phonemic awareness. My favorite dyslexia website, Homeschooling With Dyslexia, has good phonemic awareness ideas. Pinterest is a great source for Phonemic Awareness. This link to Pinterest will offer you scads of ideas. I also searched for activities that would help any child gain skills to improve their reading abilities. There is an excellent list of suggestions at this article, Help for Young Readers.

 As a parent, it can be really overwhelming to find and figure out exactly what skills are involved in phonological and phonemic awareness. As I was researching this, my eyes would sometimes roll back in my head from all the didactic information I found. Paragraph after paragraph of theory and information that was just so boring to read and didn’t often tell me what activities were useful. I figured if I was overwhelmed trying to figure it all out, other parents might be at least as overwhelmed and frustrated. (I have the good fortune to have several dyslexia/reading/phonics experts that answer my questions, but many parents don’t have that.)

To help families teach phonological and phonemic skills to their kids, I have created DOG ON A LOG Pup Books. They are a Parent-Friendly Roadmap that shows which skills kids need to learn in which order. Families that have used them tell me they are easy to use and their kids enjoy them. Even nine and ten-year-old kids have enjoyed them and their parents have seen vast improvement in their reading abilities. The books are:

  • Before the Squiggle Code (A Roadmap to Reading)
  • The Squiggle Code (Letters Make Words)
  • Kids’ Squiggles (Letters Make Words)

Because it is important that activities are personalized for each child, I include resources for where other activities can be found for free or low-cost. To make the search simpler for families, I have created boardgames and other activities that can be downloaded from my website. There are activities for each section of The Squiggle Code Books. You do not need to read the books to use the activities. If you use the printable activities in order, you will be working on all the phonological and phonemic awareness skills.

My daughter and I have played the boardgames as a way to practice her sight words. In the homeschool co-op phonics class I taught, we played the same boardgames to practice rhyming, beginning/ending/middle sounds, and so much more. The boardgames can be adapted to any child’s needs simply by switching out the game cards.

Please note. Although playing games and doing activities such as making up fun rhymes, counting syllables, and changing some of the sounds in words can be fun and advantageous for preschool children, I am not advocating teaching very young children to read. Children should not be forced to read before they are developmentally ready. One of my favorite books Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn– And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek discusses multiple studies that show that children in play-based preschools ultimately do better than children in academic-based preschools. This pdf also discusses the potential downsides of introducing reading at too young of an age.

Here is the information about teaching reading from Before the Squiggle Code:

From Before the Squiggle Code

 Spoken language is a code. The code starts with random sounds that we group together into words. Then we put several words together to make sentences. By talking and by listening to each other’s words and sentences, we share ideas with other human beings.

 Reading and writing are another type of code for sharing ideas. This code involves squiggles. We happen to call those squiggles letters.

 We put squiggles on a piece of paper and tell a child, “Tell me what this says.”

 Yet those squiggles are silent. They do not make any noise. Surely children must think we are crazy that we can get sounds out of squiggles.

 Children trust us so they try to make that madness happen. If they are lucky, they have patient adults that show them how the squiggles make sounds and that groups of squiggles combine to make words.

 Part of the best way to help someone learn to read is to make sure they can hear the smallest sounds in words which are called phonemes. And before we can teach them the small sounds, we must make sure they can hear the big sounds.

 So, the beginning of learning to read is making sure the student can hear words. That may seem silly since most people learn to talk when they are just babies. Yet if they haven’t thought about what a word is, how can we expect them to turn squiggles into words?

 This book will help your child, or even an adult learner, learn to hear each word in a sentence. Once they can do that, they must learn to hear syllables in each word. (Identifying syllables will also be an important skill when they are trying to read. Once they are taught the six types of syllables, it will make reading and writing a lot easier.) After they can identify the syllables in a word, it will be time to hear the individual sounds, the phonemes, in a word.

 And then we tell them that each sound has a squiggle. If they put those squiggles together, they will make words. And if they can look at the squiggles someone has placed on a piece of paper or on a computer screen and they can make all those squiggles make a sound, they will have broken the squiggle code. That is when reading begins.

Writing this section on Early Intervention brought out some of my Mom-Guilt. The Help for Young Readers article suggests rhyming activities with young children. We did lots of that with our son when he was a toddler and preschooler. It was so much fun. Then we tried it with our daughter. It wasn’t so much fun. She didn’t get it. No matter how many playful rhymes we made with her name or what we were saying and no matter how many rhyming books we read, she never understood rhyming. We eventually stopped trying. (She would learn to rhyme after multiple sessions with two different Orton-Gillingham teachers.) My guilty side wonders if we had kept trying to teach her rhyming and had done more phonemic awareness activities if it would have helped her when it was time to learn to read. We didn’t know rhyming challenges could be a sign of dyslexia so we just stopped doing it and moved on to other ways to have fun with her.

We did so many good things for our daughter (we still do,) but I so regret we didn’t do more phonemic awareness activities. I say this because, now that I know what activities we could have done, I think how hard parenting can be. For Stay-Home parents, not getting a break tires you out so much. For working parents there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Every parent wants to do what is best for their child and sometimes (or often) life gets in the way. Please know that if you’re feeling guilty that you can’t do it all, you’re not the only one that feels that way. Also know that every little action you take will make a difference in the long run. My husband likes to say, “Wrigley Gum made their fortune selling 5 cent packs of gum.” (Ironically, William Wrigley Jr. of the chewing gum company had dyslexia.) Our daughter benefited from every book we read her and every Speech Therapy session she attended, even the ones where she refused to cooperate for half the session.

dyslexia early intervention

dyslexia early intervention