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Early Indicators

Early Identification For At-Risk Children

The importance of early identification of children at risk for reading problems is well documented in the current research. Reid Lyon, chairman of the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) stated that at least 20-30% of young children are not identified as having a reading disability until after they have experienced years of failure and frustration. In many cases, remediation attempts occur too late for optimal progress. For example, according to Sally Shaywitz, 75% of children with reading disabilities who are not identified until third grade continue to have difficulties with reading in the ninth grade. Statistically, these reading-impaired students are likely to suffer long-term consequences such as poor self-confidence. They are also at greater risk for failing and/or dropping out of school and an alarmingly large number will become a legal system statistic. However, with early identification and appropriate intervention, most of these students can achieve levels of reading and academic proficiency necessary for school success.

The Assessment of Language and Literacy Test

A person leads a finger on the lines in the book, but instead of letters only question mar

The Assessment of Language and Literacy (ALL) is a highly effective diagnostic instrument designed to evaluate the language development and emergent literacy skills of children in preschool through first grade. The primary purpose of the ALL is to diagnose language disorders and to identify children who are at risk for later reading disabilities. In addition to basic pre-reading knowledge such as concept of print, rapid naming skills and word recall abilities, the ALL provides information in four primary areas: language, emergent literacy, phonological and phonological-orthographic.


Based on a profile of strengths and weaknesses in these four areas, the examiner is able to determine the underlying reason a student is not progressing as expected in language and/or literacy development. For example, based on interpretation of score patterns, it may be determined that a student has a broad-based language disorder, dyslexia (i.e., reading/spelling difficulties due to deficits in phonological processing skills) or weak emergent literacy skills due to limited exposure to language and emergent literacy experiences.

Through identification of performance profiles, the evaluation can specifically determine the type of prevention or intervention program that is best suited to meet the student’s individual learning needs. This information will guide the classroom teacher in providing critical early intervention strategies which will in turn increase the chances that the student will overcome language weaknesses at an early age and develop a solid foundation for future reading success.

Primary Indicators

To assist in determining if your child may have early indicators of dyslexia it may be helpful to review this checklist of early warning signs ( adapted from Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz).

The Preschool Years

  • Late talking when compared to other students

  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes and an insensitivity to rhymes in general

  • Difficulty pronouncing multisyllabic words ( “busgetti” for “spaghetti”) or confusing word parts (“mawn lower” for “lawn mower”)

  • Difficulty learning ( and remembering) names of letters, the alphabet or days of the week

  • Failure to know the letters in their own name

  • Extremely restless and easily distracted

  • Poor ability to follow directions or routine

Kindergarten And First Grade

  • Failure to understand that words come apart; for example, that “cowboy” can be pulled apart into “cow” and “boy” and, later on, that the word “bat” can be broken down still further and sounded out as ‘b’ ‘aaa’ ‘t’

  • Inability to learn to associate letters with sounds, such as being unable to connect the letter ‘b’ with the /b/sound

  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters; for example, the word ‘big’ is read as goat

  • May rely heavily on guessing and context clues when attempting to decode unfamiliar words

  • The inability to read common one-syllable words or to “sound out” even the simplest of words such as “mat,” “cat,” “hop,” or “nap”

  • Complaint about how hard reading is, or running and hiding when it is time to practice reading

  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings

Additional Indicators

In addition to problems of speaking and reading, you should be looking for the indications of strengths in high-level thinking processes such as:

  • Curiosity

  • A great imagination

  • The ability to figure things out

  • Eager embrace of new ideas

  • Getting the “gist” of things

  • A good understanding  of new concepts

  • A large oral vocabulary for their age group

  • Enjoyment in solving puzzles

  • Talent at building models

  • Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to them

Each child’s learning processes are unique. The presence of some of these warning signs does not necessarily indicate your child will have reading difficulties. However, knowing what to look for can help you decide if you need to take the next step and schedule your child for a comprehensive evaluation.

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