Does it help to have children who may be dyslexic diagnosed as soon as possible?

The question is often asked, at what age can dyslexia be detected in children?  Unfortunately it is a very difficult question to answer – and it can be argued that for many children diagnosis as early as possible is not the best way forward.

The initial problem is that there can be many signs of dyslexia, but in the early years of life seeing these signs does not necessarily mean that the child is dyslexic.  There could be other causes of what one is seeing in terms of the slow or poor development of literacy skills.

For example it is often said that dyslexic children have delayed speech development compared with other children of the same age.  But there are many reasons why a child might have delayed speech development, so this alone is not a clear indicator.

Likewise a jumbling up of the sounds within words and always pronouncing a word or phrase wrongly might be an indicator of dyslexia or it might just be a habit that the child has picked up, or even might be because the child is finding it amusing or interesting to mix up sounds.  And it is not unknown for children deliberately to make mistakes if they see particular mistakes get a reaction from adults!

Thus a child who says bootful instead of “football” or indeed instead of “beautiful” may well be showing a sign of dyslexia, but also may also be playing around with sounds and showing an advanced understanding of how words are constructed.

Therefore if one is looking for general signs of dyslexia it is a good idea to collect of range of evidence of situations in which the child has problems in expressing him/herself properly and difficulties in copying spoken sounds.   Likewise the occasional sentence in which words get mixed up can occur just through inexperience at expressing complex ideas, or through excitement, or through nervousness.

Because of this, if we are trying to understand a child via her or his day to day behaviour we have to look for repeated errors of speech which are not being resolved over time.  For example, not fully appreciating how rhymes work is not of itself a sign of dyslexia, but when combined with other problems with using the spoken language it might be indicative.  If the child then also has problems learning the alphabet, we still don’t have proof of dyslexia but we have a further indication.

Fortunately, delays in dealing with the issue at this stage tend not to matter very much for it is hard to help children who are dyslexic make meaningful progress before the age of seven.  Indeed if one starts giving dyslexic children support much before this age there is every danger that little progress will be made, but by the time the child is ready for meaningful steps forward the child can have developed a resistance to being given extra help and support.

In short, even if there are multiple indicators of dyslexia early on one should be aware that there can be dangers in singling the child out before the age of seven, unless not doing so itself is causing distress.

If you note a child who has problems learning the names and sounds of letters, and who has difficulty with basic spelling, you might consider that dyslexia is the cause, but you should also consider exactly what support is available if you do have the child tested and a diagnosis of dyslexia is given.  One should ask if support and help is available, and ask if the child benefit from being singled out at this early stage.  Some children do get a lot of psychological benefit from being told there is an explanation for their difficulties with English, others really don’t appreciate being singled out early on – and for such children delay for a year or so can be beneficial.