October is Dyslexia Awareness Month – so on the blog this week we sat down with Dr. Maggie Wright, Psy.D., founder of Wright Psychology and Learning Center, to delve into some of the specifics about the condition – what is it, warning signs parents can look for, and what an evaluation entails.

Next week, we’ll be back with part 2 of this series, where we speak with Abby Klein, Director of Academic Therapy Services at the Learning Center @ Wright Psychology. She’ll share what parents can expect after a diagnosis, effective interventions, and tips for working with your child’s school and teacher.

What is Dyslexia?

Dr. Wright: The research-based definition of dyslexia is an inherited condition that is neurological in origin.

It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.

These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia appears on a continuum and can be anywhere from mild, moderate, severe to profound. It runs in families and affects 1 in 5 people, or 20% of the population.

What are warning signs parents should look for; at what age can a child be diagnosed?

Dr. Wright: In early childhood, you may notice speech/language delays, speech articulation errors, difficulty with rhyming words, trouble learning the alphabet and letter sounds, or confusion with directionality concepts.

In the school age years, you may notice slow, choppy, or inaccurate reading, trouble sounding out words, poor spelling, knowing a word one day then seeming to “forget” the word the next day, guessing words based on first/last letter, size and shape of the word, or avoidance of reading.

Dyslexia and can be diagnosed as early as kindergarten and age 5 1/2 years old.

How do you evaluate whether a child has dyslexia?

Dr. Wright: There isn’t “one” test for dyslexia, and a comprehensive evaluation is the best approach.  Trained evaluators will measure the child’s phonological awareness, speeded naming, sight word reading, nonsense word reading, oral and silent reading fluency skills, spelling and written expression skills as well as reading comprehension and  oral language/listening comprehension, oral expression, orthographic awareness, and letter recognition abilities.

A thorough evaluation is important in order to rule out other possible causes of reading failure including ADHD, anxiety, adjustment difficulties and hearing/vision impairments.

Dyslexia tends to overlap with dysgraphia (writing disorder) and ADHD, so a comprehensive evaluation will be sure to look at all of these areas in detail.

What’s the next best step a parent can take once their child’s received a diagnosis of dyslexia?

Dr. Wright: Talk with the school and inform them of the diagnosis.  Request accommodations as recommended by your evaluator.  Most schools don’t provide the necessary intervention (Orton-Gilligham) so parents will need to seek out a qualified dyslexia interventionist privately.

Are there any books/podcasts/resources you recommend to parents about dyslexia?

Dr. Wright:Overcoming Dyslexiaby Dr. Sally Shaywitz is a great starting point as well as The Dyslexia Empowerment Planby Ben Foss.  Reach out and get involved with your state’s chapter of the International Dyslexia Association as well as Decoding Dyslexia.  You will find a tribe of parents who can walk by your side as you navigate this journey with your child.