Is 3rd grade too late to diagnose dyslexia?

"These new data represent a paradigm shift in how dyslexia has been perceived up to now," says Sally Shaywitz. (Credit: Sarah Horrigan/Flickr)

Waiting until a child is in third grade or later before identifying dyslexia is no longer acceptable, researchers say.

A new study shows that a large reading achievement gap between dyslexic and typical children is already present by first grade, but early effective intervention at the beginning of school can narrow or even close it.

“These new data represent a paradigm shift in how dyslexia has been perceived up to now, with current emphasis often on reading by grade three,” says senior author Sally Shaywitz, professor of learning development at Yale University.

“We now know that the achievement gap between typical and dyslexic readers is already present and large at first grade. Developmentally, we know that reading growth is greatest in the very first years of school. This mandates that the screening and identification of children with dyslexia occur early, even prior to first grade.”

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For the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers conducted a longitudinal study of reading from first grade to 12th grade and beyond and found that as early as first grade, compared with typical readers, dyslexic readers had lower reading scores. Further, their trajectories over time never converge with those of typical readers.

“If the persistent achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers is to be narrowed, or even closed, reading interventions must be implemented early, when children are still developing the basic foundation for reading acquisition,” says Emilio Ferrer, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis.

“These data demonstrate that such differences are not so much a function of increasing disparities over time, but instead reflect marked differences already present in first grade between typical and dyslexic readers,” the authors write, but implementing screening and effective reading programs as early as kindergarten offers the potential to close the achievement gap.

Source: UC Davis / Yale