Dyslexia, a specific learning difficulty, impacts around 10% of the population, according to the British Dyslexia Association. While many associate dyslexia solely with difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling, it extends to affect other areas such as organisation, memory, and processing. Consider this: statistically, approximately three children in every classroom will have some form of specific learning difficulty. With over 25 years of experience in the education sector across all key stages, I've witnessed significant progress in education. However, one challenge that persists is the early dyslexia screening process. In this article, I emphasise the critical role of early screening and early intervention, debunk myths surrounding the screening process, and provide insights into how these practices can support dyslexic children in today's schooling system. 

Parents often hear the discouraging myth that dyslexia can only be identified when a child reaches Year 3 or turns 8 years old. This is simply not true. Children who are showing signs of dyslexia can be detected as early as nursery age. You just need to know what to look out for. Early signs vary from child to child, but there are a few signs that will continually show up with younger students such as; difficulty in remembering nursery rhymes, showing a preference for pictures in books over letters and words and reversing words.  (e.g., "flutterby" instead of "butterfly").

Many reading this article will be thinking “But surely many children show these signs in the early years?” This is correct, however, the key difference is for how long these children continue to show these signs. Keeping a very close eye on these difficulties and keeping a record is vital in the journey of early detection. Also, ensuring that conversations are being held closely with the child’s parents, for example, finding out if family members are dyslexic.  A child is 50% more likely to have dyslexia if either parent has it.  

Once these initial concerns begin to grow, the next step is simple. This is the time to screen a child for dyslexia. Again, there's a prevalent misconception that dyslexia screenings can only take place when a child is 8 years old. This confusion often arises from the distinction between a full diagnostic assessment and a screening. A full diagnostic assessment, which is administered by qualified assessors or educational psychologists, relies on standardised scores and is typically offered around age 8. This is due to the tests being given where there is a supposed expectation that the child has already been exposed to reading, writing and spelling skills in schools. Therefore, many of the standardised scores are measured against 8-year-olds. Dyslexia screenings can be given by SENCOs, teachers, or even parents in just 30-45 minutes with immediate results being offered showing a child’s strengths, weaknesses and whether there is a likelihood of dyslexia.   

Support dyslexic children through early intervention

Following a dyslexia screening and of course, the outcome of the profile if a child is showing ‘at risk’ signs, then it is imperative for schools to provide appropriate interventions and adjustments to the learning environment. Interventions are tailored programmes designed to address the child's specific needs, recognising that they require additional support to catch up with their peers. Consistency is paramount in the success of these interventions, with most students showing progress within just 10 weeks.  

One highly effective type of intervention is multi-sensory learning, rooted in the systematic and structured learning system. This approach incorporates visual aids, auditory elements, and tactile or kinaesthetic activities, creating a more engaging and interactive learning experience. Many interventions are computerised and adapted to the student's needs through algorithms. Non-computerised programmes offer clear instructions for practitioners and parents to follow. 

To illustrate the profound impact of consistent intervention, consider the case of child R, a child in Year 4, who I taught several years ago. He arrived at my school with a diagnosis of severe dyslexia. When we tested his reading age using the Burt Reading Test, he had a standard score of 70, significantly below the average range of 90-115. We provided child R with a regular multi-sensory intervention, aiming for around 15 minutes per day. We consulted with the parents and worked out a timetable to be able to offer the intervention. Within just six months of regular intervention, we noticed that child R was making very good and steady progress. When re-tested, he had indeed raised his standard score from 70 to 90, thus just heading into the average range. All involved were delighted with the achievements! But why was this possible? In a world abundant with resources and tools, anything is possible. The key is to ensure that we offer the right interventions and, most importantly, commit to supporting the children who require our help. With early screening and intervention, dyslexic children can conquer challenges and achieve their full potential not only in school but also in all aspects of life. By dispelling myths surrounding dyslexia detection and recognising the value of early interventions, we can ensure that every child receives the support they need to succeed in their educational journey.

Dyslexia doesn't define a child's abilities but rather highlights their unique strengths and potential. As parents, educators, and advocates, it's our responsibility to nurture these abilities and empower dyslexic children to flourish.   


About the author:

Paloma Forde: Champion for dyslexia awareness, educator, author, and Growth Mindset coach. Making a difference in SEN and beyond.

    About the author:

    Paloma Forde: Champion for dyslexia awareness, educator, author, and Growth Mindset coach. Making a difference in SEN and beyond.

      About the author:

      Paloma Forde: Champion for dyslexia awareness, educator, author, and Growth Mindset coach. Making a difference in SEN and beyond.

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