Children with dyslexia need to be diagnosed earlier so they can quickly be given the help they need, according to experts.
Writing in The Lancet journal, Dr Robin Peterson and Dr Bruce Pennington of the University of Denver say that although the “scientific and medical treatments for dyslexia have advanced over the past five years,” considerable work is still needed to improve the diagnosis and teaching of children with the condition.
Invariably children are only diagnosed with dyslexia after they have spent several years struggling at school, when it is harder for them to master new skills to help with reading. The earlier this can start the better the outcomes for children.
Current thinking is that dyslexia is caused by a difficultly in how sounds in language are heard and mapped onto letters (phonological impairment), although it was originally thought to centre on problems with visual processing.
Boys are twice as likely as girls to have dyslexia, which affects about seven per cent of the population.
Six genes have been identified as contributing to the condition but little is understood in how these and other possible genetic determinants affect it. There may also be environmental effects that have yet to be determined, such as the way language and reading is introduced to children by parents.
The study’s authors said: “Like all behaviourally defined disorders, the cause of dyslexia is multi-factorial and is associated with multiple genes and environmental risk factors.”
There are a number of conditions that often exist in common with dyslexia such as ADHD, language impairment and speech sound disorders. These are often apparent earlier than dyslexia and so could be used to predict the risk that the child will also encounter reading problems.
“Many effective treatments are low cost, which further draws attention to the importance of early identification, prevention, and treatment of dyslexia for public health,” said the authors.
“Professionals should not wait until children are formally diagnosed with dyslexia or experience repeated failures before implementation of reading treatment, because remediation is less effective than early intervention.”
Kevin Geeson, chief executive officer of Dyslexia Action, said: "Improvements are still needed in British classrooms so children with dyslexia are given the best start in life before the onset of more complex problems that are then harder to address.
“We agree that very early identification of those at risk of literacy difficulties may help reduce the negative social and psychological consequences these children often face.”