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New test spots dyslexia early

July 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
One in five students have dyslexia -- a disability that makes learning, and especially reading, difficult. Most cases aren't diagnosed until 3rd grade or later. By then, their chances of catching up in reading are just 1 in 7. But some educators are tackling the problem before a child even knows how to open a book. Kennedy Woodward is 6 years old and she devours books.

"Now I can read all the words, but sometimes I need some help because it's a long word," said Kennedy.

But her hunger for reading and writing wasn't always this strong.

"She would start writing some of her letters and her numbers backwards," said Sandy Woodward, Kennedy's mom.

In preschool, Kennedy showed early signs of dyslexia.

"We want to identify children early because this is basically a treatable condition. We want to catch them really before they have a chance to fail," said Laura Bailet, Ph.D., neurocognitive specialist.

Having a parent with dyslexia boosts a child's chances of having it by 30 to 40 percent. Other red flags are: trouble recognizing their names in print, struggling with letter names, sounds and rhyming.

A new test looks for dyslexia in kids as young as 3 years old. If they fail a series of rhyming and letter questions, they're enrolled in a nine week alphabet-intensive program.

"The children who were all below average when they started our educational intervention, almost 70 percent of them, moved to the normal range," said Bailet.

After getting help, Kennedy raised her test score from 40 to 95 percent.

"My belief is if you can be successful in reading you can be successful in anything in life," said Sandy.

Kennedy's taking on childhood one page at a time.

It's a common myth more boys are dyslexic than girls, but one study shows boys are more likely to get noticed because they tend to act out when frustrated. Famous women who overcame dyslexia -- Whoopi Goldberg and crime novelist Agatha Christie.

WEB EXTRA INFORMATION: CONNECTING SOUNDS AND WORDS

THE MOST COMMON LEARNING DISABILITY:

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and can continue to persist throughout one's life. It does not affect general intelligence, but can cause difficulty with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes speech. Neuroscientists have discovered areas of the brain develop and function differently in people with dyslexia. Specifically, the brain's ability to interpret images from the eyes or ears into understandable language is impaired.

TYPES OF DYSLEXIA:

There are several different types of dyslexia, including trauma dyslexia, which occurs as a result of brain trauma or injury in the part of the brain responsible for reading and writing. This type of dyslexia is not common in school-age children. Primary dyslexia is caused by a dysfunction of the left side of the brain -- a dysfunction that lasts as a person ages. This type of dyslexia is hereditary and is found more often in boys than girls. Those with primary dyslexia are often not able to read above a fourth-grade level. The third type of dyslexia -- secondary or developmental dyslexia -- is believed to be caused by hormonal development as the fetus is growing. This type of dyslexia lessens as the child ages and is also more common in boys.

Most people believe dyslexia causes people to reverse letter and numbers and see words backwards, but experts say reversals happen even in normal development. The main problem for dyslexics is their ability to recognize phonemes, or basic speech sounds, such as the "b" sound in "bat." This makes it difficult to connect the sound with the letter symbol for that sound and to formulate those sounds into words.

DIAGNOSIS:

Dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, which is why most children with the condition are not identified until third grade or later. There is no single test for dyslexia. Rather, several tests may be administered. For example, a physical exam may be performed to rule out hearing or visual problems. A school psychologist or learning specialist will then assess the child's language, reading, spelling and writing abilities through several standardized tests. Sometimes an IQ test is given. Experts agree that the sooner dyslexia is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for the child.

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