Why Screen for Dyslexia?

I continue to be amazed by the amount of misinformation out there on dyslexia related reading disabilities. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try and tackle some of the issues that are involved with screening and assessment.


Identifying Children at Risk

When screening for dyslexia the primary purpose is to identify children who are at risk for this learning disability, particularly in preschool, kindergarten or first grade. This means that the screening does not “diagnose” dyslexia. Rather, it identifies “predictor variables” that raise red flags so parents and teachers can intervene early and effectively. These “red flags” are important to identify as early as possible.

Countering the Matthew Effects

In the 1970’s Dr. Keith Stanovich used a biblical allusion to describe what happens when children do not receive the help they need to develop their reading and writing. The idea captured by the term “Matthew Effects” is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

When it comes to reading, if a child begins reading in the early grades without difficulty, he finds learning to read gratifying and typically wants to do more of it. The more the child reads, the better he gets at it. This child is “rich” and getting “richer.” I have described such a child as someone who is on the “smooth road.”

In contrast, for struggling children, the task of reading and writing is not fun at all and can be a laborious and onerous process.

Screening for these “rougher road” children is important to be conducted so that appropriate interventions can be offered.

Sharpening Targeted Interventions

Another reason to screen for dyslexia is to sharpen the targeted interventions. For example, if a screening reveals weakness with phonemic awareness or writing, you know that the child will need an extra dose of remediation that targets these skill areas. If the child is shown to have weakness with sight words, then they should targeted instruction to improve this area of development. In other words, a good screening guides your instruction and helps establish clear goals for the child.

Informing Parents

Screening also helps to inform parents.  Parents often feel that they are in the dark and do not know what is the next best thing to do for their child. A good screening can help cut through such a sense of confusion and helps bring a parent along with appropriate “next step” suggestions.


Adapted from, “Dyslexia Screening:  Essential Concepts for Schools and Parents,” Richard Selznick, PhD, 2015. www.shutdownlearner.com .