When my kids were little I wasn’t too worried about developmental milestones.  There was one developmental hurdle, though, that I was fixated upon  –   the  “decoding hurdle.” 

Most kids get over the decoding hurdle some time toward the end of first grade heading into second grade.  Once they get over this hurdle there is a sort of clicking, an “aha, so that’s how reading works,” experience.  From that point forward these kids who click in with decoding enjoy reading and are eager to start reading easy chapter books.  (As an aside this eagerness ends for the boys in the upper elementary grades where they shut –off to reading, but that’s another discussion.)

For the kids that do not get over the decoding hurdle within a reasonable timetable, this difficulty creates a bottleneck that frustrates all aspects of schooling and academic development. 

The label of “LD” or “dyslexia“ is far less important and immaterial to identifying that such a hurdle exists.  Even though it is better to identify it as early as possible (probably on your own outside of school), identify it at any age under the mentality of “better late than never.”

One story illustrates this last point.  Some years ago I evaluated a 24 year old young man, Jacob, who was trying to get into medical school.  He was getting frustrated with his performance on the medical boards, in spite of taking intensive practice exams.  When I tested him it was clear that he really never got over the decoding hurdle.  Large words that were unfamiliar (e.g.,  incessant, philanthropist, fortitude)  were brutal for him.   After the testing, Jacob was so determined to go to medical school that he started a special program of reading remediation to learn how to decode more effectively.

I am happy to report that Jacob is a successful physician today.

It just would have been nice if someone back in first grade said to his mother, “You know, Jacob is having trouble getting over the decoding hurdle.  We need to do a full-court press and target that skill.”