What is dyslexia and how to detect it early?


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Everyone has heard of dyslexia, but few know what it really is and what it means for the development of our children. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty, specifically in reading and writing, which in many cases leads to problems of adaptation at school because of the difficulties it causes when reading.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is what is known as an impairment in the ability to decode information. That is to say, there are difficulties on the part of the child to associate the sounds of speech with letters and specific words. Because of this, dyslexia is a challenge in the correct development of the child’s education and learning.

It is important to point out and understand that dyslexia is not an intellectual problem, nor is it due to any hearing or sight problems. So the child can achieve good results at school and in everyday life if the correct educational support is provided. However, it is very important to detect it as early as possible in order to provide the child with the necessary tools for his or her development.

Symptoms of dyslexia

The most visible symptoms of dyslexia in children include:

  • Difficulty in spelling
  • A reading level well below what is expected for the age group.
  • Inability to pronounce an unfamiliar word
  • Difficulty in seeing similarities and differences between letters and words
  • Avoidance of activities that involve reading

The signs of dyslexia in adolescents and adults are similar including:

  • Difficulty reading, including reading aloud.
  • Spelling problems
  • Difficulty summarising a story
  • Difficulty understanding maths problems

How to detect dyslexia in children?

The easiest period to detect dyslexia is during the school years, when the child starts to learn to read, and teachers are usually the first to notice the problem. Before this period it is more difficult to recognise the signs of dyslexia, although there are some early signs that we can look out for that indicate that our child may have dyslexia:

  • Delay in starting to speak
  • Learns new words at a very slow pace
  • Difficulty learning nursery rhymes or playing rhyming games
  • Reverses word sounds or confuses words that sound alike
  • Has trouble remembering or naming letters, numbers and colours.
  • Dyslexia is nowadays a disorder that a person has to cope with for the rest of his or her life. However, this does not mean that it is not possible to achieve a similar (even identical) level of functionality to that of a person who does not suffer from this disorder. A key factor in achieving this is early detection.

The prognosis of dyslexia is better the earlier the age at which it is diagnosed and work can begin. This is because the younger we are, the more brain plasticity we have, that is, the more and easier we can make modifications in our brain, both structurally and functionally. Children have a great capacity to modify their behaviour and abilities with the necessary help and support.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, it is very difficult to detect dyslexia early and to take preventive measures before the child starts to experience difficulties within the school system. It is for this reason that a genetic analysis, such as the one carried out by Mendel Brain, is of great help in the prevention and early detection of dyslexia. A really positive aspect of the DNA tests currently on the market is that they are completely painless and non-invasive, so they can be carried out at any age, using a small saliva sample.

The causes of dyslexia are very diverse, although studies suggest that it is the result of individual differences present in certain parts of the brain and that there is a very important genetic involvement. This shows a heritability of between 30% and 50%.

How to treat dyslexia in children

Dyslexia must always be diagnosed by a professional and, in most cases, it is usually advisable for the paediatrician to first refer your child to a different specialist (ophthalmologist, audiologist, neurologist…). That’s in order to rule out that the reading difficulties he/she presents are not due to another problem. There is currently no pharmacological or other treatment that can correct the underlying brain abnormality that causes dyslexia. However, early detection and assessment are essential to determine the specific needs of the child and the most appropriate treatment.

The usual approach to the treatment of dyslexia involves the application of specific educational techniques. Assessment of reading skills and other academic and psychological skills by an educational psychologist or neuropsychologist will help teachers to develop an individualised teaching programme. The techniques applied are very varied but generally include activities involving hearing, vision and touch in order to improve the child’s reading skills.