Italian Study Looks at Dyslexia Signs in Pre-Readers

April 10, 2012

Italian Study Looks at Dyslexia Signs in Pre-Readers

For 1 in every 10 students, learning to read will be a far more difficult exercise than it should be. For a variety of reasons, literacy and learning to read, a skill unique to the human being, can take longer and/or seem impossible for many children who are plagued by a neurodevelopmental disorder known as dyslexia. For years, a diagnosis of dyslexia was often delayed until a student reached the primary grades and struggled to acquire the same grade-level reading skills as his or her peers. Auditory and speech processing delays are a characteristically seen as a sign of dyslexia in earlier developmental stages. However, with the variety of other cognitive and learning disabilities plaguing our children these days, the dyslexic diagnosis is not always appropriate and, even if it is, it may often be delayed. This has been a continual problem for educators, parents, and researchers alike since it is firmly established that children diagnosed with dyslexia earlier in life are far more likely to overcome their learning disability quickly and keep pace with their peers once they are given the tools they need to thrive. The Study With this goal in mind, an Italian research team led by Andrea Facoetti from the University of Padua conducted a three year study of children in that country. The findings of Facoetti’s team point towards visual attention deficits, rather than language delays, as a more reliable predictor of dyslexia in pre-readers. The study called “A Causal Link between Visual Spatial Attention and Reading Acquisition” was published online April 5 in Current Biology. The report goes over the research which looked at children from the pre-reading kindergarten age through second grade. The team discovered that a dyslexia diagnosis was far more likely among children with visual attention problems early on. As Facoetti explains, “This is a radical change to the theoretical framework explaining dyslexia. It forces us to rewrite what is known about the disorder and to change rehabilitation treatments in order to reduce its impact.” Additional Findings The report covers several aspects of the team’s study and ultimately makes several important conclusions about literacy and reading education in general. This includes the following:
  • When they are pre-readers, poor readers will show impaired visual search and spatial cuing.
  • When they are pre-readers, approximately 60% of poor readers display a visual-attention deficit.
  • Preschoolers’ visual attention abilities predict future reading acquisition.
  • For all students, efficient visual-attention is crucial in order to learn to read, independently of phonology.
Future Implications Though certainly not as popular in the news media as autism or ADHD, dyslexia is a real problem in schools. With 10% of all students struggling with this disorder, accurately identifying the early warning signs can make a huge difference in each child’s ability to acquire reading skills and subsequently maintain grade-level. Though the findings of this study are still new, their implications for the future of literacy education among preschoolers is a major step in the right direction.



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