Dyslexia Research: Can Dyslexia Be Diagnosed in Younger Children?

One major concern many parents have is that they can’t get their child a formal diagnosis for dyslexia until their child is in the third grade. Many parents start to see their child struggling with reading long before this, but they can’t get a formal diagnosis until third grade, thus they have to wait until their child is in third grade to get the school to provide their child with the proper interventions. By the time their child can get a diagnosis, their child is nearly completed with their formal reading instruction and expected to read regularly to complete schoolwork.

“Often, by the time they get a diagnosis, they usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid, parents telling them they are lazy. We know they have reduced self esteem. They are really struggling,” said Nadine Gaab, a researcher in connection to a new dyslexia study at Children’s Hospital Boston.

dyslexia research

Soon children may be able to be diagnosed at younger ages. Instead of waiting until the age of 7 or 8, Gaab’s research has been able to diagnose dyslexia as early as 4 or 5 – the same time that children respond best to reading interventions.

To diagnosis dyslexia in younger children, Gaab scanned the brains of 36 preschool children while they performed a number of spoken language tasks. This method was used because early signs of dyslexia can include rhyming difficulty, mispronouncing words, or confusing similar-sounding words.

What did they discover? When children who had a family history of dyslexia performed these tasks, there was less activity in the areas of the brain that are also less active in older children and adults that have dyslexia. Meaning – the same brain activity is present in dyslexics that are older and dyslexics that are at the age of 4 and 5. Meaning – dyslexia can be diagnosed at a much younger age than previously realized.


This study still needs to be further researched, but, fortunately Gaab and her team have been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand the study.

In response to this study, April Benasich, director of the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, said: “There is evidence to suggest that what is thought to be reading failure is there before the kids fail.”

If this study can replicate and expand, dyslexia diagnoses will be available before a child begins to struggle in school and before they lose confidence in themselves and their reading ability. In the near future, children may be able to be diagnosed at the age that their minds will be most receptive to reading interventions.


About Angela Stevens

Angela is the Marketing Manager at Reading Horizons. She has been with the company since September 2009 and through her time with the company has gained a passion for literacy. When she is not promoting literacy she enjoys reading, boating, playing cards, and trying anything new that presents itself.

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14 Responses

  1. Dr. J says:

    This is great news for struggling students and their parents. As the research continues for a definitive answer, I urge parents to advocate for struggling students and demand that effective and research-based (early) interventions be implemented in the school setting. With new policies and Response to Intervention, it is the school’s responsibility to screen and analyze data to determine (potential)discrepancies in student performance. If a discrepancy exists, appropriate multi-tiered interventions NEED to be implemented whether there is a diagnosis of Dyslexia or not. Differentiated instruction and early intervention is necessary to meet the needs of all students…the “Wait and Fail” model is old news and doesn’t belong in the school system any longer.

    • Angela Angela says:

      Completely agree!!!

      • Ann Wolf says:

        I agree with Dr J but what happens when a school district does not recognize dyslexia as a learning disability and does not provide support for the child.
        I worked in a school district like this and have a nephew going to school in a district that does not recognize dyslexia as a learning disability and even when my brother provides the testing that diagnosed this problem the school says that they do not need to supply any services. The most that they have offered to this child in high school was extended test time. He has never taken advantage of that option.

      • Angela Angela says:

        Ann, thanks for sharing! It truly is terrible when the school won’t support the child. I’ve talked to several parents frustrated over this very issue. Really all you can do is continue to fight the school (which often doesn’t lead anywhere).. or you can find alternative solutions that you can have the child use at home. But it really is frustrating that schools don’t always have a better system in place.

  2. Shoshana says:

    I have helped parents with younger children diagnose their child with a little known reading problem often called perceptual dyslexia and misdiagnosed with traditional dyslexia. It is called scotopic sensitivity syndrome and is caused by sensitivity to light esp when reading on a white background under fluorescent or energy efficient lighting or bright light.

    First I have the parent take their child to a developmental optometrist to get a reading on the child’s eye health and acuity status. Often these kids have normal acuity but display signs of visual stress : accommodation, convergence inefficiency, eso/exotropia , tracking issues , etc.

    The solution is colored overlays and spectral filters worn as glasses or contact lenses, carefully chosen by a trained Irlen Screener or Diagnostician.

  3. I appreciate the news and I hope that this will help.
    I am perhaps a bit sceptical because I have dyslexia and I have seen how people dealt with this in the past. I am 52 years old and I have been very fortunate to have a lot of other things to hide or compensate dyslexia.
    At the birth of my second son (12 years back), we were briefly involved in an investigation about dyslexia at a very early stage.
    The trigger was that it runs in both families.
    This was an investigation by the university of Nijmegen (Netherlands), aiming to diagnose dyslexia at 1 year age. I never checked the results because we only took part of the intial screening.
    I do realise that in The Netherlands we are probably running somewhat ahead of dealing with dyslexia due to hystorical research.
    I wish you all the best.
    Egbert van Hoorn

  4.  Dyslexia is a learning disability that includes difficulty in the use and processing of linguistic and symbolic codes, alphabetic letters representing speech sounds or numeric representing numbers or quantities.

    We begin our discussion by agreeing that the statement above on this website defines dyslexia.
    A test subject can be as young as four. Does diagnosis require that the test subject has had prior opportunities to use and process linguistic and symbolic codes? [. The subject converses at an age-appropriate average or above average four-year-old level. The test subject has received instruction in letter recognition, naming letters, and forming manuscript letters. The subject has received instruction in linking sounds to the letters and numerals she or he sees]
    A test subject has been identified as being dyslexic. Are there a scientifically representative number of non-dyslexic four year old children to make a valid, reliable diagnosis by comparing her or his performance with non-dyslexics?

  5. Chanie says:


    Your success speaks to the fact that there are multiple causes for reading disorder…auditory, visual, motor, memory, cognitive. A proper differential diagnosis is crucial and it CAN be done as early as age 4 (I’ve been doing so for the last 5 years ;-)

  6. Shoshana says:

    The easiest one to test is the one I described above – Irlen Syndrome or Perceptual Dyslexia. Turn down lights and with a dimmer slowing increase lighting and observe the child and see if reading out loud improves with lower lighting, changing the color background on a computer screen or any reading/math materials and see which color works best, avoic fluorescent lighting, seat child where the least glare will be bouncing off reading material, use colored paper for photocopying assignments.

    Irlen Syndrome or light sensitivity causing symptoms of dyslexia or visual stress and distortions, tends to run in families and tends to be looked over and not diagnosed by eye care professionals, OTs who work in sensory processing disorders, tutors, educational psychologists, and other educational supports. Those professionals who go thru Irlen Method training can target and provide remediation in the most effective way. Eliminating Irlen Syndrome as an issue in reading problems can then make other interventions much more effective and less costly since the person is not fighting visual stress and now can integrate other cognitive functions and sensory processing.

  7. Bob Rose says:

    There is no such thing as “dyslexia”. ANY child can learn to read normally in K-1. The trick is to have them practice writing the alphabet until they can do better than 40 letters per minute.

    • Dr. J says:


    • Parent says:

      You are obviously not well informed to make such statement. Children with dyslexia don’t have a problem writing the alphabet so much as manipulating phenomes. A very real phenomena based upon many years of observation and research by all kinds of scientists. To say such a problem does not exist does a real disservice to the millions of children who suffer from this condition. I wish all I had to do was have my child write the alphabet faster.

  8. Melanie Lo says:

    My name is Melanie Lo I am a remedial teacher who is specialized in Dyslexia and reading problems in Holland. In holland we can diagnoze childeren when they are 7 years old. They have to have had a mimimum of 6 month reading lessons at school. Allthoug I must admit that it is better to diagnoze them after 12 ore 18 month of reading lessons at school.

    The earlier the children are diagnozed the better. Some times when can overcome reading difficulties if whith effidenced based reading methods use by I reading specialist.
    If you want to know more. you can email me………….

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