Early intervention may prevent dyslexia

Two professors presented their research supporting an essential cure for dyslexia at this month’s Sampling Simmons luncheon, Curing Dyslexia: What is Possible, in Annette Caldwell Simmons Hall on March 17.

Dr. Patricia Mathes and Dr. Paul Yovanoff emphasized the significance of early intervention, the key to preventing dyslexia, to 48 potential financial donors. Tincy Miller, who holds a seat on Texas’s State Board of Education, was also in attendance.

Referring to children with dyslexia, Dr. Mathes led with her ultimate goal, “To make sure every 2nd grader is reading normally, not even realizing they once had a disability.”

In order to target at-risk children and intervene before they enter 2nd grade, Dr. Yovanoff explained how technology could effectively screen children so that all prekindergarten children are tested without traditional one-on-one methods.

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Dr. Patricia Mathes talked about the seven effective intervention techniques she used to create a school curriculum for children at-risk of developing dyslexia. Photo credit: Genevieve Edgell

Dr. Mathes, who once struggled with dyslexia, has been awarded more than 55 million dollars for research in her area of expertise, reading disabilities. During the lecture she focused on one of her recent studies where at-risk 1st graders were provided with intense 45-minute intervention sessions over 33 weeks during the school year.

At the end of the year, the at-risk students scored one standard deviation level above average, not a single child failing 1st grade. Now these children are entering 2nd grade essentially cured.

“Yes they are still genetically pre-disposed and may have ongoing issues ,but now they are like every other kid,” Dr. Mathes said while showing the audience brain scans proving these results.

The lecture proved that instruction is the most important environmental factor for adolescences with dyslexia. Studies supporting methodologies for targeting children who are at risk of developing dyslexia are still in the works.

Dr. Yovanoff, expert in psychometrics and director of the Ph.D. program at Simmons, talked about his current work with computer adaptive testing called Istation Indicators of Progress (ISIP) with over four thousand prekindergarten students participating.

Traditionally, testing for dyslexia consists of one-on-one testing prompted after the student shows signs of having a reading disability. With ISIP and access to computers, entire prekindergarten classrooms can be tested through an interactive test as the questions are adjusted to each child’s answer.

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Dr. Paul Yovanoff explained his techniques for measuring early intervention techniques used on children at risk of developing dyslexia. Photo credit: Genevieve Edgell

During the Q&A session, Miller expressed her disdain with the current public school’s attention to students with dyslexia. She was on the board when Texas’s State Board of Education first passed a law about dyslexia.

“That’s when I first saw our public schools don’t want to deal with our dyslexic children. But they’re supposed to, by law, but if they don’t identify [dyslexic children], they don’t have to deal with them,” said Miller.

Dr. Mathes and Dr. Yovanoff’s research helps tackle part of this issue. Through early intervention curriculums and methodologies using accessible technology, the process of identifying and working with at-risk dyslexic children becomes more structured and narrowed down to four and five-year-olds.

Sampling Simmons is a monthly lecture series dedicated to engaging local community members and students with the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development faculty and staff. For information on their upcoming events, visit the 2015 Sampling Simmons event guide.

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