Since the 1960s, researchers have searched for
a reliable method of predicting dyslexia. Various potential risk factors
have been explored.
The most promising seemed to be:
the phonological processing variables
(phonological awareness, short-term memory and retrieval)
alphabetic knowledge (i.e., speed and fluency with
letter names and sounds)
However, although some investigations could identify
children "at risk" with between 75 and 90 percent accuracy, there
was little general agreement about a reliable set of predictors which
could be routinely used by schools for early identification.
Also, in spite of a growing awareness among researchers
that oral language deficits are potentially related to reading, aspects
of oral language apart from phonological processing had not been examined
as predictors of reading outcomes.
Perceptual processing deficits for rapidly presented
auditory stimuli had also been shown to be present in a sizeable proportion
of dyslexics and children with oral language impairment.
It seemed likely that these factors might improve
accuracy of prediction still further
What can teachers do to identify
children who are "at risk" of reading failure?
Test all pre-schoolers on
Phonological Awareness (20-30 minutes per child).
Test all children who fall below the 25 th percentile
in Phonological Awareness on Phonological Short-term Memory (10
minutes per child).
These tests can be given during Semester 2 of the Pre-Primary
year by teachers or aides after in-servicing.
Our research suggests that children below the
25 th Percentile in Phonological Awareness who also have a weaker
phonological short-term term memory (below the 50 th Percentile)
are very likely to be "at risk" of Dyslexia.
Overseas data further indicate that this risk is substantially
increased if a close relative (parent, aunt/uncle, grandparent or
sibling) has had difficulty with literacy development.
If the child has poor knowledge of letter names and sounds the risk
of reading problems is likely to be further increased.
Recent research has confirmed that when children
identified as "at risk" are given training in phoneme awareness, this
will enhance their literacy development.
Suitable Tests include:
Test of Phonological Awareness (TOPA, Kindergarten
Version;Torgesen & Bryant, 1994).
Phonological Abilities Test (Muter, Hulme & Snowling,
Sutherland Phonological Awareness Test (Nielson, 1995)
Sentence Imitation Subtest from the Test of Language
Development – Primary, 3 rd Edition (TOLD-3; Newcomer & Hammill,
However, new tests are being released continually
and it would be wise for schools that wish to use this approach to
contact the researchers at the Child Study Centre before finalising
which tests they will use.
If you would like any further details about our
research findings or would like some Professional Development in relation
• Dyslexia• Phonological Processing
• Early Identification of Reading Difficulties
• Assessment of Reading Problems/Dyslexia
• Phoneme Awareness Training
Please contact: -
Dr Steve Heath
|Dr Janet Fletcher
|Dr John Hogben
|Child Study Centre
Department of Psychology,
The University of Western Australia,
35 Stirling Hwy Crawley WA 6009