Episode 18 - Early Identification & Intervention of Reading Disabilities with Hugh Catts

Hugh Catts, PhD

Episode Summary
Literacy, a fundamental human right, is foundational for a child’s potential toward academic and lifelong success. For children with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia, mastering skilled reading can feel like an impossible endeavor without necessary support and teaching using proven instructional methods. Fortunately, there are powerful research-based antidotes toward potentially preventing a destiny of reading failure. In this episode, Hugh Catts, PhD explains why early screening and proven, effective reading intervention are critical to mitigating reading disabilities in children. He outlines the research supporting the current model, developed with Yaacov Petscher, PhD, which examines the factors that increase the probability of developing dyslexia. Being able to identify these factors is important to better understand how to effectively screen and provide more comprehensive support for all students, offering implications for research, policy, and education.

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

1. Assessing the probability of reading and language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia using the cumulative risk and protection model.

Research explores the risk and protective factors that contribute to the probability of a child developing dyslexia. These factors are referred to as biopsychosocial, which encompasses the biological, psychological, and environmental influences that increase or decrease the likelihood of a child showing language or reading deficits or reading disability.

Risks include phonological awareness, word level reading, oral language abilities and other neurological factors as well as the environment like trauma, limited language exposure, and inadequate reading instruction.

About 30% of the kids who have dyslexia will have severe enough language problems in vocabulary and grammar to be identified as having DLD (developmental language disorder).

Protective factors include social emotional characteristics like growth mindset and grit as well as environmental supports at home or in school. Read more about the model.

2. Implications for Screening and Intervention

Screening measures should include a battery to assess a number of risk and protect factors such as:

  • Phonological awareness and phonological memory
  • Letter naming
  • Rapid automatized naming
  • Oral language abilities
  • Family history
  • Language development (i.e. spoken language delays)

“I see a lot of emphasis being placed on screening and States wanting to implement screening for our kids, but we need to have plans for what they're going to do with that screening before we choose particular screeners to be used for that purpose.”

Screening is most effective when it:

  • is paired with high quality, effective reading instruction
  • occurs throughout the year
  • comprehensively examines risk factors appropriate for the child’s developmental age
  • is implemented by a trained teacher
  • scores student performance according to an interval instead of an absolute measure or cut score

"Before we think about screening… [we need to consider,] what we're going to do if a child fails the screen…  If we have high-quality, effective instruction and a child is at risk, the probability of having a reading problem is going to go down significantly."

Hear more from Dr. Catts in his 2021 Robert J. Schwartz memorial lecture.

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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.