As part of its mission, The Windward School maintains a commitment to educating the community in continued research on reading, language, child development, and best practices in teaching. Last fall, several Windward teachers and administrators attended two important conferences that shared research in dyslexia and education. In October, The Dyslexia Foundation hosted the Dyslexia and Literacy: Language Connections to Reading conference in Boston, MA, and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) hosted the 69th Annual IDA Reading, Literacy & Learning Conference in Mashantucket, CT. Here are highlights of the latest research in dyslexia and language disabilities and the implications for educators and parents.
Two Noteworthy Dyslexia Screening Apps Provide Promising Tools for Early Identification
Without effective instruction, many children do not develop the essential reading skills for academic success. Research has shown that the early signs of reading difficulties can be identified well before children fail to read. Decades of behavioral and neuroimaging research supports early universal screening for all prereading children. Advances in neuroscience and technology have enabled scientists and developers to create screeners, or interactive tablet apps, that screen and identify children who demonstrate risk factors of reading difficulties. With several in development, two noteworthy screener apps in the validation phases will soon be available.
Dr. Nadine Gaab, Research Associate and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, presented her findings on early screening and identification at The Dyslexia Foundation conference. She has conducted research to better understand the early correlates of dyslexia and reading difficulties, including a longitudinal study that investigated development in children as young as infants.
The results from this study have provided valuable insights for developing literacy assessments for the Early Literacy Screener app (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2018). Once this app is available, it will enable educators and parents to assess a child’s overall reading development and identify risk factors across eight domains (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2018; Gaab, 2018). Dr. Gaab plans to disseminate the app to educational facilities and community centers, such as preschools, libraries, and museums, in order to provide more children with access to validated screening tools (Gaab, 2018).
At the International Dyslexia Association conference, Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, MD, PhD, Professor at University of California San Francisco and University of Connecticut, Neuroscientist at Haskins Laboratories, Director of the Brain Imaging Research Center at University of Connecticut, Director of the Hoeft Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, and Executive Director of Precision Learning Center, presented her research and development of a validated interactive screening app. Creatively named AppRISE (Application for Readiness In Schools and Learning Evaluation), this universal screener app will assess the early markers of reading and other cognitive measures across thirteen domains (Hoeft, 2018). Dr. Hoeft is currently completing her validation phases with the Precision Learning Center and partner schools in California and Connecticut.
While universal interactive screener apps for prereaders may offer a promising solution in how educators and parents screen and identify at-risk readers, it is important that the app meet appropriate criteria to be effective. Dr. Gaab explained that screeners should be accessible; incorporate effective, evidence-based measures; and provide appropriate resources (Gaab, 2017). Apps from Dr. Gaab and Dr. Hoeft, for example, will provide accessible and scalable screeners that are grounded in extensive research and address key neurological markers for reading.
Universal screening, however, is not a comprehensive solution to mitigating reading difficulties. Early identification must be followed by early, research-based intervention and remediation. While screeners may address gaps in the identification of reading difficulties, educators also must ensure that they effectively meet the needs of these at-risk readers.
Gaining a More Comprehensive View of Language Disorders
The Dyslexia Foundation’s conference focused predominantly on screening, assessment, and intervention. Expanding upon Dr. Gaab’s presentation, Tiffany Hogan, PhD, CCC-SLP, highlighted the link between early screenings and appropriate interventions. Dr. Hogan, Director of the Speech and Language Literacy Lab and Professor of Communication Science and Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute of Health, focused on an unassuming idea: Not all poor readers are the same. In order to best serve children with learning disabilities, quality assessments must exist in order to implement explicit instruction. In an age of so many tailored solutions, children’s education ought to be treated with this same precision.
To examine the various areas where children may struggle with reading, Dr. Hogan posed the question: What constitutes reading? Is it decoding words off a page? Or passively listening to an audiobook? Or is it more nuanced? As a complex, multitiered ability that requires practice, reading involves an integration of skills. A proficient reader must first be able to hear intricate differences in spoken language and manipulate those sounds. That reader then must be able to assign the sounds to graphic representations in print.
Dyslexia, often referred to as a “word-reading level disability” (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007), can result in difficulty with integrating these skills to read; however, a child may experience difficulties across different domains due to a specific reading disability. Educators must recognize and identify these domains in struggling readers, lest they be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Research from Catts, Hogan, and Adlof (2005) has compared listening comprehension and word recognition scores of poor readers in second grade to show the considerable individual differences in their strengths and weaknesses. The grouping of struggling readers that brought to light these differences follows.
Boston Children’s Hospital (2018). Early Literacy Screener. Retrieved from https://www.bostonearlyliteracyscreener.com.
Gaab, N. (2017, March). It’s a myth that young children cannot be screened for dyslexia! Examiner, 6 (1). Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/its-a-myth-that-young-children-cannot-be-screened-for-dyslexia.
Gaab, N. (2018, October). The developing brain, language, reading, heredity. Session presented at the Dyslexia Foundation’s Dyslexia and Literacy: Language Connections to Reading Conference, Boston, MA.
Hoeft, F. (2018, October). Application of research to the development of a school readiness
and dyslexia screener. Session presented at the 69th Annual IDA Reading, Literacy & Learning Conference, Mashantucket, CT.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (2017). Reading Report Card. Retrieved from
Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360-407.
Torgesen, J. K. (2004). Avoiding the devastating downward spiral: The evidence that early intervention prevents reading failure. American Educator, 28, 6-19.