Reintroducing Dyslexia: Early Identification and Implications for Pediatric Practice

Dyslexia is a common learning disorder that renders children susceptible to poor health outcomes and many elements of socioeconomic difficulty. It is commonly undiagnosed until a child has repeatedly failed to learn to read in elementary school; this late diagnosis not only places the child at an academic disadvantage but also can be a precursor to psychiatric comorbidities such as anxiety and depression. Genetic and neuroimaging research have revealed that dyslexia is heritable and that it is undergirded by brain differences that are present even before reading instruction begins. Cognitive-behavioral research has revealed that there are early literacy skill deficits that represent red flags for dyslexia risk and can be measured at a preschool age. Altogether, this evidence points to dyslexia as a disorder that can be flagged by a pediatrician before school entry, during a period of heightened brain plasticity when interventions are more likely to be effective. In this review, we discuss the clinical implications of the most recent advances in dyslexia research, which converge to indicate that early identification and screening are crucial to the prevention or mitigation of adverse secondary consequences of dyslexia. We further highlight evidence-based and practical strategies for the implementation of early risk identification in pediatric practice so that physicians can be empowered in their ability to treat, educate, and advocate for their patients and families with dyslexia.

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