What are the early predictors of dyslexia?

Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences, Vol. 3 No. 2 2016 

Original research article by Pei Yi Fong, Vicki Lim, Shehnas Alam, Lois Lim


In Singapore, early identification and intervention of literacy difficulties during preschool are important due to the heavy academic demands placed on children. Previous research has shown that parents’ literacy skills, the amount of home support given, and prior phonics exposure are associated with reading skills. The impact of home support, phonics‐based support and parental factors on preschool students’ literacy and phonological skills were investigated in this study. It was found that the provision of phonics‐based intervention significantly predicted better phonological processing skills. Both mothers and fathers also impacted on their child’s literacy and phonological skills but in different ways, suggesting that parents play distinct roles in their child’s literacy development. On the other hand, home support did not appear to confer the expected benefits in terms of literacy development. This may be associated with the differences in the learning processes at home.

The first predictor of dyslexia explored in this study is how perceived parental literacy skills may predict early phonological and literacy skills in preschoolers. It has been previously found in various studies that familial history of dyslexia predicts the later diagnosis of dyslexia. Van Bergen, Jong and Maassen (2014) previously found that self-reports of parental literacy skills differentiated between children with and without dyslexia; parents of dyslexic children reported more literacy difficulties compared to those of non-dyslexic children.

Another predictor explored in this study is the amount of literacy support given to the child at home. Scarborough, Dobrich and Hager (1991) and Scarborough and Dobrich (1994) found that children’s later reading abilities were somewhat related to how often their parents read to them during the preschool years. Children who became poor readers were typically engaged in books about 2-3 times a week, while children who became normal readers typically did so almost daily.

Lastly, the exposure to early phonics intervention was also explored in this study. Hatcher et al., (2004) reported that reading programmes with highly structured phonics components are sufficient for most preschool children (about 4.5 years old) to master the alphabetic principle and learn to read effectively. In contrast, young children at risk may need additional training in phoneme awareness and linking phonemes with letters.

In comparison to mothers, fathers perceived literacy skills had no significant impact on students’ literacy development, although paternal educational background was found to significantly predict students’ phonological and reading skills. It may be possible that the paternal influence of early literacy development may be related to socioeconomic status (SES). Prior studies have found that family income (Davis-Kean, 2005) and parental education (Park, 2008) have had an impact on child learning through parental beliefs and home literacy environments. However, it is also possible higher family income due to higher levels of parental educational qualifications give rise to increased access to resources (e.g., books) as well as learning opportunities such as additional enrichment classes.

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