A new research study shows that dysgraphia and dyslexia may be identified during the first two years of school by analyzing children’s writing. Early intervention may help children work on skills while they are learning to read and write rather than waiting until later in their academic career in Grade 3 or 4 when they are transitioning from learning to read and write to reading and writing to learn.
“The Dysgraphia and Dyslexia Behavioral Indicator Checklist (DDBIC) can change children’s educational trajectories by identifying areas of instructional need related to writing in the early years. This is critical as it provides educators with a universal screener that can be easily implemented in their classrooms,” Lindsay Diamond, Ph.D., department chair of Educator Preparation and associate professor of Special Education and co-author of the study, said.
In the United States, 37.1% of children receiving services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) qualify under the category of specific learning disabilities (SLD), making it the most prevalent eligibility category (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, 2022). Even though SLD represents the most predominant category, many children are not diagnosed until later in their academic journey.
“As practitioners and educational researchers, there was a need to design a tool that could assist educators in identifying children who needed additional support earlier in their academic career,” Diamond said.
Learning disabilities in reading and writing are often not identified in children until Grade 3, although behavioral indicators of dysgraphia and dyslexia can be observed earlier in a child’s academic career. However, practitioners, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists are often unaware of the behavioral indicators associated with dysgraphia and dyslexia due to a lack of pre-professional training or experience.
“Our research has demonstrated that educators can learn how to use the DDBIC in their classrooms with success,” Abbie Olszewski, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, associate professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology, clinical supervisor and co-author of the study, said.
Recent research indicates that practitioners can observe these behavioral indicators during established learning activities. However, writing samples are often underutilized to determine if children have behavioral indicators of dysgraphia and dyslexia in the early elementary grades.
Using an assessment such as the Dysgraphia and Dyslexia Behavioral Indicator Checklist (DDBIC), practitioners can implement a step-by-step process to collect and analyze children’s writing samples to identify early behavioral indicators of dysgraphia and dyslexia in collaboration with an OT and SLP as needed. The DDBIC may also be used to monitor the progress of these behavioral indicators and to support decision-making for appropriate levels of support to improve children’s outcomes.
The DDBIC also encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among practitioners and related collaborating service providers (OT and SLP), which supports improved identification accuracy and implementation of evidence-based instruction. Even though most of the behavioral indicators identified using the DDBIC may be corrected after effective explicit instruction in the first two years of school, children who continue to produce these behavioral indicators in their writing may need additional targeted support or, in some cases, a referral for special education assessment.
“The goal in creating the DDBIC was to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among educators to best serve children with learning difficulties,” Olszewski said.
What is dysgraphia and dyslexia?
Dysgraphia is recognized as a neurodevelopmental disorder in which an individual has illegible or inefficient handwriting due to difficulty with hand movements used for writing or the ability to store and retrieve letter formation. These difficulties are not solely due to the lack of appropriate educational instruction.
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder defined as difficulty with accurate or fluent word recognition and poor word spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.
Even though the most prevalent category of disability served in the U.S. school system is specific learning disabilities (SLD), practitioners are often unfamiliar with the indicators associated with a specific LD, such as dysgraphia and dyslexia. Misconceptions or an absence of understanding of the behavioral indicators related to dysgraphia and dyslexia puts children at risk for poor academic or social success due to a lack of intervention or late or missed diagnosis. Practitioners can utilize the Dysgraphia and Dyslexia Behavioral Indicator Checklist to identify these indicators in students’ writing samples, design appropriate instructional intervention(s), and refer them for proper assessment.
Baggett, M., Diamond, L. L., & Olszewski, A. (2023). Dysgraphia and Dyslexia Indicators: Analyzing Children’s Writing. Intervention in School and Clinic, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/10534512231189449