Dear Dr. Linda,
I have dyslexia and so does my dad. I have an 18-month-old son, and I don’t want him to have the same horrible experience learning to read as my dad and I did. So my wife and I are trying to give him as much exposure to books and reading as possible before he goes to preschool. When I hand him something, I say what it is and emphasize the sounds the letters make for that item. We point out street signs and store signs. We say the sounds and not necessarily the letters. We’ve read that many educators believe it’s unnecessary for him to learn the letters. Our question is when do we start introducing him to formal reading and what program do you recommend?
I understand why you are concerned. Dyslexia does run in families. Since you and your dad have it, your son has a very good chance of also having it. So I do understand why you want to do whatever possible to prevent your son from having the same negative school experience.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that you can do now to prevent him from inheriting dyslexia. You can certainly introduce him to letters and the sounds those letters make at a young age as you’re doing. You’re helping him develop phonemic awareness which means that he’ll be hearing those sounds over and over again. As you know, dyslexia is defined as having difficulty putting a sound with an image. It’s an auditory problem, not a visual problem. Therefore, stressing the sounds of things to your son at a young age may pay off in the long run.
But he’s only 18 months so you really don’t know how much he’s processing. In addition, if you’re using too much language, eventually he may not listen to what you’re saying. Next, he has to learn the names of the letters. Yes, one philosophy argues that it’s more important for toddlers to learn the sounds of the letters than to know the names of the letters. However, once he starts school when the teacher tells the children in the class to circle all the “Bs,” your son won’t know what a “B” is.
I don’t recommend starting any formal program now. Simply introduce him to the letters and the sounds they make by giving him toys to play with such as alphabet puzzles. Reading picture books together helps too. He needs to play and listen to stories because these activities provide reading readiness experiences for him.
When he’s four or five, then you can look for a reading readiness program that’s based on phonics. If he has dyslexia, he’ll need a strong phonics-based program such as a multisensory Orton Gillingham program. Follow his progress closely but don’t force him to read. However, if you see he’s not remembering the alphabet or the sounds connected with each letter, contact your local school. They’ll be able to work with him. Schools know a lot more about dyslexia than they knew when you and your father were in school.