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Dyslexia and the Preschooler

When dyslexia runs in the family, parents sometimes wonder if they can detect signs of it in their preschool children. Experts say that's much too soon to label a child, and veteran moms and dads agree: at this stage, it's a dangerous game to attempt to distinguish between what's a genuine neurological problem or a maturational lag. Nevertheless, if your preschool child is easily distracted by too much noise or movement, doesn't seem to hear rhyming patterns, or has trouble following simple instructions, you can make life easier in a number of ways.

  • Most small children have trouble dealing with an avalanche of words, so when you're talking to your preschooler, make eye contact and speak slowly. Your child may need extra time to hear, understand, integrate, and remember.

  • In a preschooler's world, routine and structure underlie everything. The predictable is precious, whether it's the same placemat on the table every day or those two favorite stories before bedtime. Likewise, there's enormous security in knowing where possessions are kept, understanding how to put them away, and being able to retrieve them later on.

  • Does your preschooler become agitated or anxious in large groups? If so, limit the number of playmates to one or two at a time, and be available to help negotiate any rough patches. "Alex is thrown for a loop at birthday parties, so I try to prepare him in advance," says one mother. "Before we leave the house, we talk about what to expect -- noise, balloons, games -- and then we talk about it some more afterwards."

  • If your child has trouble understanding spatial relationships (up and down, in and out), help him get more comfortable with simple everyday tasks and games: "Take the blocks out of the toy box. Put Teddy on the bed. Hide the book behind the doll. Tiptoe around the coffee table."

  • Kids with dyslexia often have problems making the link between the abstract and the concrete. You can help create that link early on by chatting about what you're doing as you do it. "I'm putting my card in the ATM machine to get money for our groceries." This can reinforce your child's ability to link words to experiences and, ultimately, to the words used to describe pictures in books.

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