Dyslexia Screening


What is the difference between screening, assessment, and diagnosis?


Dyslexia is not a disease — so it cannot be “diagnosed” in the same way that a medical condition can be determined. There is no blood test or genetic test that can show whether or not someone is dyslexic; a “diagnosis” is simply the opinion of a qualified professional.

Additionally, there is no uniformly accepted criteria for diagnosis, so professionals may disagree on whether or not a person is dyslexic, and on the labels they use to describe various types of dyslexia — or whether to use the word “dyslexia” at all.

In general, dyslexia is diagnosed on the basis of tests or evaluations used to measure a person’s learning characteristics and severity of symptoms.

A screening is generally a short, informal test which is used either to determine whether further testing or warranted, or to determine whether an individual is likely to be helped by a specific program. Licensed Davis providers use screening to determine whether or not an individual is likely to benefit from a Davis program.

The term assessment may sometimes be used to mean an informal screening, or it could be used to mean more extensive testing. It also is commonly used when the testing is focused only on ascertaining academic skill levels, such as a reading assessment.

Diagnostic testing usually means that the person will be given several different kind of tests, in an effort to get a full picture of their learning needs. Depending on the background and qualifications of the professional doing the testing, it may include tests related to vision and hearing as well as tests related to intellectual functioning and achievement.

Generally the professional will give a detailed written report summarizing the findings, and may also include recommendations as to the types of intervention or support that would be appropriate for the individual.

(Answer by Abigail Marshall)


  • liaf

    can you screen for dyslexia in a 5 year old? are there precursers that can be seen in drawing, copying etc at this age?
    my daughter cant copy simple shapes. or most of the alphabet. her attempt looks NOTHING like the letter. she does not understand same sounds or even remember from one minute to the next what i just taught her. site words are forgotten quickly also. the same word on each page is still a hit or miss.

    thank you

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Screening is different than diagnostic testing — so yes, a 5-year-old can be screened. Formal diagnosis is usually delayed until at least age 7, because some problems with reading or writing are developmentally normal in younger children. For example, it is not unusual that a 5-year-old would not be able to learn sight words; although some children can learn to read at that age, many others can’t.

      It’s important when working with a small child that you key your efforts to their developmental readiness, and take things one step at a time.

      We use clay modeling to help children learn the letters of the alphabet — there is a home kit for parents interested in implementing Davis methods at home: https://shop.dyslexia.com/dylkit

      Here’s an article from the Reading Rockets website that provides a good overview of what skills you can reasonably expect a 5-year-old child to have: https://www.readingrockets.org/article/literacy-milestones-age-5

  • Erin H

    I was recently told by someone in my child’s school district that the only ‘true’ way to diagnose Dyslexia was an MRI.
    So since my daughter’s diagnosis was completed by a series of tests completed by a clinical psychologist, how do I know she has Dyslexia.

    I thought fMRI was good data, but not required for ‘diagnosis’ or even 100% reliable for diagnosis.
    Any insight is appreciated!

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      when it comes to dyslexia, MRI and fMRI are used for research only — not diagnosis. There is no way that MRI could be used for diagnostic purposes for dyslexia, except to potentially rule out other problems (such as a brain lesion or tumor) — which would only be appropriate in cases with unusual symptoms. For example, an MRI might be used with a person who had suddenly lost the ability to read (acquired dyslexia) rather than a child with difficulty learning to read .

      So you are right, the person in the school district is wrong – and fMRI wouldn’t be at all reliable for diagnostic purposes. When fMRI is used in research studies, the research subjects are prescreened for dyslexia — and the results presented in the studies are based on a combination of data from all the fMRI’s done on all the research subjects, rather than looking at individual brain patterns. So even within the study, there will be known dyslexic individuals whose brain use patterns don’t look like the reported results whatever aspect of dyslexia was being studied.

      Here’s a good article about why fMRI can’t be used for diagnosis, if you are looking for a more detailed explanation:

      Can I Get an fMRI Scan to Show That My Daughter Has Dyslexia?

      The article is written by Guinevere Eden, who is a leading researcher and authority on brain science, reading, and dyslexia.

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