In the spotlight

An ounce of prevention

Learning disabilities represent a significant problem for society. Homelessness, anti-social behaviour and adolescent suicide are all consequences that can result from undetected and unremediated learning disabilities.

Network researcher Linda Siegel of the University of British Columbia has shown that it is possible to detect children at risk for reading difficulties before problems become too severe, and that appropriate classroom-based intervention can remediate or prevent these problems from developing.

In a collaborative project with the North Vancouver school district, Dr. Siegel conducted a study that followed children over the course of seven years, beginning in kindergarten. At the start of the study, she found that 25% of the children for whom English was a first language and 50% of the children who had English as a second language were at significant risk for reading difficulties. But a simple, classroom-based intervention resulted in a dramatic improvement - by Grade 6 the number was reduced to 1.5% for both groups.

The schools used a program called Firm Foundations to help teach young children important phonological awareness skills such as recognizing the sounds of letters. The teachers also read stories to the children and introduced them to new vocabulary through interesting activities to develop their language skills.

Siegel has since expanded her study to include Prince George, British Columbia, which has a population of approximately 30% First Nations and 7-10% English second language children - both groups are at significant risk for reading disabilities. Her studies in Prince George are re-affirming her findings from the North Vancouver school district. Seigel's successful program is also making its way to other communities, including schools in Brooks, Alberta and as far away as Hong Kong.

"We can prevent many of the social problems in our society by recognizing the children who have difficulties early and providing appropriate intervention early in their school career," says Siegel. "Not only will we provide a better environment for our children but we will also save the unnecessary expenses and heartache that social problems produce."

See complete project description

I don't have any books and nobody reads to me at home. I don't like school, except for recess. The longer I go without help, the more I will fall behind.

Effective reading instruction can overcome challenges at home. Early intervention and prevention are key.

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