My daughter is spending eight weeks visiting Nicaragua. The first three weeks are in a village with a host family. A child she met in the village “is going to repeat first grade for the third time” according to my daughter. My daughter is majoring in Spanish, but has no training in diagnosing learning disabilities. Is there a very simple set of guidelines I could discuss with her over the phone that will help her generally determine what the child’s disability is? Needless to say the village is extremely poor and so resources to help the child are very limited.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 
First of all, please thank your daughter for advocating on the part of this child and trying to find a way to help. Here is information about what an evaluation for dyslexia entails. You daughter needs to understand that dyslexia is a language-based disability -- it's not reversing letters or a visual problem! Of course, we need to know that the child's vision is okay.

Your daughter could do an informal inventory of the child's ability to perceive and manipulate sounds in words -- take words apart & put them together by sounds (not letters!), his/her letter naming ability, and ability to match letters with their corresponding sounds. That would give her some idea of whether the child can perceive sounds (phonemes) and match those sounds with the corresponding letters. It goes without saying, but I'll say it -- this will need to be done in the child's native language, of course.

We've got a checklist of language behaviors here. And literacy here that might be helpful.

Working memory can also play an issue. She could have the child repeat a string of digits forward; and then do a set backward to see how much he/she can recall. Starting with 2 numbers and then increasing the length of the string.

There is really so much to determining what the problem stems from, but this might get her started. Poor child, really. Dyslexic kids are smart and this is so hard when they are not achieving as their peers are.

Your daughter is welcome to email me as she tries things. Thanks for reaching out on behalf of this child.