Can We Say Goodbye to The Wait to Fail Model in Education?

If you have children with reading difficulties, you may be all too familiar with the wait to fail model in education.  Traditionally, right around the time students with dyslexia and other reading challenges enter third or fourth grade, their learning difficulties really start to show.  At least, that’s when their struggles become too obvious to hide.  That’s also when schools can no longer honestly deny that their students are really struggling.


School age boy, head in hands, elbows on desk, looking straight at camera, frustrated expression, wearing blue and yellow plaid shirt


The Good News about Research on Reading Difficulties

For many years, Harvard has conducted ongoing research on dyslexia and other reading difficulties. These unique learners show some very unique brain characteristics.  Now researchers want to know, when do these characteristics begin?  Do they begin around third or fourth grade?  Do they start to show in preschool?  Do signs appear as early as infancy?


Using MRI machines, researchers determined that atypical brain patterns already exist in infancy.  This information is both fascinating and significant.  The researchers hope it will help elementary schools do away with the typical wait to fail model.  I wholeheartedly support that idea.  They also hope the information can lead to “earlier interventions.”  That one I’m a little less enthusiastic about.  Here’s why.


How Can Early Intervention Be a Bad Thing?

If signs of dyslexia already exist in infancy, do we really want to use terms like atypical or disability to describe them?  Why do we focus our attention on so-called “interventions” as if somehow the dyslexic brain is wrong from the get-go?  Why do we not, instead, look to teach reading, starting in preschool, in a way that ALL learners benefit?


We know that dyslexic learners benefit, for example, from multisensory instruction and phonemic awareness training.  We know how to help dyslexic learners become strong readers even after we’ve waited for them to fail, even after third grade, fourth grade, tenth grade.  So why don’t we use those strategies to teach reading to all learners from the start?


If that’s the type of “earlier interventions” the Harvard researchers are aiming for then yes, I’m 100% on board.  But to isolate these often brilliant-minded learners from the pack, to provide “intervention” that suggests something is inherently wrong with them, and to let them go through life suffering the devastating consequences of that, seems, at least in mind, entirely avoidable.  Let’s do better.


Let’s celebrate our dyslexic learners for the brilliant brains they were born with.  Let’s teach them to read in the ways they learn best.  Are you with me?


If you like helping readers read, you might also like The Reading Brain and Why Multisensory Learning Works.