+ Early Identification of Language-Based Reading Disabilities: A Checklist

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Here is HW Catts’s checklist  (which I found in Judith Birsh’s book “Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills”, p.57-8).

I would like to note that if a child receives a large number of checks, do not be alarmed. This is not an intelligence evaluation; it has to do with language processing.  Asking these questions early can mean early intervention, and research has documented that early intervention provides the best chance to overcome — often completely overcome — difficulties. 

Early Identification of Language-Based Reading Disabilities: A Checklist

A statement at the top of the checklist says

This checklist is designed to identify children who are at risk for language-based reading disabilities.  It is intended for use with children at the end of kindergarten or beginning of first grade.  Each of the descriptors listed below should be carefully considered and those that characterize the child’s behavior/history should be checked.  A child receiving a large number of checks should be referred for a more in-depth evaluation.

Speech-sound awareness

  • ___Doesn’t understand and enjoy rhymes
  • ___Doesn’t easily recognize that words begin with the same sound
  • ___Has difficulty counting the syllables in spoken words
  • ___Has problem clapping hands or tapping feet in rhythm with songs and/or rhymes
  • ___Demonstrates problems learning sound-letter correspondences

Word retrieval

  • ___Has difficulty retrieving a specific word (e.g., calls a sheep a “goat” or says, “you know, a wooly animal”)
  • ___Shows poor memory for classmates’ names
  • ___Speech is hesitant, filled with pauses or vocalizations (e.g., “um,” “you know”)
  • ___Frequently uses words lacking specificity (e.g., “stuff”, “thing,” “what you call it”)
  • ___Has a problem remembering/retrieving verbal sequences (e.g., days of the week, alphabet)

Verbal memory

  • ___Has difficulty remembering instructions or directions
  • ___Shows problems learning names of people or places
  • ___Has difficulty remembering the words to songs or poems
  • ___Has problems learning a second language

Speech production/perception

  • ___Has problems saying common words with difficult sound patterns (e.g., “animal,” “cinnamon,” “specific”)
  • ___Mishears and subsequently mispronounces words or names
  • ___Confuses a similar sounding word with another word (e.g., saying, “the Entire State Building in New York”)
  • ___Combines sound patterns of similar words (e.g., saying, “excavator” for escalator)
  • ___Shows frequent slips of the tongue (e.g., saying “brue blush” for blue brush)
  • ___Has difficulty with tongue twisters (e.g., she sells seashells)


  • ___Only responds to part of a multiple element request or instruction
  • ___Requests multiple repetitions of instructions/directions with little improvement in comprehension
  • ___Relies too much on context to understand what is said
  • ___Has difficulty understanding questions
  • ___Fails to understand age-appropriate stories
  • ___Has difficulty making inferences, predicting outcomes, drawing conclusions
  • ___Lacks understanding of spatial terms suach as   left/right,   front/back

 Expressive language

  • ___Talks in short sentences
  • ___Makes errors in grammar (e.g., “he goed to the store,” or “me want that”)
  • ___Lacks variety in vocabulary (e.g., uses “good” to mean happy, kind, polite)
  • ___Has difficulty giving directions or explanations (e.g., may show multiple revisions or dead ends)
  • ___Relates stories or events in a disorganized or incomplete manner
  • ___May have much to say, but provides little specific detail
  • ___Has difficulty with the rules of conversation, such as turn taking, staying on topic, indicating when he/she does not understand)

Other important factors

  • ___Has a prior history of problems in language comprehension and/or production
  • ___Has a family history of spoken or written language problems
  • ___Has limited exposure to literacy in the home
  • ___Lacks interest in books and shared reading activities
  • ___Does not engage readily in pretend play

 At this point, jot down extra comments if you have any; anything you can add will be of assistance to a professional evaluator.  Your pediatrician or local children’s hospital can recommend reliable local diagnosticians; also go to the IDA website at www.interdys.org which may have names of people in your area.

source: “Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Second Edition”, by Judith R Birsh; Brookes Publishing, 2005.  ISBN 1-55766-676-8.

A companon activity book, “Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills Activity Book”, by Suzanne Carreker and Judith R Birsh is also available.

Birsh provides the checklist, which is titled “Early Identification of language-Based Reading Disabilities: A Checklist” and is by H W Catts  from “Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools”, 1997.   

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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