RADAR, the groundbreaking dyslexia screening system development from Crete, has managed to make positive moves in spite of the pandemic.
By Phil Butler
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted nearly every facet of our lives. All assets and innovation have been focused on mitigating the greatest calamity of the 21st century. And too much has been put on the back burner. RADAR, the groundbreaking dyslexia screening system development from Crete, has somehow managed to make positive moves in spite of this.
COVID-19 forced most of us into our shells. Before the pandemic, the world still operated in mostly a traditional fashion, with digital technologies still useful only in the periphery for most. But overnight things flipped over. Remote work and play became the norm in the months after the virus spread; teleconferences replaced the boardroom meeting, the trade shows, and the intimate personal connection. We all know of the cataclysm’s negative effects.
But, for Dr. Ioannis Aslanides, the founder of the RADAR method, the opportunity for testing a valuable learning tool remotely, presented itself. The renowned ophthalmologist spurred his interdisciplinary, and international team to find situations where the screening tool could be deployed for distance screening.
RADAR system 95% effective in preliminary screening for dyslexia
As so often happens, fate provided just the right opportunity when a Canadian expert, Dr. Deborah Karrah emailed Aslanides about testing young children there in Alberta. The RADAR team responded to Karrah, who is a structured literacy specialist, a former teacher, and a key proponent of creating a more mindful educational system focused holistically on student wellbeing. She trains teachers in the latest methods for intervening in special reading difficulty situations. So, a tool like RADAR, which had proven above 95% effective in preliminary screening for dyslexia and other reading problems, seemed the perfect fit if it could be deployed remotely.
RADAR, which stands for “Rapid Assessment for Dyslexia and Abnormalities in Reading”, is the first such development that is quantitative and objectivity based. The novel system is being developed by Aslanides and his multidisciplinary, international team of doctors, speech pathologists, engineers, and researchers to meld eye tracking technology, data analytics and processing, and pathology for screening for reading problems.
Researchers at Harvard, in the UK, and ongoing testing in Crete have so far proven the tool has a game changing potential. But, the lockdowns, the stifling fears, uncertainty, and regulations the pandemic produced put most RADAR development on hold. So, developing a remote dyslexia screening research study project with the Livingstone Range School Division in Alberta with Dr. Karrah, provided a perfect opportunity.
With Karrah there in Canada supervising, and RADAR’s Andriani Rina and Panagiota Makrosterigou conducting the test from Boston and Heraklion respectively, it was possible to prove in flawless fashion that kids anywhere can be screened efficiently, and without the normal stress some testing methods tend to cause.
“Imagine a world where every child is effectively taught to read”
We asked Dr. Karrah, who’s also an author, and the Director of Sunshine Reading Keys, how the capabilities of the RADAR system will work to improve the situation for troubled readers:
“If RADAR can expand its capabilities to identify children in Grade 1, and we can get Integrative Literacy approaches in K to Grade 3, we are well on our way to overcoming reading difficulties and the challenges of dyslexia. Imagine a world where every young child is effectively taught to read!”
She believes in Structured Literacy (SL) reading instruction that is explicit, systematic, and cumulative. An effective SL research-based reading program provides targeted intervention that utilizes a multi-sensory, integrative literacy approach for remediating reading difficulties, including the challenges of dyslexia.
By the definition of most governmental agencies, dyslexia has a neurobiological origin that causes impediments in phonological processing, or the awareness, retrieval, and manipulation of the individual sounds of language. This problem, in turn, affects the ability of an individual to read, comprehend, and spell. One of the keys for successful remediation is early screening to identify reading difficulties.
This is not what happens now, however, and the situation played a critical role in both Aslanides and Dr. Karrah getting so deeply involved in fixing the early detection/intervention problem. Dr. Aslanides’ son went undiagnosed for years, before he finally got help. Dr. Karrah’s granddaughter was also late diagnosed, and suffered classic social/psychological setbacks accordingly.
Those children are now progressing in their graduate studies, but hundreds of millions of other kids are not. Aslanides and his team are desperately trying to continue trials and outreaches, as well as implementing an integration of RADAR with an intervention model. A 1,500 child trial in Crete was put on hold after only 150 kids were screened. I asked Vassilis Andreadakis about the how the kids who screened positive for dyslexia or other problems could get help in the preliminary stages of RADAR’s post screening. Here is what he had to say:
“All the students that participated in the program and were found to have educational problems (not only in reading), were offered a 4-session help program from many different specialties such as social workers, psychologists, special needs teachers, speech pathologists etc. to help the students and their parents to get their educational path back on track.”
Dyslexia affects between 15 to 20 percent of any given population
Dyslexia affects between 15 to 20 percent of any given population. It is, by far, the most common learning disability. The negative effects are life-changing, especially if not diagnosed and addressed early on.
Kids with dyslexia have trouble reading fluently, or rapidly, accurately, and understanding well. Dyslexic kids, and kids with other reading problems, almost always suffer academic, emotional, and social problems that affect them throughout their lives. Children who fall behind their peers in reading often struggle with low self-esteem. And low achievement often causes attendance, discipline, and high drop-out rates. Juvenile crime, and later adult criminal behavior has been linked to reading problems, as well.
Ben Domingue, who is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, was part of a recent Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) study dealing with how the COVID pandemic affects foundational skills. He explains succinctly why problem screening by 3rd grade is so key:
“Reading is kind of a gateway to the development of academic skills across all disciplines. It’s a key that opens all of the doors. If a kid can’t read effectively by third grade or so, they’re unlikely to be able to access content in their other courses.”
Dr. Aslanides and his team have addressed the fluent reading situation on multiple fronts from the onset. Eye tracking technology, advanced algorithms, and other technical hurdles were crossed early on. Now, with COVID having thrown in a kind of monkey wrench against trials, the RADAR team struggles to make progress. The imminent Harvard neurologist and RADAR team member Dr. Stelios Smirnakis told me the other day that bigger trials are the key to putting RADAR in front of a better universal system for helping kids achieve.
Finally, my key takeaway from the latest news on RADAR came in a last email from Vasilis Andreadakis when I asked him if the system is proving out more, or less bulletproof than in my last report. He assured me that RADAR screening has a 99.3% negative predictive value, which means kids who do test negative do not have a problem.
He says this “offers substantial peace of mind to students and parents alike.” I do not know what Dr. Aslanides’ business plan or pitch deck look like, but I do know what peace of mind is worth. And if the RADAR team manages to hammer out this holistic approach/network, an inestimable ongoing tragedy can be ameliorated.
Phil Butler is Editor in Chief of the Argophilia Travel News