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Sally Shaywitz, MD

Audrey G. Ratner Professor of Pediatrics (Neurology); Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity

Contact Information

Sally Shaywitz, MD

Mailing Address

  • Pediatrics

    Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, 129 York St.

    New Haven, CT 06511

    United States

Research Summary

Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D. is the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at Yale University and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. She is a world renowned scientist and dedicated, compassionate physician who is devoted to bringing ground-breaking scientific advances to benefit dyslexic children and adults.

Dr. Shaywitz is the principal investigator of the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, (CLS) an ongoing neurobiological and longitudinal epidemiological studies track a population-based cohort from kindergarten entry to mature adulthood. Findings from the CLS have provided cutting-edge, contemporary knowledge of the prevalence, gender composition, universality and precursors, persistence and long-term outcome, including economic consequences of dyslexia in adults. Dyslexia is highly prevalent, affecting one in five and represents over 80% of all learning disabilities. Dr. Shaywitz has studied reading and dyslexia in disadvantaged students in New Haven and in students attending a public charter school specialized for dyslexia. In a recent publication, she reported that the “Achievement Gap in Reading is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists Through Adolescence.” This finding inspired her to develop a new instrument, the Shaywitz DyslexiaScreenTM (Pearson), to enable the evidence-based early screening of children for dyslexia by their own teachers. Dr. Shaywitz is the author of over 350 scientific articles and chapters, as well as the award-winning book, Overcoming Dyslexia (Alfred Knopf, 2003, Vintage, 2005; second edition, 2020).

Dr. Shaywitz is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine within the National Academies. In 2019, she along with Dr. Bennett Shaywitz was awarded the Liberty Science Center 2019 Genius Award "in recognition of your inspiring accomplishments and your pioneering work in advancing understanding of dyslexia." In September 2018, both she and Dr. Bennett Shaywitz were featured in a half page story in the Science Section of the New York Times with the heading "Decoding Dyslexia, A Life's Work in Progress." She has been a featured speaker at the GoogleX conference on the Future of Reading and ff6576is annually selected as one of the Best Doctors in America. Her awards include, among others, an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Williams College; the Townsend Harris Medal of the City College of New York; and the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She has served on the Congressionally-mandated National Reading Panel and the Committee to Prevent Reading Difficulties in Young Children of the National Research Council and, by Presidential appointment (President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama) on the National Board of the Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education and on the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS). She has also spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Dr. Shaywitz is a Trustee of the Park Century School and serves on the Advisory Board of the Adult Literacy X Prize. She served on the National Research Council Committee on Women in Science and Engineering and as Co-Chair, National Research Council Committee on Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty.

Dr. Shaywitz has testified before the U.S. Senate HELP Committee on “Dyslexia: An Explanation and Potential Solution to the Reading Crisis in Education and before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the “Science of Dyslexia" and on behalf of the AAAS on Dyslexia to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. In her testimonies, Dr. Shaywitz points out that rather than a knowledge gap, in dyslexia there is an action gap. We must take action to implement the deep knowledge we have of dyslexia and ensure that this knowledge is translated into policy and practice.


Extensive Research Description

Dr. Shaywitz is the Principal Investigator of the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, a project involving a sample survey of 445 (98% of those invited) Connecticut schoolchildren representative of those children entering public kindergarten in Connecticut in 1983. All subjects were children whose primary language was English. This cohort, assembled from a two-stage probability-sample survey, has been followed longitudinally beginning in kindergarten. Each was given an individualized test of intelligence (WISC-R) (Wechsler, 1981) in alternate years and reading and mathematics achievement annually up through 12th grade using the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement battery. Upon entry into the study in kindergarten parents completed the Yale Children’s Inventory incorporating the child’s early development and family history. Each year children completed a measure of self-esteem and at the end of each school year teachers completed the Multigrade Inventory for Teachers (MIT). This measure incorporated the teacher’s assessment of academic, language, dexterity, attention, and activity, as well as global impressions of learning and behavior, mastery of reading decoding, reading comprehension, arithmetic, written expression, handwriting and extent of involvement in school. We also obtained information on the frequency of latenesses, absences, and whether the child received special education services. We have maintained ongoing seamless contact along with periodic assessments of the participants which continues through adulthood, with the participants now in their fifth decade. We continue to follow 375 participants (84% of the original cohort). The racial and ethnic composition of this sample from Connecticut was similar to that of the nation at the time of the study. Data from this study have been instrumental in demonstrating a range of information about dyslexia, including finding dyslexia occurs equally in girls and boys. As a result of the studies demonstrating that dyslexia is an equal opportunity disability, girls are being identified and now there are equal numbers of boys and girls enrolled in many specialized schools for dyslexia.

One of the most important findings from the CLS shows that in typical readers development of reading and IQ are dynamically linked over time. That is if the child is intelligent, he or she will typically be a good reader, and if he or she is a good reader, the child most often is intelligent. In dyslexic readers, however, IQ and reading diverge, so that reading achievement is significantly below what would be expected given the individual’s IQ. These data provide empiric validation of the unexpected nature of dyslexia. Thus, in dyslexia, a highly intelligent person may read at a below average or even average level but below that expected, based on his/her intelligence, education, or professional status.

One of the most significant findings from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study is that the achievement gap between typical and dyslexic readers is evident as early as first grade and persists. For us, this finding presented an urgent call to action, and inspired us to develop a screening instrument to identify children at-risk for dyslexia as early as kindergarten and first grade. To this end we developed the Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen with the goal of reaching children at-risk for dyslexia early on when reading intervention is maximally effective, before students fall further and further behind. Early on the learning slope is steepest; with time, the reading slope flattens and improvement in reading much, much slower. This means that it is best to identify and provide treatment to these at-risk readers as early as possible (grades 1-3), when the learning slope is greatest. The screener is brief and ideal for universal screening. It is completed on a tablet by the child’s teacher who knows the child best, and the teacher immediately receives a result, dichotomized as yes, at-risk or not at-risk. The screener has exceptionally strong psychometrics, is evidence-based. extremely efficient, and inexpensive. It is currently being used by thousands of school districts across the country.

Most recently data from the CLS have been used to develop methods for identifying whether the increase in reading proficiency displayed by an individual student from one year to the next is adequate for his/her age, or indicates the student is falling behind. Currently we are testing reading in this unique sample who are now 41 years of age, using remote testing via ipads and cell phones.




Coauthors

Research Interests

Epidemiology; Neurobiology; Neurology; Pediatrics

Research Image

Selected Publications