“Do you think my child has dyslexia?”

As a reading teacher, I’ve heard this question numerous times. I can tell if a child is exhibiting dyslexia-like characteristics, but a definitive answer wouldn’t (and frankly shouldn’t) come from an educator. That’s because dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is best diagnosed by a physician who has training in this area.

The word “dyslexia” is often used and misunderstood by both parents and teachers. The definition of dyslexia as listed on the International Dyslexia Association’s website (http://www.interdys.org/) specifically lists its characteristics:  Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities…Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. This Definition is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).  In other words, dyslexia is a language based learning disability. The problems individuals with dyslexia have involve difficulties in acquiring and using language.

So what does dyslexia “look like” in a child? I’ve gathered some of the most common signs of dyslexia, most from the IDA, and included them below. These should be looked at as a starting point for parents who have concerns. Although these signs are good to know, remember that dyslexia needs to be diagnosed by a physician well trained in the field or a neuropsychologist.

Signs of dyslexia in young, preschool children include talking later than expected, a slowness to add new words, difficulty rhyming, and trouble following multistep directions. After a child begins school, the signs of dyslexia include:
● Difficulty reading single words, such as a word on a flashcard
● Difficulty learning the connection between letters and sounds
● Confusing small words, such as at and to
● Letter reversals, such as d for b
● Word reversals, such as pit for tip or was for saw

Having one of these signs does not mean your child has dyslexia; many children reverse letters before the age of 7. But, if several signs exist and reading problems persist, or if you have a family history of dyslexia, you may want to have your child evaluated.

Once a child is in first, second or third grade, he or she may demonstrate difficulty in other ways. Does your 1st, 2nd or 3rd-grader:
● remember simple sequences such as counting to 20, naming the days of the week, or reciting the alphabet?
● have an understanding of rhyming words, such as knowing that fat rhymes with cat?
● recognize words that begin with the same sound (for example, that bird, baby, and big all start with b)?
● easily clap hands to the rhythm of a song?
● frequently use specific words to name objects rather than words like “stuff” and “that thing”?
● easily remember spoken directions?
● remember names of places and people?
● show understanding of right-left, up-down, front-back?
● sit still for a reasonable period of time?
● make and keep friends easily?

Answering “no” to some or most of these questions may indicate a learning disability. Not all students who have difficulties with these skills are dyslexic. Testing done by a qualified physician is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.
Most people with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence. There are doctors, scientists, attorneys, actors, writers, entrepreneurs and chefs, etc., who have dyslexia and function quite successfully in their fields. There are teaching methods that address the needs of students with dyslexia. Orton-Gillingham based methods have been very successful at helping children and adults with dyslexia learn to read.

If you have concerns that your child has dyslexia, arrange for a meeting with your child’s teachers, including the reading teacher, to determine if they, too, have observed the same things you see. If so, contact a physician who specializes in diagnosing dyslexia. I would suggest you look for a neuropsychologist.

It’s scary to have a child who struggles with reading. We all want our children to be successful… and reading accurately and understanding what is read, is the key to learning in school. The good news is that help is available. Children with dyslexia can learn tools and techniques to use that can assist them with improving their reading. An excellent website is from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at http://dyslexia.yale.edu/whatisdyslexia.html. Although their target audience is those who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, there is terrific information available to give you a better understanding of what dyslexia looks like in children.

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