Researchers estimate that 5-10% of people have dyslexia, thought to be the most common language-based learning disability. While children develop skills at their own individual rates, if you are concerned that your child is developing slower than others their age in the areas of reading, spelling, or other written language skills, you may wonder if these are signs of dyslexia.


What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that impairs a person’s ability to process written language, which affects areas such as reading and writing. The severity of dyslexia may vary greatly from one person to another. Without effective intervention, the daily challenges caused by dyslexia become more complex and difficult over time.


Early Warning Signs and Symptoms

A child with dyslexia may exhibit signs ranging from difficulty rhyming, confusing the order of letters in words they are reading, trouble making sense of the words they read, and/or difficulty mastering spelling assignments. The signs that point to dyslexia change over time as a child ages. Early warning signs in preschool children often include some of the following:

  • Delayed speech
  • Difficulty pronouncing words correctly
  • Difficulty learning the names of letters, numbers, colors, or shapes
  • Difficulty following directions


Symptoms of dyslexia in school-aged children may include some or all of the following:

  • Persistent difficulty in areas mentioned above
  • Reading very slowly, difficulty reading aloud, or reading well below the expected level
  • Mispronouncing words, an inability to sound out words, or difficulty finding the right word
  • Persistently poor and inconsistent spelling
  • Problems processing, understanding, or summarizing what is read or heard
  • Avoidance of activities that involve reading
  • Avoidance of activities that involve writing
  • Anxiety about going to school (e.g., stomachaches, tearfulness, headaches)
  • Afterschool “meltdowns” (e.g., anger, tears, tantrums), particularly when doing homework assignments that involve reading/writing


Without effective treatment, dyslexia can lead to a number of serious issues. Children with dyslexia often can’t keep up with their peers in academic skills, which can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and intense frustration.

If parents suspect dyslexia, it’s important to support children with patience and encouragement, while engaging experts who can provide the proper screening or evaluation, and diagnosis if positive identification is made. Dyslexic learners then need a period of specialized instruction by a skilled professional such as a Certified Academic Language Practitioner for tutoring, or a Certified Academic Language Therapist when more intensive intervention is recommended.

Screening, Evaluation, and Diagnosis

As soon as a parent gets the sense that their child is struggling in school, that is the time to seek screening (for a preschooler) or evaluation (kindergarten or older) to assess their risk for developing dyslexia.

The following are screening tools for teachers and parents to identify potential risk factors and the likelihood of dyslexia:

Now available:

  • Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen. Aimed at students from kindergarten to 3rd grade, this online screening tool measures reading skills and identifies dyslexia risk quickly and reliably.

Expected in 2020:

  • Early Literacy Screener. Developed by Boston Children’s Hospital, this app screens for early signs of dyslexia in a 30-minute interactive test and produces a score that measures a child’s risk for learning challenges.
  • AppRISE. Application for Readiness in Schools and Learning Evaluation is a mobile app developed by scientists at UCSF, UConn, and MIT for children ages 3-8 that can measure dyslexia risk and assess school readiness.


Formal diagnosis of dyslexia, however, is achieved through an evaluation by an expert, usually a psychologist or educational diagnostician. For struggling students, a formal evaluation is an investment that has long-term value as it helps schools recognize both the challenges a child with dyslexia faces, and the specialized instruction and/or academic supports needed.

Formal evaluation includes:

  1. A review of background information including a family history of learning challenges, and early development.
  2. Expressive and receptive language assessments that measure skills needed for reading and writing, such as:
    • Formal assessment of phonological skills (Elision, phoneme isolation, and word blending)
    • Spelling real and nonsense words
    • Word Reading, and decoding of real and nonsense words
    • Reading Fluency (Rate and Accuracy) of word lists, and passages
    • Listening Comprehension contrasted to Reading Comprehension
    • Writing Evaluation: legibility, fluency, accuracy of letterforms, expression, use of age-appropriate mechanics, and grammar.
  3. Dyslexia occurs throughout the Intelligence spectrum and IQ is not a criterion in diagnosing dyslexia. However, IQ measures are commonly part of a comprehensive evaluation as there are often valuable insights gained from the analysis of IQ subtest results, which may influence service eligibility and delivery.


Early Detection and Intervention Is Key

A child with dyslexia needs reading and writing instruction delivered in an integrated way using visual, auditory, motor, and tactile methods that link the written symbols to pronunciation and meaning. Students that meet school criteria for Special Education services may have an IEP developed (a structured program determined by the teacher and parents that outlines a child’s plan for success and how it will be accomplished). Others may receive a 504 Plan of support. In communities where schools are not yet prepared to deliver effective instruction for the dyslexic learner, parents may enroll their child in an Orton-Gillingham based Multisensory Structured Language learning center, or therapy practice. Early effective intervention for dyslexia can lead to a greater chance of success for students both in school and in everyday life.

It’s important to note this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace a professional evaluation and/or diagnosis. Parents know their child best and should discuss any concerns with their child’s teacher or doctor.



Lynne Fitzhugh, Ph.D., CALT-QI

Amber Goggans, M.Ed., CALT

Susan Louchen, M.S., CALT

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