Dyslexia can only be diagnosed through professional testing, but the following should help you know if such testing is warranted. In summary, any frustrated intelligent child who, in spite of trying to read, simply can’t “get it” like others his age, grade, and intelligence, should be tested!
If you’re not sure, look for these red flags.
First, to conclude dyslexia, one must rule out other possibilities like hearing or vision problems, an emotional disorder, lack of previous learning opportunities, or being taught in a foreign language prior to English. Each of these can, but do not necessarily, affect reading.
If none of the following are affecting reading, dyslexia may be considered, however, signs must be persistent and show an overall pattern that is unusual compared to peers with similar intelligence. Sally Shaywitz points out in Overcoming Dyslexia, how early signs, if not caught, become different signs later:
“What begins as a problem with speech sound awareness, letter recognition, or verbal expression becomes a problem with sounding out new written words, acquiring a sight vocabulary, recalling basic spellings, and producing written compositions. The disorder in older students often causes slow and inaccurate reading, poor spelling, disorganized writing, and difficulty in learning foreign languages.”
There is also an emotional side to dyslexia. According to Sally Shaywitz this may be because,
“Dyslexia inflicts pain. It represents a major assault of self-esteem. In grade school children, this may be expressed as a reluctance to attend school or moodiness or spoken expressions such as, ‘I’m dumb’… For many affected children, dyslexia has extinguished the joys of childhood.”
Red flags for Dyslexia in Young Children
- Trouble learning common nursery rhymes
- “Baby talk”
- Not learning letters
- Difficulty pronouncing words or expressing ideas
- Trouble with directions and names
Difficulty manipulating sounds in words is a key sign of later reading problems. So, watch for struggles with rhyming or recognizing words starting with the same sound. Later, frustrations with writing and spelling are further evidence of a possible “learning difference” including dyslexia. Simply asking your child how he or she feels about reading might give you your answer. Most kids want to read, are excited about it, and do not come up with creative reasons to postpone it.
People with dyslexia have a wide range of talents, such as in art, music, athletics, drama, or math, but may have difficulty remembering a chore or organizing their space. Each has his or her unique strengths and needs. Some may have trouble with reading and others with speaking, handwriting, knowing right from left, doing math story problems, or paying attention. As always, when in doubt, evaluate.
Red Flags for School Age Students, Grades 1st -12th
- Frustration with writing (handwriting or written expression)
- Frustration with reading (pronouncing words or answering questions about what was read)
- Difficulty spelling (may be able to memorize words for a spelling test but not when writing a paragraph)
- More trouble with reading aloud than understanding what they read silently
- Finding reasons to not read
- Grades or test scores lower than expected
- Strong areas significantly better developed than those related to reading
While most of these red flags are clear, the last one may need some explaining. Students with dyslexia always have areas of strengths. We have never met a child with dyslexia without at least one strength, an island of competence.
It could be a strength or budding talent in an individual or group sport, drama, math, music, nature, social skills, spiritual insight, construction, art, or greater than normal knowledge about any topic. It is the wider-than-usual gap between these signs of intelligent competence and reading skills that offers more evidence of dyslexia.
Maybe a specific talent has yet to emerge but, you feel in your parent gut that your child is more capable than his or her weak reading indicates. That counts!