Dyslexia in Children

Quick Facts About Dyslexia in Children

  • Affects approximately 15% of children 
  • Affects an equal number of boys and girls
  • Symptoms can be seen in the first year or even first six months of life
  • An inherited condition that is often misdiagnosed
  • Early identification and intervention are key for closing or avoiding the gap with efficient readers
  • Special reading instruction methods and content are needed, not just extra time or slow pacing
  • New technology can help improve learning and foster independence
  • The biggest challenge for teachers and parents: building self esteem and confidence

Dyslexia in Children: Signs for Ages 0~4

Family history of dyslexia

  • Dyslexia is hereditary, passed down in the genes. So if you or one of your parents struggled with reading it's more likely your child will too. It may skip a generation, but before you conclude that that it's not in the family, think carefully. Many people hide their weak reading skills. Could Grandpa read well? Even today, the majority of people with dyslexia were never identified and don't know they have it!  

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What's the simplest thing you can do that research shows makes a real difference?

Read to your child every day!

  • Early childhood ear infections

    Did your child or student have recurring ear infections as a a baby or youngster? The infections are not necessarily a cause but may be related to why dyslexia is an auditory disability more than a visual one. This was another mini eureka moment for us because my stepson had a history of ear infections as a baby. Note that the research is mixed in its findings on ear infections and this link remains uncertain.
  • Delayed speech

    Dyslexic children have difficulty distinguishing and manipulating sounds so it's no surprise they might be late in developing speech. Every child learns to speak at their own pace, so don't jump to conclusions if your child is behind 'the norm.' According to the Mayo Clinic:

    By 3 months your child might: Make "cooing" sounds, seem to recognize your voice and cry differently for different needs.

    By 6 months your child might babble and make a variety of sounds, use his or her voice to express pleasure and displeasure and pay attention to music.

    By 12 months they might try imitating words, say a few words, such as "yes", "no", "mama" and "uh-oh", recognize words for common items, such as "shoe."


    By 18 months they may identify familiar objects and people and by 24 months they may have a vocabulary of about 15 words and use two word sentences.
  • Difficult memorizing the alphabet

    The hardest task for a dyslexic is memorizing an abstract list. Many extra repetitions of the alphabet are required for mastery. Children usually learn the alphabet between 3-5 years of age, but a dyslexic child may take much longer. You may be surprised at just how many repetitions it can take and how quickly something can be forgotten. Patience is key, as you're going to have to resist saying "but we just did that one!"  

  • Late in establishing a dominant hand

    Hand preference usually emerges between the ages of 2 and 4 and is established by kindergarten. Why late hand dominance and dyslexia in children often occur together is not clear, but the earlier dominance is established the better for developing penmanship. The extra practice using the dominant hand leads to mastery of the fine motor skill needed for writing. Dyslexics often overuse gross motor skill—moving the hand or arm instead of just the fingers—when writing.  

Dyslexia in Children: Signs for Ages 5-12

  • Difficulty pronouncing multi-syllable words

    The longer the word the more likely a dyslexic will have trouble pronouncing it. Sequencing all those phoneme sounds together is difficult. The order of the sounds tends to get jumbled, thus pasghetti (spaghetti) and Kershmal (commercial). This is why phonemic awareness is a critical skill for beginning readers to develop.

    Be careful with this indicator though, because it's normal for kids to mash up words at first, it's just that the dyslexic has a more acute problem and it doesn't resolve as easily. In fact in will never completely resolve.
  • Dysgraphia / difficulty writing

    Kids with dyslexia often have dysgraphia, which basically means difficulty writing. The problem is rooted in the weaker fine motor skills (poor pencil grip) of most dyslexics combined with difficulty memorizing sequences, since each letter is a sequence of pencil strokes.

  • Letter and word reversals in writing

    Yes, the stereotype has an element of truth. 'Pat' may become 'tap' (word reversal) or 'bat' may become 'pat' (letter reversal). The difference with the dyslexic is that the problem is more consistent and continues beyond grade two. (For help with this specific problem, we recommend the Reversing Reversals series of workbooks available on our Teacher Resources page)

    Be careful with this indicator, because all kids will reverse some letters as they learn to read, and everyone makes mistakes when they are tired or not focusing.

  • Poor reading ability

    In general reading will be very slow and laboured, which itself inhibits comprehension. How can you remember the meaning of words when you're pouring so much energy into reading them?

    Also you will notice odd guesses at words based solely on context or shape.

  • Poor spelling ability

    Spelling will be very difficult, especially words that have more syllables and phonemes (sounds) in them. Irregular words such as yacht or enough will be especially difficult. Spelling rules will need to be taught explicitly for real progress to be made. On a positive note with spell check and speech to text technology, spelling is somewhat less important as a critical writing skill today.

Dyslexia in Children: Signs for Ages 5-12 continued

  • Poor math ability (dyscalculia)

    Dyslexia in children is often associated with poor math skills.  Approximately half of all dyslexics have great difficulty with numbers, seeming to lack an intuitive sense of number value and number relationships. Time tables will prove very difficult to memorize.

  • Difficulty telling time on a clock with hands

    This may be a result of before/after, infront/behind, and left/right confusions, which is just another way of saying sequences, regardless it's a strong indicator of dyslexia. An excellent and inexpensive application for teaching time on analog clocks is Nessy Numbers. More information can be found on our Teaching Resources page.

  • Difficulty learning to tie shoes

    It may seem so simple, but it's an abstract sequence of steps and that means trouble for most dyslexics. Try velcro shoes to save your child time and embarrassment—but keep practicing at home until they know their knots.   
  • Difficulty with cursive writing

    Though not understood fully, dyslexia in children is also associated with difficulty reading and writing in cursive. Perhaps because they tend to see words as whole shapes/objects and therefore cursive text looks like an unending word they have never seen before.

  • Difficulty rhyming

    When you first see this in your child/student it's completely bewildering. Rhyming seems so easy for the non-dyslexic because you're just swapping out one sound (one phoneme) for another. But dyslexics simply cannot parse (break/reassemble) words like that. This is one of the most reliable indicators of dyslexia because it requires a very specific ability every truly dyslexic person lacks.

  • Struggles to find the right words when speaking

    You'll notice lots of 'ums' and 'ahs' and 'that thing over that way' kind of sentences. This is likely a result of difficulty with word recall and difficulty recounting events and stories, in part because sentences and stories are sequences that have to be assembled in order.

    Note that some dyslexics are excellent speakers, but it's not usually a skill that comes easy. 

  • Struggles with directions

    Left/right, before/after, in front/behind, these are all difficult abstractions for the dyslexic. The term directional dyslexia is sometimes used to describe this problem, but it's a misnomer because directions are not words. Dysorienta would be a better term!
     
  • Can't remember phone number or address

    Addresses and phone numbers seem like short and easy things to recall but they are abstract sequences of information not used often. Without repeated practice the information is easily forgotten.

  • Messy

    Lots of kids are messy, so this indicator is not the strongest, but dyslexics have terrible trouble keeping things tidy: messy room, messy school bag, locker, closet, pretty much all of them.
     
  • Lower self esteem

    Daily failure in the public eye and in the presence of your peers will quickly take a toll if not offset by a lot of encouragement and positives. Ben Foss coined the term 'slow drip trauma' to describe the daily stress and anxiety that dyslexics often have to bear. I think it captures the seriousness of the problem.

    Be sure to recognize and celebrate every success. Find your child's strengths and spend lots of time on those whether sports, art, music, drama, dance, everyone is good at something.

Final Thoughts

It really isn't difficult to identify dyslexia early. But don't jump to conclusions too fast. All children develop at different rates. Still, if you suspect dyslexia, don't hesitate to have your child tested as early as kindergarten or grade one. In fact it's very important to identify reading disabilities before grade three since effective reading programs for dyslexics are much more effective during these early years.

Good luck and Good Reading!

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