How to Identify Whether Your Child Has Dyslexia

Three Parts:Learning About Dyslexia and the Importance of Diagnosing ItLooking For Signs of DyslexiaKnowing What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most common of all reading disorders.[1] Many parents notice the learning disability in their pre-preschoolers. Some kids struggle to recognize or create rhymes,[2][3][4][5] to learn the ABCs,[6] or to recognize the combination of letters that made up their names.[7][8] For children diagnosed in middle-elementary or beyond, parents might describe emotional or behavioral problems that accompanied academic failure.[9][10][11] If these problems sound familiar to you, you might be the parent of a child with dyslexia. Although it is an incurable condition that lasts a lifetime, there are ways to help children with dyslexia learn to overcome the challenges of dyslexia and go on to have highly successful lives.[12][13][14]

Part 1
Learning About Dyslexia and the Importance of Diagnosing It

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    Watch for your child struggling to complete reading assignments. For example, one set of parents realized their son had a reading problem when he was unable to complete a short kindergarten homework assignment: to read a list of rhyming words to his parents. Following the instructions provided by the teacher, here is how that exercise went:
    • Parent: All the words on this list rhyme with at. Say at. Child: At. Parent: The first word on the list is bat; bat rhymes with at. Say at, bat. Child: At, bat. Parent (moving finger to touch each word): What’s next? at, bat… (touching cat). Child: Cot. Parent: No, it needs to rhyme … at, bat, c— Child: Cake. Parent (getting frustrated): You need to focus! At, bat, CAT. Sound it out: c-a-t. Child: C-a-t. Parent. Now what comes next? At, bat, cat, f— Child: Friend. Needless to say, they never made it to hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, or vat.
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    Learn how the dyslexic brain works. While the classic association with dyslexia is one of a person who "sees" letters and numbers backward, what’s really happening is more intense and has to do with how the brain works.[15] A child with dyslexia struggles with “phonological decoding”, which is the process of taking apart and putting together words by chopping them into their individual sounds while connecting those sounds to the letters that represent them.[16] Because of the way their brains translate letters and sounds back and forth, children with dyslexia tend to read slower (less fluent) and make more mistakes (less accurate).[17]
    • For example, a little boy reading a book sees the word dog but doesn’t recognize it on sight. He tries to sound it out, which is taking it apart and translating the letters into their sounds (dog=d-o-g). Meanwhile, a little girl writing a story wants to spell the word dog. She says the word slowly then tries to translate the sounds into letters (d-o-g=dog).
    • If these children have no reading disabilities, chances are good that both will be successful. But, if they have dyslexia, the translation process—from sounds to letters or from letters to sounds—doesn’t go well and a dog may become a god.
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    Understand that dyslexia isn't a problem of intelligence or effort. Sadly, many people think children with dyslexia fail to read because they aren’t as intelligent or don’t try hard enough[18], but scientists comparing brain patterns report that these problems happen the same whether children have high or low IQs.[19]
    • Dyslexia isn’t a sign of low intelligence or not putting in the effort. It simply is a difference in how some brains operate.
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    Learn how psychologists diagnose dyslexia. Psychologists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose psychological disorders. This manual describes dyslexia as a neuro-developmental disorder in which a person has a coding difficulty. The person struggles with figuring out the relationship between word spellings and pronunciations.[20] Dyslexic people have a problem matching written letters to their sounds (a phonological awareness issue).[21]
    • In short, dyslexia is a reading disorder that can’t be explained by low IQ, lack of education, or problems with eyesight.[22] It has nothing to do with how smart they are or whether they are trying hard enough.
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    Understand who is most likely to have dyslexia. New studies show that dyslexia is a genetic condition that can be inherited.[23][24] If it runs in the family, a child has a higher risk of developing dyslexia.[25] If a child has other language-related issues, like delayed language, the risk of dyslexia increases.[26] Dyslexia usually develops in young children,[27] but could also develop if the brain is injured.[28]
    • Dyslexia is actually pretty common. Statistics show that 10% of school children have been identified with dyslexia, but it is believed that another 10% remain undiagnosed.[29] Boys and girls appear to develop dyslexia at equal rates while a higher ratio of left-handed people are be identified as dyslexic.[30]
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    Realize the importance of diagnosing dyslexia. If not caught at a young age, untreated dyslexia can have serious consequences.[31] Many dyslexics become juvenile offenders (85% of America’s juvenile offenders have reading disorders), high school dropouts (one-third of all dyslexic students), functionally illiterate adults (10% of Americans) or college dropouts (only 2% of dyslexic college students graduate).[32]
    • Fortunately, the people are getting better at spotting and diagnosing dyslexia.

Part 2
Looking For Signs of Dyslexia

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    Watch for reading and writing struggles. Pay attention to reading troubles your young child might have, even if it's written off by teachers as nothing to worry about. You might notice your child struggling more than his peers when learning to read.[33] Dyslexia also impacts motor coordination, affecting the ability to write clearly. Messy handwriting may be a sign of dyslexia.[34][35] Since academics are based on reading and writing, your child may have issues in many or all of his classes.[36]
    • Even in hands-on classes, students have subject-specific vocabulary, but dyslexia makes it hard to quickly recall words[37] because the part of the brain responsible for matching sounds to symbols (such as letters or numbers) is the same place pictures are matched to sounds.[38] (Imagine looking at a duck and having trouble hearing “quack” in your mind!)
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    Look for changes in your child's behavior. Your child might become anxious and frustrated because of reading struggles. If your child is acting up in class, the school may blame the academic failures on the misbehavior instead of recognizing that a learning disorder is the root of all the problems. That confusion interferes with identifying and treating the cause of the problems, the dyslexia, which can make problems worse.
    • The more that dyslexic child falls behind academically, the likelihood increases that your child will have frustration,[39] anxiety, and lower self-esteem,[40]—any of which can lead to depression.[41]
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    Pay attention to your child's self-esteem and emotions. You might notice your child hates school, thinks of himself as stupid, or calls himself dumb.[42] His classmates might do the same, causing socialization problems. Your child might hate going to school because of the pressure and anxiety of falling behind academically. Anxiety is the number one emotion experienced by dyslexic children.[43]
    • Low self-esteem and high frustration levels often lead to anger.[44] A longevity study of 7-year-olds with reading disabilities showed that by age 11 they had much more trouble with behaviors and emotions than other children[45], despite receiving support for their disability.[46]
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    Watch for disorders that share symptoms. Dyslexia may be hard to diagnose, since it shares common characteristics with other disorders.[47] Children with dyslexia process at a slower speed, struggle to focus, and may have difficulty organizing themselves and their space. So do kids with the following disorders:[48][49][50]
    • Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)
    • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (A.D.H.D.)
    • Autism
    • Mathematics Disorder
    • Developmental Coordination Disorder
    • Vision issues (such as when a child’s eyes don’t track or focus in alignment with each other)
      • Vision therapists claim a number of children are misdiagnosed as dyslexic when they really have eye-based issues.[51]
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    Realize your child's uniqueness. Dyslexia in one child looks completely different from dyslexia in another child. The disorder shows itself in variety of ways and extents in those it impacts. It is a highly individualized disorder, making diagnosis difficult.[52] You may notice your child struggling to understand when others speak to him. Or, he may have trouble organizing and expressing his thoughts and ideas.[53]
    • Nevertheless, psychologists can successfully diagnose dyslexics as young as five years of age.[54]

Part 3
Knowing What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Dyslexia

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    Do an online screening questionnaire. There are several free online screening questionnaires for dyslexia. Have your child take the tests to see if they agree that dyslexia may be at the heart of your child's reading difficulties.
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    Meet with a specialist. If it appears likely that your child has dyslexia, take the results to a specialist like a psychologist or a school counselor who can guide you in getting a professional diagnosis.
    • If your child attends a private school which doesn't have specialists, check with the local public school. They're often are required to serve all children in their district, even those who do not attend public school.
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    Meet with a mental-health provider. These professionals can be helpful in dealing with the anger, anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues that often come from dyslexic frustration. They're also valuable supports for parents who may feel overwhelmed by a dyslexic child’s needs.
    • Look for mental-health providers in the phone book, through your local Department of Health, or by talking with your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. You can also check resources from organizations such as the International Dyslexia Association (1-800-ABC-D123), which helps parents of dyslexic children,[55] or Learning Ally[56] (1-800-221-4792) which provides audiobooks for dyslexic readers from kindergarten through college age and into the professional world.
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    Know your child's educational options. Since dyslexia is caused by how the brain processes information, it cannot be changed or "cured."[57] But, there are ways in which dyslexic children can be taught phonics so their brains understand the fundamentals of how sounds and letters relate to one another.[58] This allows them to be more successful when learning to read.[59][60]
    • Once a teacher knows there is a dyslexic child in the classroom, various teaching strategies can be custom-designed to support that child’s learning needs.[61]
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    Understand emotional adjustments. Once your child's teacher is aware that your child has dyslexia, the teacher can make adjustments to support your child's emotional needs. For instance, your child won’t be put on the spot to do challenging read-alouds that can cause tremendous stress and anxiety. This can prevent teasing from classmates.
    • Instead, the teacher can actively seek out ways to showcase your child’s strengths. This way, your child can experience success as well as praise from peers, increasing positive self-esteem.


  • If you or your child begins to feel overwhelmed by this reading disorder, visit to review a list of very well-known writers, scientists, politicians, inventors, athletes, entertainers, and others who have risen to the top of their fields despite having dyslexia.[62] You just might be amazed as well as greatly encouraged.
  • Even cultures with non-alphabetic written languages—such as the Chinese—have people dealing with dyslexia. Dyslexic brains simply work differently in translating sounds and the symbols that represent those sounds.[63]


  • Do not identify dyslexia without the assistance of a pediatrician. Many conditions can cause development problems, and some may be severe health concerns.

Sources and Citations

  1. Common Misconceptions About Dyslexia Q & A at
  2. Dyslexia and Reading Problems (Kyla Boyce, RN) at
  3. NIH-Funded Study Finds Dyslexia Not Tied To IQ (National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) at

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Categories: Dyslexia