Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia

Adapted from the work of Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

How do you know if your child has dyslexia?  The earliest clues mostly involve spoken language.  The very first clue to a language (and reading) problem may be a delayed onset of speech.  Once the child begins to speak, look for the following signs and symptoms of dyslexia:

Signs of Dyslexia in The Preschool Years

  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes such as “Jack and Jill” and “Humpty Dumpty”
  • A lack of appreciation for rhymes
  • Mispronounced words; persistent baby talk
  • Difficulty in learning (and remembering) names of letters
  • Failure to know the letters in his or her own name

Signs of Dyslexia in Kindergarten and First Grade

  • Frustrated dyslexic child.Failure to understand that words can be broken into smaller parts; for example, batboy can be pulled apart into bat and boy, and later on the word bat can be broken down still further and sounded out as “b” “aaaa” “t
  • Inability to learn to associate letters with sounds, such as being unable to connect the letter b with the “b” sound
  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters; for example, the word big is read as goat
  • The inability to read common one-syllable words or to sound out even the simplest of words, such as mat, cat, hop, nap
  • Complaints about how hard reading is or running and hiding when it is time to read
  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings

In addition to identifying speaking and reading problems, look for these indications of strengths in higher-level thinking processes:

  • Curiosity
  • A great imagination
  • The ability to figure things out
  • Eager embrace of new ideas
  • Getting the gist of things
  • A good understanding of new concepts
  • Surprising maturity
  • A large vocabulary for the age group
  • Enjoyment in resolving puzzles
  • Talent at building models
  • Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to him/her

Signs of Dyslexia from Second Grade On

Problems in Speaking

  • Mispronunciation of long, unfamiliar, or complicated words; the fracturing of words—leaving out parts of words or confusing the order of the parts of words; for example, aluminum becomes amulium
  • Speech that is not fluent—pausing or hesitating often when speaking, lots of um’s during speech or glibness
  • The use of imprecise language, such as vague references to stuff or things instead of the proper name of an object
  • Not being able to find the exact word, such as confusing words that sound alike: saying tornado instead of volcano, substituting lotion for ocean, or humanity for humidity
  • The need for time to summon an oral response or the inability to come up with a verbal response quickly when questioned
  • Difficulty in remembering isolated pieces of verbal information (rote memory)—trouble remembering dates, names, telephone numbers, random lists

Problems in Reading

  • Frustration during reading is one of the signs and symptoms of dyslexia. Very slow progress in acquiring reading skills
  • The lack of a strategy to read new words
  • Trouble reading unknown (new, unfamiliar) words that must be sounded out; making wild stabs or guesses at reading a word; failure to systematically sound out words
  • The inability to read small “function” words such as that, an, in
  • Stumbling on reading multi-syllable words, or the failure to come close to sounding out the full word
  • Omitting parts of words when reading; the failure to decode parts within a word, as if someone had chewed a hole in the middle of the word, such as conible for convertible
  • A fear of reading out loud; the avoidance of oral reading
  • Oral reading filled with substitutions, omissions, and mispronunciations
  • Oral reading that is choppy and labored, not smooth or fluent
  • Oral reading that lacks inflection and sounds like the reading of a foreign language
  • A reliance on context to discern the meaning of what is read
  • A better ability to understand words in context than to read isolated single words
  • Disproportionately poor performance on multiple choice tests
  • The inability to finish tests on time
  • The substitution of words with the same meaning for words in the text she can’t pronounce, such as car for automobile
  • Disastrous spelling with words not resembling true spelling; some spellings may be missed by spell check
  • Trouble reading word problems in mathematics
  • Reading that is very slow and tiring
  • Homework that never seems to end, or with parents often recruited as readers
  • Messy handwriting despite what may be an excellent facility at word processing—nimble fingers
  • Extreme difficulty learning a foreign language
  • A lack of enjoyment in reading, and the avoidance of reading books or even a sentence
  • The avoidance of reading for pleasure, which seems too exhausting
  • Reading whose accuracy improves over time, though it continues to lack fluency and is laborious
  • Lowered self-esteem, with pain that is not always visible to others
  • A history of reading, spelling, and foreign language problems in family members

In addition to signs of a phonologic weakness, students show signs of strengths in the higher-level thinking processes associated with the right hemisphere of the brain:

  • Excellent thinking skills: conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction
  • Learning that is accomplished best through meaning rather than rote memorization
  • Ability to get the “big picture”
  • A high level of understanding of what is read to them
  • The ability to read and to understand at a high level overlearned words (that is, highly practiced) in a special area of interest; for example, if their hobby is restoring cars, they may be able to read auto mechanics magazines
  • Improvement as an area of interest becomes more specialized and focused, when they develop a miniature vocabulary that they can read
  • A surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary
  • Excellence in areas not dependent on reading such as math, computers, and visual arts, or excellence in more conceptual (versus factoid-driven) subjects such as philosophy, biology, social studies, neuroscience, and creative writing

Observable Signs of Reading Difficulties

  • Girl showing signs and symptoms of dyslexia.May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
  • Has difficulty spelling phonetically
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors such as:
    • Letter reversals: “d” for “b” as in “dog” for “bog”
    • Word reversals: “tip” for “pit”
    • Inversions: “m” for “w”, “u” for “n”
    • Transpositions: “felt” for “left”
    • Substitutions: “house” for “home”
    • Omissions: skips word entirely
  • May confuse small words: “at” for “to,” “said” for “and,” “does” for “goes”
  • Relies on guessing: “purple for pickle”, ‘wondered for wounded’
  • Relies on predicting or context
  • May have difficulty learning new vocabulary
  • May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs
  • May have trouble remembering facts
  • May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding
  • May have difficulty planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks
  • Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.)
  • May have poor fine motor coordination

Syllables provides one-on-one reading tutoring in Alpharetta, Georgia. We also work with students worldwide via online teletherapy.

Read more about our approach.