Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and speak. Kids who have it are often smart and hardworking, but they have trouble connecting the letters they see to the sounds those letters make.
About 5% to 10% of Americans have some symptoms of dyslexia, such as slow reading, trouble spelling, or mixing up words. Adults can have this learning disorder, as well. Some people are diagnosed early in life. Others don’t realize they have dyslexia until they get older.
Kids with dyslexia often have normal vision and are just as smart as their peers. But they struggle more in school because it takes them longer to read. Trouble processing words can also make it hard to spell, write, and speak clearly.
What Causes Dyslexia?
It’s linked to genes, which is why the condition often runs in families. You’re more likely to have dyslexia if your parents, siblings, or other family members have it.
The condition stems from differences in parts of the brain that process language. Imaging scans in people with dyslexia show that areas of the brain that should be active when a person reads don’t work properly.
When children learn to read, they first figure out what sound each letter makes. For example, “B” makes a “buh” sound. “M” makes an “em” sound. Then, they learn how to put those sounds in order to form words (“C-A-T” spells “cat”). Finally, they have to figure out what words mean (“Cat” is a furry animal that meows).
For kids who have dyslexia, the brain has a hard time connecting letters to the sounds they make, and then blending those sounds into words. So to someone with dyslexia, the word “cat” might read as “tac.” Because of these mix-ups, reading can be a slow and difficult process.
Dyslexia is different for everyone. Some people have a mild form that they eventually learn how to manage. Others have a little more trouble overcoming it. Even if children aren’t able to fully outgrow dyslexia, they can still go to college and succeed in life.
What are the Symptoms of dyslexia?
The symptoms of dyslexia can be hard to spot until your child starts school. A teacher might be the first one to notice the signs, especially if your child struggles to read, spell, and follow instructions in the classroom.
Dyslexia symptoms change at different ages and stages of life. Each child with dyslexia is different, has unique strengths, and faces distinct challenges. Yet there are some general signs that your child might need some extra help in school.
Symptoms in Preschoolers
Children with dyslexia have trouble processing language. Preschoolers who have this learning disorder lag behind their peers in language skills. They take longer to speak and write than their friends, and they sometimes get their letters and words mixed up.
Preschoolers with dyslexia may show signs like these:
- They find it hard to learn or remember the letters of the alphabet.
- They mispronounce familiar words. “Baby talk” is common.
- They have trouble recognizing letters. For example, they mistake “t” for “d.”
- They don’t recognize rhyming patterns, like “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”
Symptoms in Grade-Schoolers
The signs of dyslexia become more obvious in elementary school. Kids with this disorder have a harder time learning how to read and write than their classmates.
Grade-schoolers with dyslexia
- Read more slowly than other kids their age
- Can’t tell the difference between certain letters or words
- Don’t connect letters with the sounds they make — “buh” for “b” or “em” for “m”
- Write letters or numbers backwards, such as “b” instead of “d”
- Have trouble sounding out words when they read
- Can’t always understand what they’ve read
- Write slowly
- Misspell words — even easy words like “and” and “dog”
- Say that words on the page appear to blur or jump around
- Struggle to follow a series of instructions
Symptoms in Older Children
Kids who were able to hide their symptoms in elementary school might start to have trouble in middle school as the demands on them increase. They can also withdraw socially as it becomes harder for them to communicate with their peers.
Older Children with Dyslexia
- Have trouble writing clearly (make errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation)
- Take a long time to finish their homework or complete tests
- Have messy handwriting
- Speak slowly
- Avoid reading aloud
- Use the wrong words — like “furnish” instead of “finish” or “lotion” for “ocean”
- Can’t remember the names of words, so they might say “um” or “uh” a lot
Treatment of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that involves difficulty reading. Testing and screening for dyslexia are available and are very important. Without proper diagnosis and instruction, dyslexia can lead to frustration, school failure, and low self-esteem.
An assessment for dyslexia includes reading or writing while the tester looks for signs of dyslexia, such as adding, dropping, or changing words; pulling words from other lines; or reversing or transposing words and letters. While not diagnostic in itself, body language may provide a clue: A person with dyslexia may frequently clear his or her throat, tap a pencil, or fidget during the testing out of anxiety about performing the test.
Dyslexia is a disorder present at birth and cannot be prevented or cured, but it can be managed with special instruction and support. Early intervention to address reading problems is important. Parents must understand that children with dyslexia can learn normally, but probably need to learn in different ways than children without the condition. Teaching should be individualized and may involve modeling letters and words in clay or other three-dimensional techniques to help the child learn letters and words.
If you notice any of the signs of dyslexia, your child’s doctor can help determine whether there are physical problems, such as vision problems, that are causing or contributing to your child’s condition, and he or she can refer you to specialists who can diagnose and treat learning disorders. These may include an educational specialist, an educational psychologist, or a speech therapist.
TIPS for parents when you find out your child has Dyslexia:
When you find out your child has dyslexia, you naturally want to do everything you can to help him. But you might feel pulled in a million different directions.
One of the best ways to get started is to find out as much as you can about the learning disability. When you see just how much you can do for your child, it may ease some of your fears and guide you to make more informed choices. Make sure that these sources for learning are trusted, such as those provided by your psychologist.
Next, you’ll want to work closely with your child’s school to make sure all the right services and resources are in place. There should be a support team helping to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child. This will provide classroom accommodations and extra support to facilitate learning. You could ask about the qualifications of the teachers to support your child’s learning and you may want to research schools designed for dyslexic students. You could research summer or weekend reading programs. The earlier you start, the better it will be for your child.