What is Dyslexia?

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. About 13 to 14% of students have dyslexia, and it occurs on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe symptoms.


Dyslexia is disability that affects language processing. Those with dyslexia can struggle to read, write, and spell and it can adversely affect students throughout schooling and into adulthood. It is not something one outgrows, but rather something one learns to manage.  


Parents ask me often if there are tell-tale signs that a child may have dyslexia. Here are some red flags to watch for. Not all the items on this list must be present for a diagnosis of dyslexia.


1. Difficulty at an early age processing or producing language.


2. Student has an early speech and language impairment.


3. Struggles with learning letters and the sounds they make.


4. Problems learning and memorizing number facts.


5. Trouble rhyming and manipulating sounds.


6. Visually similar words are confused.


7. Student guesses the word from the initial letter.


8. A slow reading rate, and oral reading and sounding out of words is labored.


9. The student is a poor speller.


10. Student confuses vowel sounds.


11. There is a family history of dyslexia.


12. Issues with expressing oneself in writing, and with using proper conventions.


13. Poor handwriting.


Although the common understanding of dyslexia is that students with dyslexia read backward, this is not actually true. Those with dyslexia have different brains, and their deficit is with phonological processing, or manipulating our language, not with seeing the words. 


Dr. John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, puts it this way: dyslexia is the "consequence of a brain organization that is not optimal for reading." However, many students with dyslexia do write letters like b, d, j, g, h, p, and q backward. If your child is reversing letters, that isn't a reason to immediately worry. Check to see if other items from the list above are present as well.


Often, if teachers notice a student struggling, they'll ask the school to do a screening. If students fall below benchmarks, interventions are put in place to see if the student will progress. This is known as Response to Intervention. If students do not progress after intensive instruction, the school will perform a more comprehensive assessment.


If you notice your child falling behind his or her peers and struggling with items on the list, it is likely time to ask your school to have your child tested, or to pursue testing outside of the school. It is your right under the IDEA law to request such an assessment if your child is in public school. You can learn more about this .


While this is the typical protocol for public schools, there is no such protocol at private schools because they are not subject to IDEA law. I have found during my 20 years of tutoring, that private schools often miss the warning signs and students do not receive the interventions they need. If you are concerned about your child's performance at school, connect with school leadership to see what they might offer. Often, parents have to connect with an independent evaluator to obtain an assessment.


I have helped parents navigate this decision and I can give you advice on how to proceed and connect you with resources. You will definitely want your child to be diagnosed by a trained professional who does educational testing, and you will want to have them assessed as soon as you can.


While someone may suspect a student has dyslexia based on the list above, a test by a professional is important. If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia by such a professional, they may qualify for accommodations at your school, as well as on standardized testing, which can make a big difference for your child.


If you have questions about dyslexia not answered here, please feel free to reach out. This short TED Ed video is also an excellent resource, as is this page at the International Dyslexia Association.


Photo John Jennings by on Unsplash