Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia

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

How do you know if a student in your classroom is exhibiting signs of dyslexia? The earliest clues primarily 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

  • Difficulty 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

  • 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, children with dyslexia may also exhibit strengths in higher-level thinking processes including:

  • 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

  • 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, dyslexic students may also 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

You may notice the following signs of of reading difficulties:

  • Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
  • Difficulty spelling phonetically
  • 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
  • Confusion with small words: “at” for “to,” “said” for “and,” “does” for “goes”
  • Guessing the correct word: “purple for pickle”, ‘wondered for wounded’
  • Relies on predicting or context
  • Difficulty learning new vocabulary
  • Transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs
  • Trouble remembering facts
  • Slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding
  • Difficulty planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks
  • Awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.)
  • Poor fine motor coordination