By definition, the most obvious sign of dyslexia is a difficulty learning to read; however, other warning signs are often present prior to explicit reading instruction. If you recognize several of these signs and symptoms in your child, don’t hesitate to share your concerns with your child’s school and request additional input. Sometimes teachers only need some extra confirmation from home to encourage them to investigate the situation more thoroughly.
Unfortunately, even in the later grades, reading struggles often go unidentified. Many dyslexics mask their difficulties by reading by sight or employing other clever strategies to hide their struggles. The typical student with dyslexia will do anything to hide his challenges. Secretly, the student often worries that he is stupid. He fears that if his reading difficulty is exposed, he will be humiliated in the presence of teachers and classmates.
I always encourage parents to investigate further if they observe the following behaviors in their children or if they receive similar descriptions of their children in school:
- A general avoidance of reading
- A false portrayal of their reading skills (e.g., regularly pretending to read books that are outside their reading ability)
- An inability to discuss or recall much about the books they are reading
- A struggle with written expression (rarely offering more than short, poorly composed responses) in all their subjects
- A distinctive gap between oral and written expression (e.g., leading discussions, yet consistently fumbling written assessments covering the same content)
- A strain to keep up with reading and writing expectations inside and outside the classroom
- A persistent difficulty in following written directions on assignments and assessments
- An avoidance of school (frequently complaining of headaches/stomachaches, or making other pleas to stay home)
- A general problem with attention or behavior (taking in frequent bathroom breaks or exhibiting general restlessness in school)
- A persistent sense of anxiety associated with school
- A noticeable decline in math performance when word problems are involved
- A difficulty when decoding new words (e.g., names and places) when reading aloud
- A struggle with proper pronunciation of words, characterized by an accompanying confusion of vowel sounds
- A difficulty learning a foreign language
Important note: Although research indicates that the majority of learning problems are related to dyslexia (estimates are as high as 80 percent), several of the challenges mentioned here indicate specific problems with a distinct skill. A typical dyslexic student will demonstrate a constellation of these symptoms.
If you think your child might be dyslexic, it is important to trust your parental instincts. Do not assume that if the school has not identified your child’s dyslexia, that it must not exist. Sadly, most teachers are not trained to identify the condition — and even if they are, some schools do not encourage the diagnosis.
If you are concerned, start with a simple inquiry, and give your child’s school a chance to respond thoughtfully. Avoidance is not an option, however. Earlier interventions are more effective from human and cost perspectives. When the right supports and accommodations are put in place, dyslexic students are better able to thrive and achieve their full potential in school.