Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is more than a tendency to mix up letters in a word. Dyslexia is a neurobiological condition–which means it’s the result of altered structure and function in the brain--that causes difficulties with language. People with dyslexia often have trouble with reading, writing and spelling, and yes, sometimes reverse letters within a word.
Although experts estimate nearly 5 to 20% of school-age children have dyslexia, dyslexia is one of the most commonly misunderstood learning disabilities. Dyslexia isn’t even recognized as an official learning disability in 20 states, and all too often, parents and educators assume kids simply aren’t trying when their academic work lags behind their intellectual ability.
Identifying dyslexia early is critical to finding the help your child may need. Pay close attention if you notice any of these four signs:
Most kids begin speaking around age 1 and are talking in two-word phrases by age 2. And while it’s incredibly common for young children to mispronounce some words, most of what kids say after age 2 should be intelligible to someone outside the family.
Children with dyslexia, though, often talk later, and their speech is frequently riddled with mispronunciations. They may skip parts of words, saying “og,” for instance, instead of “dog,” or “tray” instead of “train.” That’s because people with dyslexia have trouble with phonological processing, or breaking words into their component sounds.
Kids with dyslexia struggle with rhyming. So while most preschoolers have no trouble rambling off a whole list of words that rhyme with cat, a child with dyslexia might not spontaneously be able to name any. Children with dyslexia also have a hard time manipulating the sounds within a word. If you ask a child with dyslexia, “Say ‘stop,’ but without the ‘s,’” he might look at you blankly, or simply repeat “stop.”
Kids with dyslexia also often have a hard time learning common nursery rhymes, or figuring out which letter makes what sound.
Trouble reading is perhaps the most commonly recognized symptom of dyslexia. Kids with dyslexia have a hard time sounding out words. As a result, they often guess at words on the page, based on the accompanying pictures. A child with dyslexia might say “puppy” instead of “dog,” even when you point out the letters d-o-g on the page.
Children with dyslexia may seem to know a word one day, only to struggle with it the next–a tendency that frustrates children, parents and teachers alike. They also struggle with reading comprehension. People with dyslexia exert so much effort on decoding words that they often miss the story and the meaning of the words and sentences they’ve just read.
Because reading is difficult for them, many people with dyslexia avoid reading, especially reading aloud.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many kids with dyslexia quickly develop a hatred of school. Not only is reading challenging, but they typically also struggle with handwriting, spelling and memorization of math facts. They may come to view themselves as “stupid,” and their teachers and peers might perceive them as “lazy” or “dumb” too.
Many kids with dyslexia are curious, creative explorers before they enter school, but become withdrawn and sullen students after beginning school.
If you suspect your child might have dyslexia, it’s best to get a formal evaluation sooner rather than later, because the sooner you can pinpoint the source of your child’s struggles, the sooner you can intervene. Parents can tell when something is wrong – trust your instincts. Your child’s intellectual development and future success hinge on your ability to advocate for him or her.
Start by mentioning your concerns to your child’s pediatrician; he or she may want some tests to rule out other causes of language difficulty, such as poor hearing or vision. If there’s no medical explanation for your child’s difficulty, ask for a referral to a speech and language pathologist (SLP). SLPs can diagnose phonologic difficulties–problems understanding and manipulating sounds in language–and can help your child develop those skills with speech therapy.
Children who are already in school will need extra support and multisensory intervention. Share your concerns with your child’s teacher, and ask to speak with a teacher who specializes in learning disabilities. The International Dyslexia Association has a state-by-state list of professionals who work with individuals and families dealing with dyslexia.