Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia



Spotting the Symptoms of Specific Disorders in Class

 Symptoms of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most common and prevalent of all learning difficulties for children and young people in schools and colleges. The word comes from the Greek meaning 'difficulty with words.' The main symptoms include difficulty with reading and often with writing and spelling and working with numbers. The most common characteristic is that people have difficulty reading and spelling for no apparent reason. The person may be intelligent, able to achieve well in other areas and exposed to the same education as others, but is unable to read at the expected level.


Early identification is really important. If a child shows a cluster of difficulties, you will need to take action. The following can be made into a checklist for each class teacher to use to help with early identification. It is uncommon for a child with dyslexia to only have one Specific Learning Difficulty, many have traits of other SpLDs and many of the symptoms of different SpLDs are common therefore, some of these, such as motor control, may be additional symptoms connected with another SpLD. For example reversing letters is not a symptom of dyslexia however, about 10% of dyslexics may reverse letters.

Pre-school to Year 1

·        Family history of reading and/or spelling difficulties

·       Delayed speech – not saying any words by the time they are one and not really talking until      they are two and a half or older.

·        Problems with pronunciation and mixing up sounds in multi- syllabic words

·        Problems with rhyming words (a big indicator when they are younger) and learning rhymes.

·        Difficulty with print knowledge linking a letter to its sound.

·        Difficulty blending sounds into words

·        Difficulty with learning shapes, colours and how to write their own name.

·        Difficulty with retelling a story in the right order of events.

·        Lots of ear or throat infections ( they may then acquire shared symptoms)

·        Forgets names of common words or people

·        Finds it difficult to dress themselves or to tie their shoelaces- and later any task that has a series of steps which must be completed in a specific order can be difficult- forming letters or long division

·        Has difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball

·        Poor at jigsaws or using pegboards to copy patterns

·        Has difficulty in paying attention, sitting still, listening to stories

·        Likes listening to stories but shows no interest in letters or words

·        Has difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet

·        Finds it hard to carry out two or more instructions at one time

·        Will often put their head down on the desk to watch the tip of the pencil as they write.

A child who has a cluster of these difficulties may be dyslexic however, it is important to remember that, at this age, the levels of development and speed of learning differ significantly for each child in this age group. When I assessed prep children for schools I might say; this child might be dyslexic or it may be developmental however, implement the recommendations immediately as, if it is developmental the they will not harm their learning, and if they are dyslexic it will definitely help.

Primary School

Some of your students may struggle with reading, spelling, writing. They do not progress as quickly as their classmates or they don’t appear to progress at all. There are obvious inconsistencies in these individuals, many of them exhibiting abilities alongside weaknesses. Over time they do not appear to be making the progress you would expect in certain areas. Below are signs of dyslexia, however it is important to remember that all dyslexics will have their own cluster of signs and symptoms


·      Reads below their expected level.

·      Often doesn’t like reading books.

·      Tries to avoid reading aloud in class. Reads very slowly and using a ‘choppy’ cadence.

·      When reading aloud reads often ignores punctuation. Omits, repeats or adds extra words

·      Often has difficulty separating sounds in words, isolating sounds in words and blending sounds to make words.

·      Can read a word on one page but doesn’t recognise it on the next.       

·      When they misread a word it will often be one that looks visually similar, with the same letters such as ‘horse’ and ‘house’ or change the sequence of letters in a word such as ‘who’ for ‘how’ 

·      Problems with reading a single word in isolation, with no picture clues or storyline to assist.

·      When reading will often lose their place on a line, skip lines or may repeat the same line twice

·      When reading a sentence or a story will often substitute word that make sense but doesn’t look at all similar, for example ‘car’ for ‘bus’ or ‘trip’ for ‘journey.’

·      Often misreads or omits small words, for example:   and, the, as, of, from.

·      May read b for d, b for p or u for n = possible directionality difficulty. About 10% dyslexic students have this difficulty

Spelling and Writing

·      Significant difficulty with spelling, when writing sentences and stories.

·      Spelling ability is often worse than their reading ability.

·      Spelling attempts can be bizarre.

·      Regularly confuses certain letters when writing, such as ‘d’ and ‘b’ (they will often use an upper case ‘B’ or ‘D’ etc.) This often relates to the whole problem that some dyslexics have with left and right.

·      Regularly transposes words such as writing ‘pot’ instead of ‘top.’

·      Problems with grammar and/or learning prefixes or suffixes.

·      Can learn words for spelling tests at school and achieve 10 out of 10. But a day later they misspell the same words in their free writing.

·      Find copying from the board very difficult and will frequently lose their place and misspell words.

·      Has poor handwriting, badly formed letters with unusual starting and ending points

·      Has neat handwriting but writes very slowly indeed

·      Spells the same word differently in the same piece of written work

·      Work is often very messy with many crossings out

·      Has poor pencil grip with a tendency to grab the pencil.

·      Forms letters from the wrong place and often has trouble making the letters sit on the line

·      There is usually a vast difference between a child’s verbal ability & the quality of written work.

·      Most of the writing lacks even the basic forms of punctuation.

·      They often can’t self-correct their work when proof-reading.

·      Finds difficulty using dictionaries, directories and encyclopaedias


·      Has trouble learning colours, days of the week, months of the year and their birth date

·        Confuses signs such as x for +

·        Can think at a high level in mathematics, but needs a calculator for simple calculations

·        Finds mental arithmetic at speed very difficult

·      Has problems with sequences like multiplication tables, today/tomorrow

·      Has trouble retaining facts

·      Has extreme difficulty in telling the time from an analogue clock. They may manage o’clock and half past but anything else becomes too difficult for them.

·      They will write some numbers backwards, for example 41 for 14.


·      Poor concentration

·      Unable to follow multi-step directions or routines.

·      Many dyslexics have significant problems in directionality, telling left from right

·      Finds holding a list of instructions in memory difficult, yet can perform all tasks when chunked

·      Is disorganised or forgetful e.g. over sports equipment, lessons, homework, appointments

·      Is often in the wrong place at the wrong time

·      Is excessively tired, due to the amount of concentration and effort required

·      Eemploys work avoidance tactics, such as sharpening pencils and looking for books

·       Sseems to ‘dream’, does not seem to listen or Is easily distracted

·      Is the class clown or is disruptive or withdrawn (these are often cries for help or effective strategies not to fail.)

Secondary School/Adult

It may also help you to recognise and accommodate adults working within your school? The dyslexic teenager or adult will have many of the symptoms described above and:


·      Loses their place easily when reading

·      Difficulties with comprehension as a result of slow reading speed.

·      Slow and stilted at reading                                                                        

·      Doesn’t like reading books, particularly fiction

·      Often misreads information

Writing and Spelling

·      A marked discrepancy between ability and the standard of work being produced.

·      Oral ability is very obviously better than written ability

·      A persistent or severe problem with spelling, even with common words.

·      Poor speller, often uses a number of different spellings for the same word in one piece of writing.

·      Note-taking may present problems due to spelling difficulties, poor short term memory and poor listening skills.

·      Handwriting may be poor and unformed, especially when writing under pressure.

In addition

·      Difficulty learning a foreign language

·      Problems memorising facts

·      Has difficulty remembering homework tasks

·      Dyslexic people experience extreme difficulty organising themselves and their belongings therefore they will often have messy school bags, bedrooms, desks, offices

·       May have difficulty with planning, organising and managing time, materials or tasks.

·       Is forgetful or disorganised

·       Difficulty with time - forgets appointments, late for meetings, wrong venue

·       Cannot remember a full list of instructions

·       Forgets telephone numbers or dials incorrectly

·       Finds it hard to complete assignments on time

·       Often loses information such as addresses, phone numbers, times of meetings

·       Although they find some areas of maths difficult, like multiplication tables, long division, time they often excel at higher maths levels like geometry and algebra.

·        Finds memorising formulae difficult

·        Inaccurate self-image - “I must be thick/lazy/careless” etc.

·        Poor short term memory, especially for language based information, which results in the inefficient processing into long-term memory.

·        Students/employees often show a lack of fluency in expressing their ideas, or show difficulties with vocabulary.

Some students/employees may have continuing pronunciation or word finding difficulties, which may inhibit them when talking or discussing in large groups.

Strengths of people who are dyslexic

Dyslexic people have a unique brain function which makes reading, spelling and writing difficult. However they often have strengths or are gifted in other areas controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain. These talents show particularly in creative areas and design. Therefore artistic skills, athletic, musical, cooking and mechanical ability, imagination and creative thinking are often areas in which dyslexics excel. They often have excellent visual spatial skills and excel in careers such as engineering, IT design, carpentry and architicture.


Links with other Conditions- Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, (ADD or ADHD).

ADD is a totally separate and different condition to dyslexia. However research has shown that approximately 40% of people who are dyslexic also have ADD (or ADHD)

Light Sensitivity

A small amount of people who are dyslexic also have a sensitivity to light, this is sometimes called scotopic sensitivity. Many people who are not dyslexic also have this condition, it is not considered to be associated with or a symptom of dyslexia however, this condition makes it difficult for them to read black print on white paper as the print seems to move about or can blur. This can be remedied by using different coloured paper as a background or using coloured plastic overlays, which makes the print stay still and therefore easier to read.

When to seek Help

If you tick a cluster of these warning signs, especially if there is a history of dyslexia in your family, you will know without a diagnosis that you children will struggle to learn to read. Firstly, you should talk to your school as they may be able to assess for difficulties and provide a program of intervention. The other option is to seek an assessment for you or your child.

NB A child with no learning difficulties can often exhibit many these symptoms up to the age of 6 years. Whilst it would be possible to assess and determine learning difficulties in young children and provide recommendations for support, a formal diagnosis of dyslexia could not be made

Children should have had a sight and hearing test to discount these as possible contributors to the difficulty. They should also have had at least 6 m months of reading intervention before you request a formal assessment.

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