What is dyslexia?
How do I know if my child or young adult has dyslexia?
Some signs of dyslexia may include:

  • Difficulty learning and remembering the names of letters and the corresponding sounds in the alphabet
  • Cannot separate the sounds within a word; for example, h-a-t.
  • Makes errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page; for example, saying “puppy” instead of “dog” when shown picture labeled “dog”
  • Difficulty remembering sight words
  • Reading is slow, awkward, and/or robotic
  • Trouble reading unfamiliar words, often making wild guesses because they cannot sound out the word, or makes same errors over and over
  • Confuses words or reads words differently; for example, reads “saw” for “was” or “what” for “that”
  • Omits small words or parts of words when reading aloud
  • Difficulty spelling words or spells phonetically

School and Life
  • Trouble finishing tests on time because of slow reading or writing
  •  May be good in math but struggles with word problems
  • Practiced spelling words do not stick; do not show up in daily writing
  • Demonstrates low self-esteem and/or school avoidance
  • May act out when required to read or avoid situations where reading/writing is required
  • Family history of dyslexia

Speaking and Listening
  • Difficulty recognizing rhyming patterns (sit, hit, bit)
  • Mispronounces familiar words; persistent baby talk (i.e., hangaburger, refrigalator)
  • Slow to find the word to use in a conversation
  • Searches for specific word but uses vague language such as “stuff” or “thing” instead of naming object
  • Needs extra time to respond to questions

Potential Strengths
  • Understands most of what is read aloud
  • Oral language is stronger than phonemic awareness and decoding abilities
  • Larger vocabulary than peers
  • Stronger with tasks that are meaningful rather than rote memorization
  • Stronger listening vocabulary than indicated by reading and writing scores and samples
  • Curious
  • Creative
  • Imaginative
  • Ability to figure things out
  • Good understanding of new concepts
  • Relatively strong thinking skills: conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction, gets the “big picture”

Formal evaluation is necessary to confirm dyslexia
Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis, so schools will not typically identify a student as having dyslexia. However, the school can conduct evaluations to see if a student struggles in the areas associated with dyslexia.

Clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, child neurologists, and reading specialists can test for dyslexia. A pediatrician will not typically evaluate for dyslexia unless the pediatrician is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. It can be helpful to interview a doctor ahead of time to ensure they are knowledgeable about dyslexia and will use the word dyslexia if warranted in their report (as opposed to describing the student with a reading disability).

Is a diagnosis of dyslexia necessary for a student to receive an IEP?
A diagnosis is not necessary, nor does it automatically qualify a student for an IEP or special education services. However a diagnosis can be helpful in the following ways:

For the student, a diagnosis may help them understand why they are struggling, that their struggles in reading are common, and that they are not “stupid”, which is a common feeling among struggling readers.

For families and educators, a diagnosis helps them understand why a student is struggling to read and consider new approaches to help the student learn to read. People with dyslexia often require a structured literacy approach rather than guided reading or balanced literacy approaches.
Encouraging your child is important
  • Listen to your child’s feelings. Since language problems may make it difficult to express their feelings, it’s important that you help your child learn to talk about feelings
  • Reward the effort, not just the product. For example, grades should be less important than progress
  • When confronting unacceptable behavior, adults must not inadvertently discourage the child. Words such as “lazy” or “incorrigible” can seriously damage your child’s self-image.

Tips for teens and young adults
  • Talk to your teen’s school about using a multisensory literacy approach, designed to engage kids through sight, hearing, movement, and touch.
  • Explore accommodations such as having a note-taker, doing an oral report or video project instead of a written assignment, getting extra time on tests, and not being asked to read out loud in class.
  • Try assistive technology tools such as audiobooks, text-to-speech apps, and digital textbooks.
  • Tap into your child’s interests when it comes to reading; for example, the sports pages or fashion magazines may appeal to your teen or young adult.
  • Boost self-esteem by sharing success stories about people who have dyslexia.
  • Practice self-advocacy; the more comfortable teens and young adults are talking about their reading issues, the more likely they are to ask for help when they need it.

Adapted from A Day in the Life of a Teen with Dyslexia 
Personal perspective on dyslexia
Jennifer, an adult with dyslexia, shares her experience:

What does it feel like to have dyslexia? Mostly frustrating. I have ADHD as well, so it makes it extra difficult to focus on reading important things or doing anything for work that involves reading. I hate it when anyone watches me type because it looks like I have limited education despite my Bachelors degree. I get nervous about how it looks then mess up even more. It feels like anything with reading or writing takes me 3x’s longer than the average person. So it is just something I have to plan for, or it does not get done on time.

Using tools and strategies have helped me. My vocabulary is very good but I can’t spell many words, so I use Google and spell check to nail down exactly what I am trying to say. Calculators and reading software are also good accommodations. Learning spelling tricks and little rhymes always helped me too, like “fri the end or your friend, or I before E except after C." At some point, one needs to move on with their life and stop focusing on what they can’t do. These tools have helped me to just move on. My strengths are beyond the basic mathematics I never mastered or the basic words I struggle to spell. I can function as a pretty average adult because someone said. “Here, this program will help.” I have been able to pursue a livable wage and reach people on levels I would not have been able to if I did not have some accommodations. 

Part of my coping with dyslexia is just believing I can do it, despite the labels I have. A quote that stuck with me is, “Once you label me, you negate me.” I have been labeled as learning disabled. All this label has meant to me is that I have to find creative ways to fit in and accomplish things I need to get done. 

Like all things in life, focusing on the journey and the learning in the moment has helped me. Being able to see the big picture and work through issues with a more focused appreciation of the task and what the larger lesson is has helped me. This has been my philosophy in adulthood.

I don’t like telling anyone about my so called “disabilities” because I don’t want anyone to have a notion about this diagnosis that would pre-define me before they see the quality of my work. Unfortunately this attitude does not eliminate my need to tell people, but at least it helps me to continue to learn more about myself and others with more grace and empathy.
Additional resources
Starbridge document on Dyslexia

7 Things I Wish People Knew About Parenting Kids With Dyslexia

Bookshare - free and low cost ebooks and audiobooks for kids, teens, and adults https://www.bookshare.org

3-Minute Tutorial: How to Use Text-to-Speech on a Mobile Device

Technology for Dyslexia: Navigating High School and Beyond

International Dyslexia Association https://dyslexiaida.org/