Understanding Dyslexia

By The Understood Team

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading. Kids with dyslexia have trouble reading accurately and fluently. They may also have trouble with reading comprehension, spelling and writing.

Raising a child with dyslexia is a journey. As you move through it, you’ll gain a lot of knowledge about your child’s challenges with reading—and about the many ways you can help her succeed at school and in life.

Dyslexia Fact Sheet

Get a one-page fact sheet on dyslexia.

This overview can answer many of your basic questions. It can also lead you to more in-depth information about this common learning issue.

If you’re concerned your child may have dyslexia, here are some steps you can take. And if you’ve just gotten a dyslexia diagnosis or school identification, learn what you can do next.

Snapshot: What Dyslexia Is

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that makes it difficult for people to read. It’s the most common learning issue, although it’s not clear what percentage of kids have it. Some experts believe the number is between 5 and 10 percent. Others say as many as 17 percent of people show signs of reading issues. The reason for the wide range is that experts may define dyslexia in different ways.

Dyslexia is mainly a problem with reading accurately and fluently. Kids with dyslexia may have trouble answering questions about something they’ve read. But when it’s read to them, they may have no difficulty at all.

Dyslexia can create difficulty with other skills, however. These include:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Spelling
  • Writing
  • Math
Elijah Short

Meet Elijah, a high school science whiz with dyslexia.

People sometimes believe dyslexia is a visual issue. They think of it as kidsreversing letters or writing backwards. But dyslexia is not a problem with visionor with seeing letters in the wrong direction.

It’s important to know that while dyslexia impacts learning, it’s not a problem of intelligence. Kids with this issue are just as smart as their peers. Many people have struggled with dyslexia and gone on to have successful careers. That includes a long list of actors,entrepreneurs and elected officials.

If your child has dyslexia, she won’t outgrow it. But there are supports, teaching approaches and strategies to help her overcome her challenges.

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Dyslexia Signs and Symptoms

Dyslexia impacts people in varying degrees, so symptoms may differ from one child to another. Generally, symptoms show up as problems with accuracy and fluency in reading and spelling. But in some kids, dyslexia can impact writing, math and language, too.

A key sign of dyslexia in kids is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds and then use that skill to read words accurately and fluently.

One reason kids have difficulty decoding is that they often struggle with a more basic language skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognize individual sounds in words. Trouble with this skill can show up as early as preschool. Read about how phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics are related.

Travis Harker

Hear what a doctor discovered through his daughter’s dyslexia.

In some kids, dyslexia isn’t picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These may include grammar, reading comprehension, reading fluency, sentence structure and more in-depth writing.

One potential sign of dyslexia is when kids avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. Kids may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they’ve mastered the basics of reading.

Signs of dyslexia can look different at different ages. Here are some examples of signs of dyslexia:

Preschool

  • Has trouble recognizing whether two words rhyme
  • Struggles with taking away the beginning sound from a word
  • Struggles with learning new words
  • Has trouble recognizing letters and matching them to sounds

See more signs of dyslexia in preschool.

Grade School

  • Has trouble taking away the middle sound from a word or blending several sounds to make a word
  • Often can’t recognize common sight words
  • Quickly forgets how to spell many of the words she studies
  • Gets tripped up by word problems in math

See more signs of dyslexia in grade school. Watch videos to see what reading fluency can look like in kindergarten and in grade 1grade 2grade 3grade 4, and grade 5.

Middle School

  • Makes many spelling errors
  • Frequently has to re-read sentences and passages
  • Reads at a lower academic level than how she speaks

See more signs of dyslexia in middle school.

High School

  • Often skips over small words when reading aloud
  • Doesn’t read at the expected grade level
  • Strongly prefers multiple-choice questions over fill-in-the-blank or short answer.

See more signs of dyslexia in high school.

Dyslexia doesn’t just affect learning. It can impact everyday skills and activities, as well. These include social interaction, memory and dealing with stress.

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Other Issues That Can Co-Occur With Dyslexia

Many kids have more than one learning and attention issue. There are a number of issues that often co-occur with dyslexia. There are also issues that have symptoms that can look like dyslexia symptoms. That’s why testing for dyslexia should be part of a full evaluationthat looks at all areas of learning.

Anya

Watch the inspiring story of Anya, who has dyslexia and ADHD.

Here are some issues that often co-occur with or may be mistaken for dyslexia:

  • ADHD can make it difficult to stay focused during reading and other activities. Roughly 40 percent of students with ADHD also have dyslexia. But kids with dyslexia may fidget or act out in class because of frustration over reading, not ADHD.

  • Executive functioning issues can affect different skills and areas of learning.Executive functions include organization, flexible thinking, and working memory.

    Learn how executive functioning issues can impact reading.

  • Slow processing speed can impact reading, as well as many other areas of learning. Kids who struggle with processing speed are slower to take in, process and respond to information. That can make it harder to master basic reading skills and get the meaning of what they’ve read.

    Learn more about how slow processing speed impacts learning.

  • Auditory processing disorder (APD) affects a child’s ability to sort through the sounds she hears. This can make reading difficult. Kids with APD often have trouble recognizing the difference between letter sounds and sounding out new words.

    Learn about the difference between dyslexia and APD.

  • Visual processing issues make it hard to process what the eyes see. Kids withvisual processing issues may complain of blurry vision or of letters “hopping around on the page.” They may try to compensate by squinting or closing one eye. They often reverse letters when writing and struggle to stay within the lines.

    Learn about the difference between dyslexia and visual processing issues.

  • Dysgraphia can affect a child’s ability to spell and to form letters and numbers. It can also make it hard to organize thoughts on paper. Many kids with dysgraphia also have dyslexia.

    Learn about the difference between dyslexia and dysgraphia.

  • Dyscalculia makes it hard to do math. Many kids have serious difficulties in both reading and math and may have dyscalculia in addition to dyslexia. Trouble learning to count is associated with both.

    Learn about the difference between dyslexia and dyscalculia.

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