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Dyslexia in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that causes decoding problems with reading. Decoding means breaking words down into what they mean. A learning disability means your child has trouble with an academic skill even though tests show he or she is intelligent. Dyslexia is caused by the way your child's brain developed before he or she was born. The parts of the brain that handle language do not develop as they should. Other parts of the brain, such as the parts that control hands-on skills, may develop especially well.

What are the signs and symptoms of dyslexia?

  • Trouble spelling words
  • Delays in learning the alphabet
  • Not being able to hear sounds that are part of a word
  • Trouble pronouncing written words, especially words such as pint and mint that do not rhyme but are spelled alike
  • Struggles in expressing thoughts verbally or recalling words to say
  • Not knowing left from right, how to tell time, or how to follow directions
  • Trouble remembering new vocabulary words or numbers written in sequence, such as a phone number
  • Mixing up the order of letters when writing words
  • Leaving out words in a sentence or letters in a word when writing or reading

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Your child's teachers may suspect your child has dyslexia from his or her homework and test scores. He or she may avoid reading out loud in class or writing answers on the board. He or she may not be able to answer questions about work read at home or in the classroom. He or she may not want to read another student's writing in class or do group writing assignments. Healthcare providers will give your child reading, writing, and vocabulary tests to find problems that may mean he or she has dyslexia. For example, your child may be given syllables and asked to create words out of the syllables. He or she may also be asked to repeat a list of words to test how well he or she hears sounds that are part of a word.

How is dyslexia managed?

  • Learning specialists such as tutors and speech therapists can teach your child in a way that makes sense to him or her. Children with dyslexia often have strong hands-on skills, such as building objects. Specialists can help your child learn vocabulary words through hands-on games and puzzles. Your child may be shown a letter of the alphabet and asked what sound it makes or what words start with the letter. Your child may be asked to write the letter in the air or on paper while he or she says the letter out loud.
  • Electronic devices include computer programs that type what your child says, or that read print out loud. Many libraries carry books on tape. Your child may also be able to request his or her textbooks to be read onto a tape. Your older child may be able to record a class and listen to it later. He or she may be able to take notes on a laptop. These methods can help your child focus on the information so he or she does not lose focus trying to spell each word correctly.
  • An individualized education program (IEP) may be used through high school graduation. The IEP identifies your child's learning needs and helps his or her teachers understand how to help him or her learn. His or her plan may include a person who takes notes for your child during class. The IEP may help your child build skills he or she will need after high school. He or she may be able to use other accommodations in college to help him or her continue to succeed. Examples include verbal instead of written exams, or tests that are not timed.

What can I do to help support my child?

  • Always encourage your child. Reading may be tiring for your child, and he or she may lose focus quickly. Praise him or her for reading, even if it is only for a few minutes. A few minutes at a time will help build his or her confidence and prevent fatigue. Encourage him or her to take short breaks but always come back to the homework and finish. You may feel frustrated if your child takes a long time to write or read an assignment. Do not tell your child reading and writing are easy or that it should not take so long to finish. These types of comments may make him or her feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble.
  • Read often with your child. Read stories with your child every night before bed. Have your child sit where he or she can see the words as you read them out loud. Point at words as you read them. Tell him or her the meaning of new words. Then have him or her tell you what the words mean. Context and repetition will help him or her remember new words more easily. Ask your child to tell you what he or she thinks will happen next in the story, and to name items pictured on the page. This will help him or her with word recall and story comprehension.
    Read with Your Child
  • Encourage your older child to read to you. Be positive and try not to tell your child words if he or she hesitates. He or she may need to sound out the word slowly and carefully. After your child reads a page, ask him or her to tell you what he or she read and what he or she thinks will come next.
  • Help your child read outside of school and home. For example, read road signs as you drive by them. Road signs often include pictures that can help your child understand the words and remember them. Have your child tell you the company name that goes with a logo he or she knows. These activities will help him or her understand that reading skills are not just important for school.
  • Focus on your child's strengths. Your child may feel his or her problems with reading mean he or she is not good at anything. Help him or her understand that reading is only one of many skills a person can have. Children with dyslexia are often creative. Let your child tell you about his or her interests, and help him or her build confidence in his or her abilities. Your child may also be more willing to work on his or her reading skills if he or she feels confident about other skills.
  • Do not focus on grades. Praise improvement, such as an improved test score or more points for completed homework. It is okay to praise a good grade on an assignment or test, but do not make grades the goal.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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