Understanding Dyslexia in Children: Causes, Signs, Interventions

dyslexia in children

As a parent, you may be aware of dyslexia but unclear on what it means and how it shows up. The way dyslexia is conceptualized and understood has changed a lot over the years. 

People used to believe childhood dyslexia was an issue that impacted how kids see words. In fact, a lot of people still understand dyslexia as the condition that causes kids to see words backwards and jumbled up. However, this pervasive misconception goes against what we now know about dyslexia. 

The truth is, kids with dyslexia tend to have normal vision and score well on cognitive tests. Still, these children struggle with reading and writing fluently and accurately. Today, we understand dyslexia is a type of learning disability. It’s categorized as a developmental language disorder that especially affects a child’s ability to read. 

Children with dyslexia also have difficulties with spelling, writing, and remembering what they’ve read. 

This article will explore dyslexia in children, and will look closely at its signs and symptoms. It will also discuss how dyslexia impacts children and how parents can best support a child with dyslexia. 

What is Dyslexia

Childhood dyslexia is a type of learning disability that affects literacy skills development. It’s now known that kids with dyslexia struggle in particular with phonological awareness skills. These skills involve remembering and recognizing sounds, sound combinations, and whole words. This is key to our ability to read, because we must learn to map sounds and sound combinations onto written text. 

It’s difficult for researchers to say with certainty how common dyslexia is. Some estimate it affects one in five people, or up to 20% of children. 

It may seem like the prevalence of dyslexia is rising. But its increased diagnosis may also be due to our improved awareness of its symptoms and enhanced testing systems. This means more children with dyslexia are being identified and receiving the support they need to learn. 

Let’s explore some common signs of dyslexia in children, to help you understand how it tends to show up. 

Signs of Dyslexia in Children

Dyslexia in children presents with some common signs and symptoms. In children who are not yet literate, dyslexia can be more difficult to spot.  

Here are some signs and symptoms of childhood dyslexia, grouped based on age range and developmental milestones. 

Birth to two years of age

This age range involves a massive amount of language learning. It’s also the age range where dyslexia symptoms can begin to be noticed. Many children aren’t diagnosed with dyslexia until later, because the signs at this age can be subtle and are often attributed to other causes. Signs in this age range include:

  • Difficulty recognizing the letters in their own name
  • Difficulty recalling and repeating nursery rhymes
  • Unable to sing the alphabet song
  • Mispronouncing simple words
  • Inability to tell if two words rhyme (also known as rhyming discrimination) 
  • Delayed talking 

Preschool to first grade

This age range is full of important milestones in language and literacy skills. Children who struggle to develop these skills may be dealing with dyslexia or another type of language or learning disorder. Signs of dyslexia at this age include:

  • Difficulty separating words into sounds and syllables
  • Struggles to create rhymes 
  • Difficulties in mapping sounds onto letters
  • Taking a long time to read and write 
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Trouble sequencing information
  • Difficulties pronouncing words 
  • Poor word recall

First grade through eighth grade

This timeframe involves lots of important learning skills development. Once a child reaches third grade, an important shift happens in educational instruction. This shift assumes children now know how to read, and places emphasis on reading to learn. Children with dyslexia may struggle at this stage, and are at risk to fall behind their same-aged peers. Signs include:

  • Reduced vocabulary
  • Slow reading, with lot of pauses and mistakes
  • Difficulty sounding out words, especially longer ones
  • Difficulty recalling what they’ve read 
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty sequencing information they’ve read 
  • Trouble with writing skills 
  • May reverse letters when reading 

Because of these issues, children with dyslexia may not find reading enjoyable and may seek to avoid it. They may also find reading frustrating. This can lead to reduced self-esteem. It can also intensify learning issues, as a child who avoids reading has less opportunities to learn and practice literacy skills. They also have less opportunities to learn new information from reading. 

What Causes Dyslexia

Dyslexia was first coined in the late 1800s as a problem with reading due to visual deficits. Dyslexia is now understood to be a more complex language issue than just a problem with reading.  

As a result of this improved awareness of the foundations of dyslexia, we’re better equipped to explore how and why it may develop. And, kids with dyslexia are able to be diagnosed earlier and earlier. This can allow interventions to begin sooner in a child’s development, even before they begin reading.  

Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder. The exact causes of developmental dyslexia are not fully known. Dyslexia is believed to be caused by a variety of factors. These include:

  • Genetics. Dyslexia is known to run in families. A child with a dyslexic parent is 40-60% more likely to develop the disorder. This percentage increases when more than one family member has dyslexia. 
  • Brain differences. People with dyslexia have differences in the way their brains develop and function. These differences in structure and chemistry may predispose them to difficulties with reading. 
  • Auditory processing deficits. Some researchers suggest that those with dyslexia have differences in temporal processing. This means the ability to process what you hear over time. This processing issue can cause “disconnectivity” in the parts involved in language and literacy.  
  • Visual processing deficits. One recent study suggests children with dyslexia may experience slower visual processing speeds. This can impact their ability to process written text quickly and accurately. 
  • Environmental risk factors. In some cases, dyslexia can be developed as a result of environmental factors. These factors can disrupt brain development and function, leading to dyslexia. Possibilities include fetal infections and exposure to toxins that disrupt brain development. 
  • Additional risk factors. Dyslexia can result from toxic exposures, traumatic brain injuries, and other neurological events. Children without access to reading materials and learning supports can also be at risk for developing dyslexia. 

Children with dyslexia tend to have average or above average intelligence. Dyslexia is not associated with intellectual disabilities. Those with dyslexia are considered to be neurodivergent. This simply means that their brains function differently. 

Nowadays, the educational system is designed to understand and include those with learning and thinking differences like dyslexia. This push toward inclusive education has been shown to benefit all students. 

Impact of Dyslexia on Children

Dyslexia can have wide ranging impacts on a child’s educational experience, personal outlook, and prospects. 

Potential impacts of dyslexia on children include: 

  • Poor parent-child relationships 

Who Diagnoses Dyslexia in Children?

If you suspect your child has dyslexia but they haven’t yet been diagnosed, the first step is to discuss it with your pediatrician. If appropriate, they will be able to make referrals to specialists who can assess your child and rule out any other possible causes. 

Dyslexia is typically diagnosed once a child begins reading, because that’s when its symptoms become most noticeable. But dyslexia can be diagnosed earlier than that. Dyslexia can be diagnosed in preschool. Children have developed language skills at this age and early symptoms of dyslexia can be apparent. 

The process of diagnosing dyslexia often begins by ruling out other possible reasons for your child’s issues. It can involve the work and input of many experts and professionals, in order to make a clear diagnosis of dyslexia. 

Specialists who may be involved in diagnosing dyslexia include:

  • Speech-language pathologists
  • Psychologists (clinical or educational) 
  • Audiologists (hearing specialists) 
  • Neurologists (brain specialists) 
  • Learning disabilities specialists 
  • Vision specialists (like ophthalmologists) 

Diagnosis dyslexia typically starts with a preliminary screening. This is then followed up by a more thorough assessment. This helps professionals get a sense of your child’s needs and strengths. Knowing this helps them select appropriate materials and tests for their deeper evaluations. 

Your child’s evaluation will likely be done by a speech-language pathologist or learning specialist. They will choose assessments to understand your child’s language, cognition, and reading abilities. 

Another important part of your child’s evaluation process involves getting information from you. This includes gathering information about your family history. Because dyslexia has a strong genetic component, it’s important to learn if other members of your family have known or suspected dyslexia. 

Formally diagnosing dyslexia typically falls in the purview of an educational psychologist, neurologist, or other medical professional. These professionals are informed by the work of speech pathologists and learning specialists. 

With a learning disability like dyslexia, a formal diagnosis is important. This is how your child qualifies for educational support services. A dyslexia diagnosis also qualifies your child to receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. These are educational plans that ensure personalized support for children in need. 

Having a support plan in place means your child has a team of professionals who will create a customized educational plan for them. You’ll also be a vital member of this team. Your child’s team will make a plan for their support services, and create several specific educational goals to work toward. This means your child will be seen by a speech pathologist and other learning specialists. These support services will help them to navigate the educational system with dyslexia. 

Let’s look at how these professionals and you can support your child with dyslexia. 

Supporting Children with Dyslexia

There’s so much that can be done to support your child with dyslexia in accessing the educational experience they deserve. 

Possibilities for supporting your child with dyslexia include:

Early Intervention

The sooner your child can be diagnosed with dyslexia and receive treatment, the better. Children in preschool with dyslexia can receive support and instruction to enhance their language skills development. This can include supporting them with learning letters, rhyming, and separating out word parts. Learning these skills will help your dyslexic child when they begin to read. 

Multimodal Learning Techniques

Kids with dyslexia often benefit from information that’s presented in more than one way. This can mean providing assignments verbally and in writing. It can include visual aids, like picture schedules. It can involve watching a video and following along on a worksheet. By using more than one of their senses when learning, your child with dyslexia is more likely to retain what they learn. 

Assistive Technology

In some cases, dyslexic children benefit from assistive devices to support their learning. This can include computers or tablets that are enabled with talk-to-text software. It can also include communication boards. Your child may benefit from note taking software, to ensure they’re getting all the information they need to complete assignments. 

Individualized Education Plans

A formal diagnosis of dyslexia qualifies your child for an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives children with disabilities access to support. This includes therapy services, learning support services, and special educational services. Your child’s educational team meets regularly to assess their progress and determine goals. 

Classroom Accommodations and Support

Your child’s teacher can make modifications to the classroom and how they provide instruction to support your child. This can include considering where your child sits in the classroom. It can also mean providing your child with assignments in both written and audio form. It can include chunking assignments into smaller parts, or providing your child with an outline. It can also include assigning a note taking buddy to help them organize written information. Your child may benefit from extra time to complete written assignments, or even be allowed to complete some portions orally. 

Involving Parents and Caregivers

You are such an important part of your child’s support system. Support them by reading with them to help them practice their skills. You can also partner with your child’s therapists to engage them in appropriate home carryover activities to support their progress. Most of all, you can support your child’s emotional needs. After all, dyslexia is not their fault. You can remind them that they are just as smart as anyone else, and they’re not alone in facing their learning challenges. Dyslexia is known to impact self-esteem, so encouraging your child is an important part of their journey. 

Speech and Language Therapy

These therapists are highly trained at treating literacy and language skills, including dysgraphia treatment, in children in need. They can support your child in learning core literacy skills and in practicing their reading and writing. They can create personalized goals for your child and provide treatment to reach them. They can also train you and your child in the use of strategies to compensate for your child’s dyslexia. 

Do Kids with Dyslexia Enjoy Reading?

Kids with dyslexia may not enjoy reading as much as their non-dyslexic peers. That’s because kids with dyslexia often feel frustrated with the extra effort it takes them to read. They may not feel confident at reading, and may seek to avoid it as a result. This can lead to less encounters with reading, and exacerbate the issue. 

That’s not to say that kids with dyslexia can’t learn to enjoy reading. Involving them in shared book reading with you can be a way to support their love of reading. Choosing books on topics they’re interested in can also stoke their enjoyment. This can also help build their awareness that reading is an important way we learn new information and ideas. 

Do Kids with Dyslexia Talk Late?

Children with dyslexia may also have delayed speech development. It’s believed that dyslexia has roots in early language development. Normal speech development exists in a spectrum of ages. But some children with dyslexia don’t begin talking until they are three years old. This is behind the typical developmental benchmarks for speech. This could be related to dyslexic children’s issues with processing speech sounds. 

Though the roots of dyslexia are present in early language skills, its symptoms are often not recognized until later on in a child’s development. But subtle signs and symptoms of dyslexia are present when a child is first learning speech at between one and two years of age. At present, most kids with dyslexia aren’t diagnosed until they enter school at around age five or six. 

Dyslexia does not necessarily worsen with age. But, its symptoms can impact more of a child’s learning skills as they grow older and are expected to read fluently and to focus on reading to learn. Research shows that normal aging can cause dyslexia symptoms in adults without dyslexia. This means that adults with dyslexia may see their symptoms worsen as they age. 

Can a Child Recover from Dyslexia?

You may wonder and hope that your child will outgrow their dyslexia. Unfortunately, dyslexia involves differences in the way the brain is structured and functions. This means it is a lifelong condition. But that doesn’t mean your dyslexic child cannot learn strategies to thrive with dyslexia. 

Working with a speech pathologist can maximize your child’s potential for learning and growth. Speech pathologists are extensively trained in normal and abnormal language acquisition. This makes them uniquely suited to support your child with dyslexia. Speech pathologists are also qualified to treat literacy skills. 

Working with a skilled therapist can help your child learn strategies for overcoming dyslexia. It can also help them learn and practice important language and literacy skills. Your child’s SLP can also work with your child’s teacher to make accommodations to support their learning while in school. And they can work with you to help you support your child at home. 

Dyslexia in Children FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions, to help you understand dyslexia and support your child. 

How to test for dyslexia in children?

There’s no one test that can determine the presence of dyslexia. Specialists gather information from many different sources in order to diagnose dyslexia. 

A speech pathologist or educational psychologist often selects some standardized tests to assess your child’s reading, language, and cognitive abilities. The results of these tests are combined with information gathered about your family history. 

You’ll also probably be asked to complete some questionnaires, participate in discussions, or both. You’ll also be asked to provide information on your child’s development and medical history. 

Your child will also likely be given other tests, meant to rule out other possible conditions. These may include hearing and vision tests, as well as neurological and psychological testing. 

With all this information, specialists can determine if your child is dealing with dyslexia or another issue that’s impacting their learning. 

How many children in the USA are affected by dyslexia?

It’s difficult to say with certainty how many children in the United States are affected by dyslexia. But researchers estimate that as many as one in five children, or 20% of children in this country are impacted by dyslexia. 

Dyslexia is also the most common learning disorder, accounting for nearly 90% of all learning disorders in this country. 

At what point is dyslexia in children usually noticed?

Dyslexia is most often diagnosed once a child enters elementary school, at around five or six years of age. This is the age at which a child begins reading and writing with more regularity. This is when dyslexia symptoms become most apparent. It’s also when they have a group of educators around them who have training in recognizing the signs of dyslexia.

Can you identify dyslexia before school?

Even though dyslexia is most often diagnosed once a child enters school, its signs and symptoms are present before that time. Dyslexia symptoms in children who are not yet reading and writing can be more difficult to pinpoint. This is why many children are not diagnosed until later on. 

But early identification can help children overcome their issues with language and learning. 

If your child struggles with verbal language and emergent literacy skills, you can always speak to their pediatrician. If necessary, your child’s pediatrician can make inquiries and referrals to qualified professionals, like speech pathologists and educational psychologists.These professionals can help you determine if your child’s issues are due to dyslexia. 

How early can the signs of dyslexia be spotted?

The signs of dyslexia can be spotted as soon as a child begins speaking, or around age one or two years. Early signs of dyslexia may be more difficult to spot, but they are present

Younger children with dyslexia may have delayed speech. They may mispronounce familiar words, or rely on baby talk. Younger children with dyslexia often have difficulty recalling nursery rhymes, or singing the alphabet song. They may also have trouble recognizing the letters of their name or knowing if two words rhyme. These are all possible signs of dyslexia in young children. 

Using Forbrain to Help with Dyslexia

Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset. It supports learning by helping children to hear and process the sounds they produce. With Forbain, a child can hear their own voice, loud and clear. This can help them self-monitor their speech, and make any adjustments needed. Wearing Forbain can support improved language skills and recall abilities. It can also enhance a child’s motivation and engagement in learning and therapy. 

For children with dyslexia, Forbrain can enhance language processing abilities. As a result of hearing their own voices in real time at an increased volume, Forbrain can support sight word learning in children with dyslexia. Because sight words are an important part of literacy, this can help dyslexic children read more fluently and confidently. 

View this video to learn about how Forbrain is used by speech pathologists to support children with dyslexia. 

Final Words

Childhood dyslexia is a lifelong learning disorder, caused by differences in the way the brain develops and functions. Dyslexia runs in families. It’s now known that its roots are present in early language skills, but it is not often diagnosed until a child begins learning to read. 

Children with dyslexia have difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling. They also have challenges with learning emergent literacy skills. This includes skills like rhyming, separating words into parts, and recalling the letters of the alphabet. 

Early recognition and intervention are important for children with dyslexia. This can help them overcome their issues with language and catch up to their same-aged peers. 

Therapy with a speech pathologist can teach them strategies to deal with dyslexia. Speech pathologists can also work with teachers to make necessary accommodations for these kids. These can include modifications to the classroom and learning materials. It can also include parent and caregiver education and training, so you can support your child with dyslexia at home. 

Children with dyslexia benefit from individualized strategies to help them learn in the ways they learn best. Parents can partner with teachers and healthcare professionals to ensure your child gets the help they need. You can also support their self-esteem as they grow and learn new skills. Given the support they need, children with dyslexia can thrive, in school and in life. 


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Crystal Bray

Crystal Bray is a speech-language pathologist and healthcare copywriter. She’s passionate about providing individuals and families with the quality health and medical information they need to make informed choices. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and enjoys traveling, reading, and being outdoors.