What is Dyslexia and How to Recognize if a Child is Dyslexic

For any child, a struggle with literacy or learning to read can make keeping up in school difficult and make parents or guardians grapple with various way to help their child succeed. And while there are various issues that may cause reading difficulty, perhaps the most well-known amongst the common population is dyslexia.

As clinicians who may work with children struggling with literacy it’s important to have a thorough understanding of this disorder to best help both the children and their parents understand the condition and provide strategies to cope with it. This means both being able to differentiate it from other conditions that negatively affect a person’s ability to read, and to positively identify dyslexia in an individual.

Kathleen T. Williams, Ph.D., NCSP shares the formal definition of this condition by the International Dyslexia Association in her article “What Are the Signs Your Child Will Have Difficulty Learning to Read?” Their definition is as follows:

“Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

In other words, dyslexia isn’t a lack of intelligence or ability to understand a text but is an inability to properly or effectively decode the language presented. It is, according to Dr. Williams, a “phonologic weakness” that makes it difficult for an individual to look at words and sentences and make the connection between a speech sound and written letters. For example, someone who is dyslexic may have trouble differentiating between the letters “b” and “d” because their visual appearance and speech sounds are similar. This means that while they may have full comprehension of a paragraph read aloud to them, when tasked with reading the very same paragraph they may struggle to understand its meaning. And unlike developmental issues that can be improved over time, Dr. Williams states dyslexia “is a chronic condition” that persists throughout a person’s life.

Signs a Child is Dyslexic

While these signs can also indicate other issues, these are good indicators to watch for to see if a child may be dyslexic or struggle with literacy in another capacity. If a child displays any of these signs parents or guardians should seek guidance from a professional before school age to prepare them as well as they can.

  • Unable to proficiently learn the alphabet
  • Struggling to understand the various sounds that make up a language (phonological awareness)
  • Struggling to connect the sounds of language with the letters that visibly represent them
  • Limited vocabulary (children about to enter school should have a vocabulary around 5,000 words)

As a clinician you must be able to evaluate a child and determine what action—if any—may be appropriate when potential warning signs like the aforementioned arise. A trusted clinical evaluation for this task is the (PPA Scale) Phonological and Print Awareness Scale. This evaluation is meant for children aged 3.5 to 8 years and is based on a nationally representative sample of 1,104 children. It takes only 15 minutes to administer and measures six key indicators of a child’s phonological and print awareness to indicate whether or not they may struggle with literacy and help form a plan for treatment.


Image courtesy of kdshutterman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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