The signs of dyslexia are oftentimes missed. Dyslexia can look a lot like a memory deficit, ADHD or auditory processing disorder. Oftentimes, these can co-occur with dyslexia.
At its core definition, dyslexia is a phonological deficit; but what does that look like exactly?
COMMON SIGNS OF DYSLEXIA
–Serious, chronic reading failure- If your child is in the second grade and has serious reading struggles, she likely has dyslexia. We now have time-tested, research-based interventions for dyslexic students. Dyslexic students do not have to suffer through reading failure.
-Slow, almost painful, acquisition of sight words- All sight words have at least some phonetic component. For example, though “there” should be spelled “thair” the “th” and “r” are still phonetic. Since (initially) dyslexic students do not make spelling-to-sound correspondences, they are not able to use the minimal phonetic components available in sight words. Is your child still learning “other” in the third grade? She’s likely dyslexic.
-Struggles to blend phonetic words- Dyslexia is a phonological deficit. If a child struggles to blend accurately, she might have dyslexia. Here’s a sample assessment with a dyslexic child (there is no print during this activity, just sounds):
Teacher (says sounds slowly, leaving a pause in between each sound unit): S-a-m. What is it?
Student: Sam! (gleeful she got something right in reading).
Student: F-it? Can you say that again?
Student: I don’t know.
Student: I don’t know.
-Struggles to segment- During an assessment, you can do an activity to assess segmentation skills, but the easier way for a parent to identify segmentation struggles is simply to look at your child’s spelling. Is her spelling atrocious and nearly indecipherable? Dyslexic students notoriously struggle with spelling.
ACCURATE SPELLING: On the ranch, Brandon heard the bear roar, the coyote howl and the owl hoot.
DYSLEXIC SPELLER: On the rash, Band hrid the bear rare, the cowte hul and the owl hod.
As you can see, without an intervention, dyslexic students really struggle with spelling.
-Struggles with rhyming and sound games- What rhymes with gone?
- a) won
- b) ton
- c) lawn
- d) fun
Dyslexic child: won?
This question is relatively hard for a dyslexic child. Dyslexic students will consistently miss rhyming and sound questions, even questions much easier than this one.
-Guesses often when reading:
ACCURATE PASSAGE: Sam went to the pond with grandma, grandpa and little sister. Grandma took little sister in the water to teach her to swim.
A DYSLEXIC READER: Sam swam in the river with grandma, grandpa and his sister. Grandpa and sister went swimming.
–Misdiagnosed or double-diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, a memory deficit or ADHD. Dyslexia can appear, on the surface, like a number of other learning disabilities. A dyslexic child that isn’t saying sounds accurately, skips blends and says “sip” for “slip,” is often labeled as having an auditory processing disorder. Here comes the swarm of speech pathologists, audiologists and occupational therapists that don’t know how to solve the problem. In sum, many dyslexic students suffer through many interventions that have nothing to do with targeting their main area of need.
-Early language delay- An early language delay (around 2 years of age) is common but not ubiquitous among dyslexic students. Some dyslexic students learn how to speak early, have excellent vocabularies and show no signs until school starts. However, a subset of dyslexic students have a history of an early language delay.
–Labeled a behavior problem, lazy- How would you feel if you had to solve the following chemistry problem: Is an abiologic origin of chirality as is found in (2R)-2,3-dihydroxypropanal (D-glyceraldehyde), and also in amino acids, sugars, etc., possible?
You’d probably feel frustrated. You’d likely turn your attention to something you can accomplish, something not so dreadfully boring. Dyslexic students zone out during reading, because they’re trying to cope with the boredom of staring at indecipherable words. They’re trying to escape instructional methods that make them feel like a failure.
Since some dyslexic students zone out or cause distractions as a way to cope with reading difficulties, they’re labeled as behavior problems.
-Would rather help mom clean the mold off the toilet than read- Or as one dyslexic student put it: “I’d rather play with a scorpion than read!”
SHOULD I GET A DIAGNOSIS?
In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is not worth it to get a diagnosis.
A diagnosis is expensive. Only a psychologist can diagnose, and the real irony is, though they can diagnose, they don’t know how to do an effective reading intervention for dyslexic children. I cannot describe the nonsense I’ve seen in the “future instruction” headlines of their reports. (Well, I can, but that’s another post).
Also, there is no real change that occurs after a diagnosis. Schools don’t tend to make broad sweeping changes to their special education curriculum or reading curriculum to fit the needs of a dyslexic child.
In addition, families of dyslexic students (unlike families of children with language delays) are NOT provided financial support.
However, many families want to get a diagnosis to help make sense of what’s going on and find resources. A diagnosis can also help guide parents as they make decisions in an effort to help their child.
DO CHILDREN WITH DYSLEXIA SEE MIRROR-IMAGES?
Children with dyslexia do not see mirror-images. The mirror-image hypothesis was proposed by Samuel Orton and has been discredited again and again since the 1970s. Somehow, perhaps because mirror-images sound cool and mind-boggling, his theory went mainstream, and now nearly everyone believes dyslexic students see mirror-images. However, mirror-images are myth and not one of the signs of dyslexia.
Orton originally came up with the mirror-image hypothesis, because he noticed that students reversed bs and ds and made other similar reversal errors. We now know all students make reversal errors in the learning how to read process.
Thus, if a reading specialist claims dyslexia is a problem of letter reversals and letter transpositions, their knowledge is outdated. Run.
WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
In sum, dyslexia is a deficit in phonemic processing. All words are composed of phonemes, the smallest units of sound. Dyslexic students struggle with phonemic awareness, struggle to blend, segment, and manipulate phonemes. In sum, they struggle with sound, holding sound in working memory, and the spelling units that represent sound. In short, all the signs of dyslexia involve analyzing how the student responds to activities involving sound, sound and memory or sound and print.