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Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it hard to read, write, and spell. It occurs because the brain jumbles or mixes up letters and words. Children with dyslexia often have a poor memory of spoken and written words.
Having dyslexia does not mean that your or your child's ability to learn is below average. In fact, many people with dyslexia are very bright. But not being able to read well can make many areas of learning difficult.
Dyslexia is also called specific learning disability, reading disorder, and reading disability.
Experts don't know for sure what causes dyslexia. But it often runs in families. So it may be passed from parents to children (genetic disorder). Also, some studies have found problems with how the brain links letters and words with the sounds they make.
Dyslexia is not caused by poor vision, and people with dyslexia do not see letters and words backward.
Signs of dyslexia in children who are too young for school include:
After a child begins school, the signs of dyslexia include:
If your child has one of these signs, it does not mean that he or she has dyslexia. Many children reverse letters before age 7. But if your child has several signs and reading problems, or if you have a family history of dyslexia, you may want to have your child checked for the problem.
A doctor or a school professional (such as a reading specialist) will ask you what signs of dyslexia you and your child's teachers have seen. He or she will ask your child questions too. Your child may be offered to take reading and skill tests. Tests may include those that look at your child's personality and how he or she learns, solves problems, and uses words. Your child may also have an IQ test.
These tests can help find out if your child has dyslexia or another learning problem.
Treatment uses a number of teaching methods to help your child read better. These methods include:
United States law requires schools to set up a learning plan to meet the needs of a child with dyslexia. An example of this is an Individualized Education Program (IEP). You, your child's teachers, and other school personnel will have a say in designing the plan. The plan is updated each year based on how well your child is doing and what your child's needs are.
Medicines and counseling usually are not a part of treatment for dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a lifelong problem, but early treatment during childhood can help. Support from family, teachers, and friends is also important.
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The cause of dyslexia is not clear, although it is probably an inherited (genetic) disorder because it runs in families.
Some studies have shown that people with dyslexia have abnormalities in the functioning of the areas of the brain involved in reading and language.footnote 1
Signs of dyslexia vary depending on age. If your child has one or two of the signs, it does not mean that he or she has dyslexia, but having several of the signs listed below may mean that your child should be tested.
A preschool-age child may:
Children in kindergarten through fourth grade may:
Children in fifth through eighth grade may:
Students in high school and college may:
Adults with dyslexia may:
A person is more likely to have dyslexia if his or her parent or sibling has it. Also, a person is more likely to have it if he or she had a speech or language delay as a child.
If your child struggles with language, reading, and sounding out words, you may want to have your child checked for dyslexia. You can also speak with your child's pediatrician, teacher, or school counselor if you believe your child's reading or other language skills are not advancing or your child seems motivated but is performing below his or her potential.
If you have dyslexia and are concerned that your child may have some of the signs of dyslexia, you may want to talk to your doctor or to school personnel because your child is at increased risk for having the condition.
A single test can't diagnose dyslexia. Rather, your doctor or a school professional (such as a reading specialist) will ask you what signs of dyslexia you and your child's teachers have seen. He or she will ask your child questions too.
Reading tests and other types of assessments may be done to help find out more about your child's skills. For example, tests may include those that focus on your child's learning style, language and problem-solving skills, and intelligence quotient (IQ).
It takes a team to diagnose dyslexia. School professionals or learning specialists in your area will assess academic skills and abilities. Your child's doctor can assess your child's general health and cognitive development. A complete medical, behavioral, educational, and social history may be taken to rule out other conditions (such as a brain injury) that can also interfere with the ability to read or memorize words.
It must be clear that your child doesn't have another problem that could cause him or her to struggle with reading, such as a condition that affects cognitive development.
Dyslexia is only diagnosed when:
For a child to qualify for special education assistance, federal law requires that the child have tests to help check his or her language and math skills.
Treatment for dyslexia consists of using educational tools to enhance the ability to read. Medicines and counseling usually aren't used to treat dyslexia. An important part of treatment is educating yourself about the condition. The earlier dyslexia is recognized and addressed, the better. Starting treatment when a child is young can improve reading and may even prevent reading problems in the first years of school.footnote 2 But reading will likely not ever be easy for a person with dyslexia.
When a child age 3 years or older has been diagnosed with dyslexia, federal law requires that public school personnel create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that's tailored to the child's needs. The first step in developing the IEP is talking with your child's school to create a treatment team made up of you, the teacher, and other school personnel, including school counselors and special education teachers.
Your child's personalized IEP will detail specific disabilities, appropriate teaching methods, and goals and objectives for the academic year. It is evaluated at least once a year, with changes made based on your child's progress. Parents have the right to appeal if they don't agree with their child's IEP. Preparing children for further education, employment, and independent living is also required by law. This should start no later than age 16.
If you seek special education assistance for your child, it's handy to keep copies of:
According to a comprehensive U.S. government study on how children learn to read, a combination of educational methods is the most effective way to teach children to read. These methods include teaching phonics—making sure that the beginning reader understands how letters are linked to sounds (phonemes) to form words. Guided oral reading, in which the student reads aloud with guidance and feedback, is also important for developing reading fluency. The child must clearly understand the instructions being given, and the instructions must be repeatable or systematic in order to improve the child's reading abilities.footnote 3
Depending on the severity of your child's dyslexia, you may want to have a teacher's aide or tutor available to help your child with schoolwork.
If school staff members suggest that your child be held back a grade (grade retention), talk to your doctor or another professional about your options. Grade retention may not help your child any better than other methods.
It is important to know that dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Even though early treatment during childhood can help, your child will likely always have to make an extra effort to read.
Each child with dyslexia has a different set of abilities and disabilities, which can range from mild to severe. A child's academic future lies in a combination of several things: the severity of dyslexia, his or her intelligence, support of family and school professionals, family resources, motivation to learn, and any associated disability, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Up to half of children with specific learning disabilities have other impairments that interfere with their schooling. footnote 4Disabilities often associated with dyslexia include ADHD, behavioral or memory problems, and difficulty using problem-solving skills to achieve a goal.
Studies that have followed children with dyslexia from kindergarten through high school show that most learn to read accurately, although they usually read at a slow rate and aren't completely fluent readers. So many teens with dyslexia may need some special assistance in the classroom.
Extra time to finish classroom assignments or tests is often needed by all children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia also may need help managing their schedules, organizing work, and completing multiple assignments and long-term projects, especially when they reach middle school. It's also helpful to let them:
Parents can effectively support their child if they understand dyslexia and how to deal with their child's special needs. Having dyslexia can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, or behavioral problems in some children, which can hinder their reading progress. If you think your child has self-esteem problems related to dyslexia, counseling may help.
Typically children with dyslexia are very bright, although reading will probably continue to be a challenge throughout life. The earlier dyslexia is recognized and addressed, the greater the chance that your child will learn to read at his or her highest possible level.
Encouraging and supporting your child while staying involved in his or her education are other key factors. Helping children with coping strategies as they advance in school will also help. Although extra effort and dedication are required, often children with dyslexia are able to contend with this disability and succeed in academics and other areas.
Parents can make a big difference in improving the reading skills of a child diagnosed with dyslexia. Because you are most aware of your child's strengths and weaknesses, you can focus on learning strategies that will work best for him or her. With young children, playing alphabet games and reading rhyming books, for example, while offering support and encouragement, might greatly improve reading skills. Staying involved with your child's education throughout the school years will be a key part of your child's success.
You can be a positive force in your child's education. Following is a list of ways parents can help their young children with dyslexia develop reading skills and feel good about themselves.
Children who have dyslexia may need emotional support for the many challenges they face. Following is a list of ways parents can offer encouragement.
Vision problems can interfere with the process of reading, but vision problems don't cause dyslexia. Some people may claim that vision therapies (such as covering one eye or using colored lenses) help treat dyslexia. But there hasn't been strong evidence to support this claim.footnote 5
Some advertised reading programs that promise success in teaching phonics and reading for children who have dyslexia should be viewed with caution. Before you invest in these programs, request research that documents their claims, and talk to school personnel and doctors.
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National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Available online: http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/publications/summary.htm.
Shapiro B, et al. (2007). Specific learning disabilities. In ML Batshaw et al., eds., Children with Disabilities, 6th ed., chap. 25, pp. 367–385. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Joint technical report—Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics, 127(3): e818–e856.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics, et al. (2009, reaffirmed 2014). Joint statement—Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics, 124(2): 837–844.
Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics (1999, reaffirmed 2006). The pediatrician's role in development and implementation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and/or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Pediatrics, 104(1): 124–127.
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Lyon GR, et al. (2011). Dyslexia. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 112–114. Philadelphia: Saunders.
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Current as of:
January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Susan C. Kim MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineLouis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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