Dyslexia – Signs and symptoms, Treatment Options


Also called: Word Blindness, Global Dyslexia


Dyslexia is a condition in which an improper functioning of the brain causes a person to have difficulty recognizing and processing written or spoken words. People with dyslexia typically have trouble with reading and writing. In some cases, they may have problems writing, understanding and using language, as well as difficulties with their speech. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) classifies dyslexia as a “reading disorder.”

Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders. It often does not become apparent until a child begins school. Symptoms of dyslexia include difficulty recognizing printed words and letters and reading comprehension that may be below even the first-grade or second-grade levels. Individuals with dyslexia may reverse words or letters while reading so that words such as “dog” appear as “god.”   

Early diagnosis of dyslexia is crucial. About 74 percent of children who do not receive help for dyslexia before the third grade will remain poor readers in the ninth grade, according to the International Dyslexia Association. Dyslexia cannot be diagnosed through a single test. Instead, a physician is likely to suggest that the child undergo a battery of tests by specialists to determine the exact nature of the disorder.Dyslexia cannot be cured. However, special education techniques can help people to use vision, hearing and touch to improve their reading and processing skills. People with severe dyslexia may never be good readers, but those with milder forms of the disorder may eventually read at similar levels as people without dyslexia.

About dyslexia

Dyslexia is a condition in which a person is not able to correctly process written words from the eyes to the brain. This learning disorder prevents the person from fully and accurately recognizing and decoding words. Those affected have difficulty comprehending reading materials and spelling correctly. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) classifies dyslexia as a “reading disorder.”

People with dyslexia do not have intelligence deficits or visual impairment. Instead, a neurological disorder causes their brain to interpret information differently from most people without the condition. This impairs the ability to read and write and may in some cases lead to speech and language difficulties. Because people with dyslexia have problems reading and writing, they require special learning techniques in order to accumulate knowledge, develop their vocabulary and expand their learning. Some individuals also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), creating a greater challenge for overcoming their dyslexia.

Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders. It is estimated to affect between 4 and 15 percent of the population, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. In addition, between 70 and 80 percent of children who receive special education services have reading deficits of some type, according to the International Dyslexia Association. This disorder affects males and females equally and it affects all ethnic and socio-economic groups in equal proportions.

People with severe dyslexia may never be accomplished readers, but those with milder forms of the disorder may eventually read at normal levels for their age. 

Dyslexia is a neurological problem that results from improper functioning of the brain in terms of language. Reading requires the eyes and brain to work together in complex ways. The eyes must focus on the printed word while the brain controls eye movements across the page. In addition, the brain must understand how the words are put together and how the letters sound. In processing words, the brain builds images and ideas, compares new ideas to what is already known, and stores these ideas in the memory.

A malfunction in any part of the brain’s centers of vision, language or memory – or in the nerve cells that connect these centers – can result in dyslexia. People with dyslexia have brains that are wired differently from most people. Imaging tests show that when people with dyslexia read, different parts of the brain are active than in people who do not have dyslexia. People with dyslexia struggle to recognize the basic units of speech, known as phonemes. They also have difficulty recognizing the nature of sounds (phonetics) and the way sound functions within a specific language (phonology). This makes it difficult to associate a sound with the letter symbol for that sound. These impairments indicate the reason dyslexia may result in speech and language problems, as well as the primary reading difficulties. Dyslexia appears to be hereditary and can run in families.

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia

Dyslexia may not become apparent until a child begins school because that is the time when most children start to learn to read (about age six). However, parents can look for warning signs early in a child’s life that might indicate dyslexia. A child who begins talking later than normal, struggles to learn new words and has difficulty rhyming may be exhibiting signs of dyslexia.

By the time a child begins school, the signs of dyslexia usually become more pronounced. However, in some cases children do not have trouble with reading and writing until they try to learn more complex language skills.

Symptoms of dyslexia include difficulty recognizing printed words and letters and reading comprehension skills that are below  first-grade or second-grade levels. People with dyslexia may read from right to left and may have difficulty following rapid instructions or remembering things in sequential order.

Dyslexia may cause individuals to reverse letters or words but this is not the case with all individuals. A child may see the letter “b” as a “d” and may see words such as “ton” as “not.” While such reversals are normal in young children, they usually fade after the age of six. Some children with dyslexia continue to reverse letters and words as they grow older. People with dyslexia have difficulty seeing the similarities and differences in letters and words and may struggle to pronounce new or unfamiliar words. Dyslexia also can cause people to miss spaces, allowing words to blend together.

Dyslexia may result in difficulty communicating, and those affected may struggle to structure thoughts or to choose the right vocabulary to express ideas. They also may have trouble understanding what others are saying to them. Individuals with dyslexia have particular problems with lengthy instructions and complex ideas. Learning a foreign language and understanding abstract thoughts, such as jokes and proverbs, are particularly challenging for those with dyslexia.   Because reading is a major part of many forms of learning, people with dyslexia often have learning disabilities in seemingly unrelated subjects such as mathematics or science.

Untreated dyslexia can cause a child to have low self-esteem, depression or anxiety which may manifest as behavioral problems and withdrawal from friends, parents and others.

Diagnosis methods for dyslexia

Early diagnosis of dyslexia is crucial for developing normal reading comprehension levels in people with the learning disorder. About 74 percent of children who do not receive help for dyslexia before the third grade will remain poor readers in the ninth grade, according to the International Dyslexia Association. An initial visit to a physician is often spurred by speech or language difficulties or reading problems noted by parents and/or teachers. A physician will likely compile a thorough medical history and perform a complete physical examination to evaluate the child’s overall development.

Dyslexia cannot be diagnosed through a single test. Instead, a physician is likely to refer the patient to a specialist who will use a battery of tests that may help to accurately diagnose of the disorder. Many of these tests are designed to rule out other conditions that may be responsible for symptoms. Vision, hearing and neurological functioning will be tested to determine if another disorder may be the source of struggles with reading and writing. Specific speech, language and reading tests conducted by specialists may be recommended by the physician. Also, a mental health evaluation may be performed to look for social problems, anxiety or depression that may be causing or worsening problems.

In trying to diagnose dyslexia, a physician is likely to ask several questions to determine if certain markers are occurring, such as:

  • Difficulty rhyming
  • Difficulty naming letters or numbers
  • Reading poorly
  • Struggling to remember the right names for things
  • Difficulty memorizing written lists and phone numbers
  • Struggling to complete assignments and tests within a period of time

If dyslexia is suspected, educational tests may be performed to help evaluate the process the person uses to read and the quality those reading skills. In some cases, dyslexia is not diagnosed until adolescence or adulthood. Although a late diagnosis decreases the likelihood of a good prognosis, those affected can learn new ways of reading and writing at any age.

Dyslexia is diagnosed if the following conditions exist:

  • Levels of reading (as measured by standardized testing) that are substantially lower than would be expected given the person’s age, level of intelligence and level of education.
  • Level of reading that significantly interferes with school performance and day-to-day activities that require reading skills.
  • If the patient has a sensory deficit (e.g., autism), the reading difficulty must be in excess of that typically experienced by others with the same deficit.

Treatment options for dyslexia

Dyslexia cannot be cured – the problem in the brain that causes dyslexia lasts throughout the person’s lifetime. However, special education and training techniques can help people to learn how to use vision, hearing and touch to improve their reading skills. A specialist in learning disorders can help train people with dyslexia in alternate strategies for learning to read.

Treatment early in life helps those affected attain typical developmental and education skills. However, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn how to read and process information – even if they did not receive specialized instruction as children.

Phonics instruction, which is based on associating certain sounds with certain letters (or phonemes), can help teach children about the basic units of words and how to blend those units to create meaning. In addition, a patient may be taught certain lessons verbally and asked to trace the words with a fingertip. The patient may use flash cards, computer programs and other techniques to reinforce the information being learned. Using all of the senses (e.g., visual, tactile, auditory) helps the child receive as much information as possible.

Parents who read with their children can help them to pronounce letters and spell out words. Parents can also help their children by explaining that dyslexia is a medical condition that is not due to lack of intelligence or effort on the part of the child. Parents and caregivers are usually provided with specific recommendations by learning disorders specialists to help the child. In addition, there are numerous support groups and community resources for individuals with dyslexia and their families. People with dyslexia will need special help when learning in a classroom setting.

Federal law in the United States guarantees that children in public schools will receive the necessary assistance to overcome their disability. Special education teachers are available in public schools to develop individualized education programs for people with learning disorders such as dyslexia. Some children may also benefit from a skill-based approach designed for the child by a speech or language therapist. Parents should maintain a close relationship with all of their child’s teachers to be sure they are aware of the child’s learning disorder. Special accommodations can be made which can help the child achieve success in the classroom.

Questions for your doctor regarding dyslexia

Preparing questions in advance can help patients have more meaningful discussions with their physicians regarding their conditions. Patients may wish to ask their doctor the following dyslexia-related questions:

For parents:

  1. What are the signs and symptoms that might indicate dyslexia in my child?
  2. What tests will my child take to determine if dyslexia is present?
  3. Who will administer these tests?
  4. How serious is my child’s dyslexia?
  5. What type of therapy can help my child?
  6. What types of professionals offer this training? Can you recommend any qualified specialists?
  7. How will dyslexia affect my child’s speech and language development?
  8. Will my child’s dyslexia become less severe with age?
  9. How should I work with my child’s school to ensure that my child has the best possible learning conditions?
  10. What can I expect in terms of my child’s reading and writing skills as an adult?
  11. What are the chances that my other children will have dyslexia?
  12. Can you recommend a support group for us?

For adults with dyslexia:

  1. I have never been a great reader. Is it possible I have dyslexia?
  2. Will the methods of diagnosing dyslexia be accurate for me? Are there additional tests that I may need to perform?
  3. Is it too late for me to learn techniques that will strengthen my reading and writing?
  4. Can you recommend a program or specialist trained for helping adults with dyslexia?
  5. What can I do to better cope with dyslexia?
  6. What are the chances my children will have dyslexia?
Scroll to Top