Warning Signs of Dyslexia
Dyslexia simply defined is, “Extreme difficulty learning to read and spell in ones’ native
language despite at least average intelligence and adequate instruction.” Dyslexia
cannot be “cured” any more than large feet can be made smaller or musical tone
deafness can be turned to musical genius. Dyslexia can, however, be remediated using
special teaching methods developed specifically for dyslexic learners.
The earlier remediation begins, the better the outcome for the child. For that reason, it
is important to identify the children showing warning signs for dyslexia and assist
parents in getting those children tested. Diagnosis is not an end in itself, but rather a
starting point for getting the student started with remediation.
Many of the signs of dyslexia blur the lines between home and school. Partnering with
parents in considering warning signs in their child will lead to a more informed
conclusion. Parents will know about family history of dyslexia, a warning sign for
dyslexia in all ages. (IDA, 2008). Parents know their child as no one else does, and
they are a crucial part of the process of both identification and remediation. Students
are in a teacher’s care for a year or two, but in the parents’ care for a lifetime.
Warning signs in a preschooler
Most preschool-aged clues come from oral language.
Sound manipulation difficulties (Hall, 2011)
Word games - inability to pull a word apart into the individual sounds.
Rhyming- unable to match rhyming words or supply a word to rhyme with a given word
Identifying words that start with same sound
Difficulty learning to talk or delayed talking
Difficulty learning to pronounce words correctly
Difficulty remembering words, names or directions
Warning signs in a Kindergartener
Preschool signs plus:
Difficulty linking a letter with the sound it makes.
Difficulty learning the alphabet
Difficulty with reading skills such as
Remembering a new word
Ability to pull a spoken word apart into each of its individual sounds
Ability to push letter sounds together and blend them into a word.
Inability to spell simple words (getting at least most consonants correct) or to spell his or her own name correctly.
Inability to sound out the simplest of three letter words, such as hat or mop.
Warning signs in a First Grader
Some kindergarten signs plus:
Resistant to reading orally, even if it is one-on-one
Will omit words in a sentence without realizing it or fixing his error
Needs to sound out the same word each time it appears on the page
Will guess at a word based on how it looks or the letter it begins with
Warning signs in elementary students
Some kindergarten and first grade signs plus:
ROAST is an acronym for the most common reading errors made by dyslexic students.
Reversals - reading “was” for “saw”
Omissions - leaving out words or letters
Additions - inserting words or letters not in the text
Substitutions - saying a different word from what is in the text, but one that is a
synonym for the misread word.
Transpositions - reading words out of the order in which they are written.
Additional warning signs include:
Slow at remembering isolated facts, such as dates, phone numbers, lists
No strategy for decoding unknown words - likely to guess based on first and last sounds
Inability to consistently read small words such as the, in, then
Slow, labored, unexpressive oral reading
Avoidance of situations in which oral reading will be required
Very poor spelling, often the word is unrecognizable
Messy handwriting in a child with otherwise nimble fingers
Very poor at multiple choice tests
General characteristics of dyslexic individuals of all ages
Club grip on pencil when writing or coloring. Thumb over index finger
Disorganization and frequent losing things
Poor study habits, difficulty finishing assignments
Struggle to retrieve desired word when speaking - often saying “thingy” or “stuff”
Difficulty with directionality (Garside and Wilkins, 2002).
Warning signs are there, what is next?
Warning signs are just that, warnings to be on the lookout for a problem. They are not
proof a problem exists. What is noteworthy is a pattern of warning sign behavior over a
period of time. This is especially important if there is a family history of dyslexia.
Once a pattern of warning signs is established, it is important not to fall into the wait-
and-see trap. The earlier a child receives specific instruction to remediate his or her
dyslexia, the more successful the outcome.
Testing is available to provide a firm diagnosis of dyslexia and to show which areas of
the language process are areas of difficulty and which are areas of strength. Google
“Dyslexia Testing” to find a tester in your area, or contact the International Dyslexia
Association (www.interdys.org). The best tests are 2 - 3 hours long, and include a
family history, observations of the subject reading and speaking, and tests of reading
and language. A diagnosis of dyslexia comes from a finding of reading difficulties in a
person who otherwise has at least average intelligence, is motivated to work hard, and
has adequate teaching.
Tutoring instruction using a specific method developed for dyslexic students (not
general reading tutoring) should be implemented as soon as a diagnosis of dyslexia is
confirmed. (Gillingham and Stillman, 2002). The International Dyslexia Association has
state associations which can assist you in locating qualified tutors trained in this highly
effective method for remediating dyslexia.
The outcome for a dyslexic student is bright once the student is identified as dyslexic,
(Shaywitz, 2003) connected with a qualified tutor, and begins to use the skills his or her
tutor will teach. By taking the first steps to identify the struggling readers or illogical
spellers in your classroom as dyslexic, you play a key role in changing a child’s life from
one of struggle to one of overcoming.
Garside, Alice H., and Wilkins, Angela M. (2002) Basic Facts About Dyslexia: What
Every Layperson Ought to Know. International Dyslexia Association Pamphlet series.
Baltimore, MD, pp. 10 - 11.
Gillingham, Anna and Stillman, Bessie W.(2002). The Gillingham Manual. Cambridge,
MA: Educators Publishing Service.
Hall, Susan. Early Signs of Reading Difficulty. Retrieved from: www.greatschools.org/
International Dyslexia Association. Just the Facts: Dyslexia Basics. Retrieved from
Shaywitz, Sally. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia. New York, New York: Vintage Books.