What is dyslexia?
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 who have this problem often have a poor memory of spoken and written words.
Having dyslexia doesn't mean that your or your child's ability to learn is below average. In fact, many people with this problem are very bright. But not being able to read well can make many areas of learning harder.
Dyslexia is also called specific learning disability, reading disorder, and reading disability.
What causes it?
Experts don't know for sure what causes dyslexia. But it often runs in families. So it may be passed from parents to children. Some studies have found problems with how the brain links letters and words with the sounds they make.
What are the symptoms?
Signs of dyslexia in children too young for school include talking later than expected or being slow to learn new words. After a child starts school, symptoms include trouble reading single words, confusing small words, and writing words backward. Having several signs of dyslexia may mean that your child should be tested.
How is it diagnosed?
No single test can diagnose dyslexia. A doctor or school professional will ask you and your child's teachers what signs of dyslexia you've noticed. Reading and other tests may help look at your child's learning style, language and problem-solving skills, and intelligence quotient (IQ). This can help check for dyslexia or other problems.
How is dyslexia treated?
Treatment involves teaching methods to help your child read better. This includes teaching how letters are linked to sounds to make words, helping the child read aloud, and teaching the child to listen to and repeat instructions. You and your child's teachers and school personnel can help design a learning plan for your child.
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Signs of dyslexia in children who are too young for school include:
- Talking later than expected.
- Being slow to learn new words.
- Problems with rhyming.
- Problems following directions that have many steps.
After a child starts school, the symptoms of dyslexia include:
- Problems reading single words, such as a word on a flash card.
- Problems linking letters with sounds.
- Confusing small words, such as "at" and "to."
- Reversing the shapes of written letters such as "d" for "b." For example, the child may write "dat" instead of "bat."
- Writing words backward, such as "tip" for "pit."
If your child has one of these signs, it doesn't 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.
When to Call a Doctor
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:
- Your child's reading or other language skills aren't improving.
- Your child seems motivated but isn't learning as expected.
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 staff. Your child is at increased risk for having the condition.
Treatment involves a number of teaching methods to help your child read better. These include:
- Teaching how letters are linked to sounds to make words.
- Having the child read aloud with a teacher's help.
- Teaching the child to listen to and repeat instructions.
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 aren't 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.
Helping Your Child
Children who have dyslexia may need emotional support for the many challenges they face. Here is a list of ways parents can offer encouragement.
- Learn about dyslexia.
Information about dyslexia can help you better understand and help your child.
- Teach to your child's areas of strength.
For example, if your child understands more when listening, let him or her learn new information by listening to an audiobook or watching a DVD. If you can, follow up with the same story in written form.
- Respect and challenge your child's intelligence.
Most children with dyslexia can be challenged by parents who encourage intellectual growth. Be honest with your child about dyslexia. Explain it in understandable and age-appropriate examples and terms. Offer unconditional love and support.
- Teach your child to keep trying.
You can model, through good-humored acceptance of your own mistakes, that mistakes can help you find solutions.
- Recognize what your child finds hard to do.
There may be some things your child will always struggle with. Help your child understand that this doesn't mean that he or she is a failure.
- Don't be a homework tyrant.
Expecting perfection and arguing with your child over homework will create an unhealthy relationship and will put the focus on your child's failures.
Helping your child develop reading skills
You can be a positive force in your child's education. Following is a list of ways parents can help their young children who have dyslexia develop reading skills.
- Read to your child.
Find time to read to your child every day. Point to the words as you read. Draw attention to words that you run across in daily life, such as traffic signs, billboards, notices, and labels.
- Be a good reading role model.
Show your child how important reading is to daily life. Make books, magazines, and other reading materials available for your child to explore and enjoy independently.
- Focus on the sounds (phonemes) within words.
Play rhyming games, sing songs that emphasize rhyme and alliteration, play word games, sound out letters, and point out similarities in words.
- Work on spelling.
Point out new words, play spelling games, and encourage your child to write.
- Help with time and planning.
Hang up simple charts, clocks, and calendars, so your child can visualize time and plan for the future.
- Share in the joy of reading.
Find books that your child can read but that you will also enjoy. Sit together, take turns reading, and encourage discussion. Revisiting words that cause trouble for your child and rereading stories are powerful tools to reinforce learning.
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics