Top of the page
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 they have dyslexia. But if your child has several of these signs, or if you have a family history of dyslexia, you may want to speak with your family doctor or your child's teacher. They can arrange tests to check your child's reading.
Dyslexia and other learning problems are diagnosed by a psychologist who specializes in children and how they learn (called an educational psychologist). A diagnosis is made by an assessment process that may include:
After the educational psychologist looks over all of the information they gathered, they will write a report. The report includes:
Treatment uses a number of teaching methods to help your child read better. These methods include:
If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia, the educational psychologist will develop a plan for your child’s support and treatment. This is called an individual program plan (IPP) or individual support plan (ISP). The educational psychologist will ask you, your child's teachers, and others at the school who they work with to take part in designing the plan. Your child will get an updated plan each year based on how well they are doing and what your child's needs are.
Medicines and counselling usually are not a part of treatment for dyslexia.
Dyslexia is lifelong and early help and support during childhood can help. Support from family, teachers, and friends is also important.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
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
There are 3 areas of the brain that help you read:
With dyslexia, each of these areas may be affected making it hard to develop reading skills. Dyslexia is not caused by:
People with dyslexia do not see letters and words backwards.
Signs of dyslexia vary depending on age. If your child has one or two of the signs, it does not mean that they have 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 university may:
Adults with dyslexia may:
A person is more likely to have dyslexia if their parent or sibling has it. Also, a person is more likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia if they 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, school psychologist, or school counsellor if you believe your child's reading or other language skills are not advancing compared to other children their age.
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 dyslexia.
A single test can't diagnose dyslexia. Rather, your doctor or a school professional (such as a school psychologist or reading specialist) will ask you what signs of dyslexia you and your child's teachers have seen. They will ask your child questions too. Your child may also be referred to an educational psychologist for an assessment. You can also contact a private educational psychologist.
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 gather information about your child and your concerns. 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, behavioural, 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:
To qualify for special education assistance, your child may need to take tests to show that he or she needs special help with his or her language and math skills.
Treatment for dyslexia consists of using educational tools to enhance the ability to read. Medicines and counselling 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 lessen reading problems in the first years of school.footnote 2 But reading will likely not ever be easy for a person with dyslexia.
There are many programs to help children develop their reading and writing skills (called structured literacy intervention). They all follow several rules or methods that include:
When a child has been diagnosed with dyslexia, public school personnel may create a personal plan for them. This plan is called an individual program plan (IPP) or an individual support plan (ISP). The first step in developing an IPP or ISP for your child, is talking with your child's school to create a support team made up of you, the teacher, and other school personnel, including school counsellors, education teachers, and the school psychologist. Your child's personalized plan will detail specific challenges, 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 take part in designing their child’s IPP or ISP and giving feedback on the plan.
If you seek special education assistance for your child, it's handy to keep copies of:
It’s important to remember that children do not learn at the same rate. Children with dyslexia have their own strengths and areas for growth. They will also learn skills at their own pace. Because their reading and writing skills are below the level of others in their grade, it’s important that they get ongoing help and support. Schools can offer support and use teaching technology to help students with dyslexia succeed. This may include:
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 and write.
Each child with dyslexia has a different set of abilities and areas for growth, which can range from mild to severe. A child's academic future lies in a combination of several things: the severity of dyslexia, their strengths, the treatment plan and how often it's adapted to their needs, 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, behavioural 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, aren't completely fluent readers, and have trouble with spelling. So many teens with dyslexia may need some assistance and support 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 junior or senior high.
It's also helpful to work with them to find the right kinds of learning tools and apps, such as:
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, anxiety, frustration, or behavioural problems in some children, which can hinder their reading progress. If you think your child has self-esteem problems related to dyslexia, counselling may help.
Children with dyslexia have many capabilities and strengths, 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 their highest possible level.
Encouraging and supporting your child while staying involved in his or her education are other key factors. As they get older, help your child learn how to ask for help when they need it to prepare them to be adult learners. 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 challenge 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 them. 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 coloured lenses) help treat dyslexia. But there hasn't been strong evidence to support this claim.footnote 5, footnote 6
There are many reading programs available and many are online. These programs can help children master the skills they need to develop their reading and spelling skills. 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.
CitationsReiff MI, Stein MT (2011). Learning problems. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 327–331. New York: McGraw-Hill.Shaywitz SE, et al. (2006). Dyslexia (specific reading disability). In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 1244–1247. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.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.Canadian Ophthalmological Society (2004). Policy statements and guidelines: Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Available online: http://www.eyesite.ca/english/program-and-services/policy-statements-guidelines/learning-disabilities.htm.
Adaptation Date: 3/1/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.