What Is Dyslexia? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Dyslexia is a learning disability that primarily affects reading skills, but it can also cause language comprehension, math skills, and general learning challenges. Dyslexia in children is often diagnosed when children begin to read around kindergarten or first grade, but a young person with dyslexia may go undiagnosed into their teen or young adult years.

7 Signs Your Child May Have Dyslexia

  1. Trouble Learning New Words
  2. Difficulty with Memory
  3. Difficulty Writing
  4. Problems with Spelling
  5. Reading Challenges
  6. Language Processing and Expression Challenges
  7. Low Confidence

Dyslexia can interfere with a child’s overall ability to learn, making it crucial for those with dyslexic difficulties to receive early intervention. Poor spelling and language skills and reading difficulty are some of the most common signs. However, dyslexia can look a bit different in each child.

Understanding what is dyslexia and typical signs to watch for can be a necessary component of getting a child the academic and emotional support they need. With a good support system, a dyslexic student can receive effective classroom instruction and at-home assistance to improve dyslexia symptoms or academic performance.

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that primarily causes problems with reading. As many as 15% of Americans have dyslexia. Children with dyslexia typically have trouble with decoding abilities, phonemic or phonological awareness, written language, word recognition, and working memory.

Dyslexia comes in different forms, including:

  • Visual dyslexia interferes with visual processing and makes it difficult for a child to remember what they see written or drawn on paper.
  • Surface dyslexia causes a child to sound out new words but struggle to recognize sight words.
  • Phonological dyslexia hinders a child’s ability to break down words into sounds, making it difficult to sound out words or read.

Because reading is such a crucial building block of academic success as children age, a learning disorder like dyslexia can negatively impact a child’s learning. Reading difficulties by the end of third grade lead to an estimated 16% of students who are unable to graduate high school.

7 Signs Your Child May Have Dyslexia

Early intervention is key for children with disabilities like dyslexia to adapt to new strategies that aid their learning. Now that we’ve answered, “What is dyslexia?” let’s talk about common signs that you might see in a child with this learning disability. Spotting early warning signs could be helpful in getting a child diagnosed and matched with the right specialists.

1. Trouble Learning New Words

One of the most common symptoms a dyslexic learner displays is difficulties building a vocabulary. This stems from a hindered ability to recognize a written word and decode its sounds due to phonological processing interference.

Decoding abilities allow a child to see a word, recognize its letters, and sound out the word by matching the letter sounds to each letter. However, a dyslexic student may not be able to decode a word, as their brain won’t simply match the letter to its sound. This phonemic component can cause children with dyslexia to be unable to sound out new words they see, making it challenging to build a vocabulary or read.

In earlier years, children may have trouble with the phonological component of reading that happens first. They learn to rhyme, identify syllables in a word, and break sentences into words during this time. A dyslexic learner may start exhibiting a delay in this area by age three or four.

2. Difficulty with Memory

Dyslexia can affect many cognitive abilities, with one of the most crucial being memory. More specifically, the learning difficulty interferes with working memory, also known as short-term memory. We use our working memory to temporarily hold information we learn until the brain can process them where they need to go to store for longer periods.

When children learn, they use their working memory frequently. A person’s ability to remember what they’ve learned and use it later relies on working memory to start the process.

Children with dyslexia have poor memory recall, which leads to their struggles with reading, writing, and spelling. While they might have the information they need in their brain, their memory doesn’t quite process it the same way, making it difficult for them to pull information quickly.

You might also notice a child with dyslexia forgetting important dates, people’s names, or what you said to them a few minutes ago. This can lead to challenges with staying on task or completing classwork.

3. Difficulty Writing

A dyslexic person may have trouble putting their thoughts on paper. These challenges stem from the reduced reading experience people with dyslexia have, affecting phonological awareness, spelling, and other learning abilities that affect both reading and writing.

The disorder may cause children to have lots of thoughts about what to write but have difficulty actually planning those thoughts to write them. You might see a child with dyslexia write sentences that don’t make sense or are out of order. There may also be lots of spelling or grammar errors.

Kids with dyslexia often have illegible handwriting, too. Some research indicates that poor handwriting may be caused by a child’s uncertainty or low self-esteem with spelling, leading to more rushed or messy handwriting.

Dysgraphia, another learning disability, can also cause these problems. However, dysgraphia solely impacts one’s ability to write, while dyslexia can affect both writing and reading.

4. Problems with Spelling

Some children with dyslexia exhibit problems with spelling. Most commonly, they’ll replace one letter for another or mix around the letters in the word as they attempt to spell it. This issue goes back to phonemic awareness challenges that make it hard for children with dyslexia to break down a word by its sounds.

Language processing plays a major role in a child’s ability to spell, but this skill is delayed in dyslexic learners. You might see your child confusing similar letters, like “b” and “d,” or mixing up the position of letters, like “siad” instead of “said.”

Edutopia explains spelling as a dyslexic learner as “guesswork,” which is an accurate description, considering how challenging it is for the child to decipher each sound in a word. The International Dyslexia Association notes that while people with dyslexia often learn strategies to help them read, writing and spelling problems can take longer to master or may even continue throughout life.

5. Reading Challenges

Dyslexia is primarily a reading disability. But since the skills necessary for reading are also used in so many other tasks, like writing and spelling, this specific learning difficulty can impact a child beyond their reading skills.

Still, reading challenges are among the toughest for dyslexic people to navigate, especially children who are just learning this skill. As they learn to read, children with dyslexia may quickly fall behind their peers as they struggle to recognize sight words, sound out new words, and make sense of what they read.

Reading comprehension is one area that dyslexia affects significantly. That’s because those with dyslexia can have a tough time understanding the meaning behind words. Dyslexia also interferes with a child’s ability to follow along with text, as their brains might jumble words and sentences or cause them to skip words or sentences altogether.

6. Language Processing Challenges

At the base of most issues arising from dyslexia is language processing. Language processing involves how we make sense of the words we hear and use words for communicating. A dyslexic brain can have trouble with both written and spoken language due to issues with language processing.

When language processing is delayed, as is the case in children with dyslexia, words can become jumbled in the brain, making it feel impossible to decipher them or use them to write down thoughts. This is why children with the learning disorder may struggle to understand what they read or plan an outline for a writing assignment.

Some children with dyslexia may also exhibit signs of an auditory processing disorder, affecting how they understand speech and make sense of sounds. Although these are two separate conditions, they have similar symptoms. Auditory processing disorder may exacerbate some of the language processing symptoms children with dyslexia have.

7. Low Confidence

Dyslexia can affect a child beyond academics, too. Struggles in school can be discouraging for children of any age and may even lead to confidence issues.

According to LD Online, research has shown that dyslexia has some ties to emotional problems. As they age, children may begin to see more significant learning differences between themselves and their peers, which could leave them feeling defeated. Some children also may develop anxiety related to their learning disability.

Dyslexic children can experience social delays, too, which can further spark a divide between them and their peers. Social immaturity and difficulty understanding social cues may make it challenging to participate in social situations or make friends, also contributing to low self-confidence.

Dyslexia Treatment Options

While there’s no technical cure for dyslexia, early intervention methods and therapies can assist dyslexic learners with the challenges they face regularly. Many kids with dyslexia have intervention in school with trained specialists who can work with them on their reading skills and other difficulties that stem from the learning disorder.

Multisensory approaches are some of the most popular. These strategies blend learning with the five senses to help students with dyslexia make connections with words and learned concepts. They can also keep kids highly engaged to assist their comprehension.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach is one multisensory approach that targets reading skills, specifically. With this approach, students may work one-on-one or in small groups with a teacher. With the teacher’s guidance, students learn to connect letters to their sounds on a small scale before moving on to more complex concepts.

A child’s pediatrician typically remains at the center of their treatment, offering support and suggestions to meet the child’s best interests. For instance, a pediatrician may recommend private reading intervention or seeing a speech-language pathologist for extra help outside of school.

Does My Child’s Dyslexia Qualify for Disability Benefits?

Children with dyslexia may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a monthly payment that assists people with disabilities. SSI comes from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is available for adults and children who meet eligibility guidelines and have a qualifying disorder.

Dyslexia falls within the neurodevelopmental disorder category that the SSA considers eligible for benefits, assuming the child has limitations in at least two key areas, including self-management, socialization, and memory. Furthermore, the child’s limitations must interfere with their everyday life and tasks, like going to school and learning, and the child’s and family’s income can’t exceed income guidelines for SSI benefits.

If you believe your child may qualify for SSI benefits but need help applying or getting the process started, consider contacting a disability advocate or attorney. Both have a solid understanding of the SSI system and can help you navigate it. An attorney can also help you file an appeal should the SSA deny your child’s claim.