What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is one of many learning disabilities. It is a language-based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonological processing abilities. These difficulties in single word decoding are often unexpected in relation to age and other cognitive and academic abilities; they are not the result of generalized developmental disability or sensory impairment. Dyslexia is manifest by variable difficulty with different forms of language, often including, in addition to problems reading, a conspicuous problem with acquiring proficiency in writing and spelling.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

The difficulties noted below are often associated with dyslexia if they are unexpected for the individual's age, educational level, or cognitive abilities. The problems displayed by individuals with dyslexia involve difficulties in acquiring and using language -- reading and writing letters in the wrong order is just one manifestation of dyslexia and does not occur in all cases. Other problems experienced by dyslexics may include the following but not all students who have difficulties with these skills are dyslexic. Formal testing by a qualified diagnostician is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.

Common Signs of Dyslexia: Pre-School Children

  1. May talk later than most children.
  2. May have difficulty pronouncing words, i.e., "busgetti" for "spaghetti", "mawn lower" for "lawn mower".
  3. May be slow to add new vocabulary words.
  4. May be unable to recall the right word.
  5. May have difficulty with rhyming.
  6. May have trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, how to spell and write his or her name.
  7. May be unable to follow multi-step directions or routines.
  8. Fine motor skills may develop more slowly than in other children.
  9. May have difficulty telling and/or retelling a story in the correct sequence.
  10. Often has difficulty separating sounds in words and blending sounds to make words.

Common Signs of Dyslexia: K to 4th Graders


  1. May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds.
  2. Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation).
  3. Has difficulty spelling phonetically.
  4. Makes consistent reading and spelling errors such as: 
Letter reversals - "d" for "b" as in: "dog" for "bog" 
Word reversals - "tip" for "pit" 
Inversions - "m" for "w," "u" for "n" 
Transpositions - "felt" for "left" 
Substitutions - "house" for "home"
  5. May confuse small words - "at" for "to," "said" for "and," "does" for "goes."
  6. Relies on guessing and context.
  7. May have difficulty learning new vocabulary.
  8. May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x / =).
  9. May have trouble remembering facts.
  10. May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding.
  11. May have difficulty planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks.
  12. Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.).
  13. May have poor "fine motor" coordination.


Common Signs of Dyslexia: 5th to 8th Graders


  1. Is usually reading below grade level.
  2. May reverse letter sequences - "soiled" for "solid," "left" for "felt."
  3. May be slow to discern and to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other reading and spelling strategies.
  4. May have difficulty spelling; spells same word differently on the same page.
  5. May avoid reading aloud.
  6. May have trouble with word problems in math.
  7. May write with difficulty with illegible handwriting; pencil grip is awkward, fist-like or tight.
  8. May avoid writing.
  9. May have difficulty with written composition.
  10. May have slow or poor recall of facts.
  11. May have difficulty with comprehension.
  12. May have trouble with non-literal language (idioms, jokes, proverbs, slang).
  13. May have difficulty with planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks.


Common Signs of Dyslexia: High School and College Students


  1. May read very slowly with many inaccuracies.
  2. Continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells the same word differently in a single piece of writing.
  3. May avoid reading and writing tasks.
  4. May have trouble summarizing and outlining.
  5. May have trouble answering open-ended questions on tests.
  6. May have difficulty learning a foreign language.
  7. May have poor memory skills.
  8. May work slowly.
  9. May pay too little attention to details or focus too much on them.
  10. May misread information.
  11. May have an inadequate vocabulary.
  12. May have an inadequate store of knowledge from previous reading.
  13. May have difficulty with planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks.

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Basic Facts about Dyslexia: What Every Layperson Ought to Know - © Copyright 1993, 2nd edition 1998. The International Dyslexia Association, Baltimore, MD.