Since it was first identified in 1881, dyslexia has been much studied, with new discoveries leading to new management methods. Of course, at its core dyslexia’s signs remain the same. As succinctly described by a Synapse fact sheet:
“Children with dyslexia usually appear bright, intelligent, and articulate but are unable to read, write, or spell at an age-appropriate level. They will generally have average or above average intelligence, yet may have poor academic achievement. They may have good oral language abilities but will perform much more poorly on similar written-language tests. They might be labeled lazy, dumb, careless, immature, ‘not trying hard enough,’ or as having a ‘behavior problem.’”
Yale University offers an excellent list of signs of dyslexia, which can vary based on age level. Yale goes into detail about these signs across age groups from preschool, kindergarten and first grade, second grade through middle school, and young adult to adult years. A shorter, summarised version of signs that may be indicators, or “red flags”, as potential markers for dyslexia include:
- Speech and language developmental delays
- Family history of reading, spelling, or language difficulties
- Difficulty learning, recognising, and remembering alphabet letters (or numbers)
- Difficulty identifying rhyming words or word patterns
- Inconsistent spelling attempts – eg. Spelling a word differently even if used multiple times in the same sentence
- Substituting words of similar meaning when reading – eg. saying dad when reading father or vice versa
- Complaining of headaches or tiredness and general resistance to reading, writing, or mathematics activities
- Overwhelmed by quantity of written symbols in environment or on the page
- Trouble remembering man-made concepts – eg. telling time, days of the week, months of the year, seasons, left and right, etc.
- Difficulty grasping and remembering “learn by rote” tasks – eg. tying shoelaces, nursery rhymes, times tables, etc.
- Difficulty following and keeping up with multi-directional tasks and activities.
Dyslexia’s positive aspects
Other lists abound, but both the Synapse and the Yale resources detail dyslexic children’s strengths:
- Creativity and a great imagination,
- the ability to understand and figure things out,
- a larger than typical spoken vocabulary (and overall maturity) for their age group,
- and excellent auditory skills are among these strengths across all age levels.
Older children can demonstrate excellent skills in conceptualisation, reasoning, imagination, and abstraction, with an ability to understand the “big picture.” The more they learn about a specialised subject, the more they excel, a trait that often follows them through into adulthood. Empathy and strong articulation skills join the mix, as well.
Further, The Dyslexic Advantage by Dr Brock Eide and Dr Fernette Eide define four specific M.I.N.D. strengths common to dyslexics:
- M. Material Reasoning – heightened spatial awareness; commonly allowing for strong strategic and design skills (eg. great at Lego or chess?), sensitivity to 3-dimensional patterns and structure, ability to rotate images in the mind’s eyes (can turn things around in their head).
- I. Interconnected Reasoning – a sense of how everything is related to everything else; “big picture” thinking, strong empathy, and potentially a highly developed social consciousness.
- N. Narrative Reasoning – sense of story and logical development of consequence; typically displayed as excellent story tellers with strong imagination,
- D. Dynamic Reasoning – a strong sense of cause and effect as well as an ability to sense and predict future trends and adjust and adapt to changing circumstances.
For its part, the Synapse fact sheet notes, “Children may try to hide their reading weaknesses with ingenious compensatory “strategies”, and might learn best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, and visual aids. They can show talents in other areas such as art, drama, music, sports, mechanics, story-telling, sales, business, designing, building, or engineering.”
Looking past the child for signs
Signs of dyslexia aren’t limited only to individual children, however. Parents in particular should look to other family members, as well, whether themselves, grandparents, or other relatives who have had problems with reading. As a neurobiological condition, dyslexia has a strong genetic component, up to about 50 percent (environment accounts for the other 50 percent). Dyslexia.com.au reports that about 40% of siblings of children with dyslexia, and up to 49% of their parents, may also have dyslexia.
Identifying dyslexia and other conditions
If you suspect your child or a child you teach or care for may have dyslexia, it is critical to work with the child’s primary care physician to obtain a proper diagnosis. Dyslexia can very often be mistaken for other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder–and it can coexist alongside both of these, along with other disabilities.
As important as literacy is not just to education and work, but also to citizenship and global stewardship, dyslexia isn’t something to take lightly. It can’t be outgrown, nor “taught out,” but it can be managed and overcome. A wealth of resources, both online and through your child’s school district or doctor’s office, should be available to help. Furthermore, to help both younger and older kids with dyslexia process both the emotional and the practical issues they are struggling with, Understood has a list of seven books about it and other conditions such as ADHD.