Diagnosing Dyslexia

What to Look for in Diagnosing Dyslexia
Clues to a Diagnosis of Dyslexia*

Dyslexia is more than simply a score on a reading test. Reflecting the core sound-based phonological deficit, a range of downstream effects is observed in spoken as well as in written language. Phonological processing is critical to both spoken and written language. While most attention has centered on the print difficulties, spoken language is also affected. The ability to notice, manipulate, and retrieve individual sounds (phonemes) has an important function in speaking, for example, a person must retrieve phonemes from his/her internal dictionary lexicon and serial order them correctly in order to utter the spoken word. Thus, it should not be surprising that problems with spoken language, albeit more subtle than those in reading, are often observed.

  • Late speaking
  • Mispronunciations
  • Difficulties with word retrieval
  • Needing time to summon an oral response
  • Confusing words that sound alike, for example, saying “recession” when the individual meant to say, “reception”
  • Pausing or hesitating often when speaking
  • Using lots of “um’s” during speaking, lack of glibness
  • Using imprecise language, for example, “stuff,” “things,” instead of the proper name of an object
  • Underestimation of knowledge, if based solely on (glibness) of oral response


As reflected in the spoken language difficulties in dyslexia noted above, it is apparent that dyslexics are not glib, particularly when put on the spot for a quick response. Keep in mind: this is not a matter of knowing the answer. Rather, the problem – when the person knows the answer – is in pulling the word out and saying it, that is, in retrieving the spoken word instantly. Glibness should not be taken as a measure of understanding, especially in a person who is dyslexic.


Clues to Reading Difficulties in Dyslexia*

A range of difficulties is noted in reading at all ages. Awareness of these signs is important and may lead to earlier and more accurate diagnosis of dyslexia in children and adults. Specific clues to dyslexia noted in reading are listed below.

  • Slow progress in acquiring reading skills
  • Lack a strategy to read new, unknown words – trouble sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Inability to read small, so-called function words such as “that,” “an,” “in”
  • Terrific fear of reading aloud; avoidance of oral reading
  • Oral reading filled with mispronunciations, omissions, substitutions
  • Oral reading that is choppy and sounds like reading a foreign language
  • Reliance on context to discern the meaning of what is read
  • Disproportionate poor performance on multiple choice tests
  • Slow reading
  • Reading is tiring
  • Inability to finish tests on time – doesn’t finish or rushes and makes careless errors; final test grade does not reflect person’s knowledge of the topic
  • Disastrous spelling
  • Homework that never seems to end; parents recruited as reader
  • Messy handwriting despite what may be an excellent facility at word processing
  • Extreme difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Avoidance of reading for pleasure which seems too exhausting
  • Reading effortful, demands extra attention and concentration to read
  • Requires quiet environment to concentrate on reading
  • Reading accuracy improves over time, though it continues to lack fluency and remains laborious and slow
  • Lowered self-esteem with pain that is not always visible to others
  • Development of anxiety, especially in test-taking situations
  • History of problems in reading, spelling, foreign language learning in family members


The lack of reading fluency brings with it a need to read “manually” (a process consuming great effort and time), rather than automatically; the cost of such reading, in addition to reading slowly, is a tremendous drain on attentional resources. This is often observed in the classroom when struggling readers are asked to read quietly, deplete their attentional resources as they struggle with the print, and, as a consequence, appear to be daydreaming or not attending to the assigned reading.  An additional cost to the person is that non-fluent or “manual” reading is very tiring to the person.

Source © Overcoming Dyslexia, S.Shaywitz, Knopf, 2003, pp.122-124


Symptoms by Grade *

Grades K-2: (Learning to Read)

  • Trouble Rhyming
  • Does not know the letter names and sounds
  • Does not learn phonics readily
  • Inconsistent memory for words
  • Cannot remember lists (days, months)
  • Mispronounces words
  • Distracted by Background Noise
  • Cannot retrieve names for colors, objects
  • Cannot spell phonetically
  • Frustration with reading and spelling
  • Avoidance of reading and spelling

Grades 3-4: (Reading to Learn)

  • Phonetic decoding is a struggle
  • Inconsistent word recognition
  • Poor spelling, immature spelling and writing
  • Over reliance on context and guessing
  • Trouble learning new vocabulary
  • Symbolic confusion

Grades 5-6

  • Slow Reader
  • Vocabulary is not growing at expected rate
  • Poor spelling, misspells common words
  • Poor punctuation and capitalization
  • Trouble learning cursive
  • Over reliant on context to read
  • Decodes poorly
  • Usually hates to write
  • Avoids reading

Grades 7-8

  • Slow reading
  • Cannot decode new vocabulary
  • Poor spelling
  • Cannot organize written compositions
  • Word confusions
  • Miscomprehends complex sentences, figures of speech, subtle inferences

Grades 9 +

  • Writing is below reading comprehension
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Slow, minimal or disorganized writing


Source WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise, children’s health: Dyslexia – Symptoms