Raising a child with dyslexia can stir
up a lot of emotions. You may look ahead and wonder if this learning
issue will affect your child’s future. But dyslexia is not a prediction
of failure. Dyslexia is quite common, and many successful individuals
Research has proven that there are different ways of teaching that
can help people with dyslexia succeed. There’s a lot you can do as a
If you’re just starting your journey, don’t try to tackle everything
at once. You can start helping your child simply by learning more about
the symptoms, causes and strategies that can be used at home and in
What is dyslexia?
A good way to understand dyslexia
is to establish what it is not. It’s not a sign of low intelligence or
laziness. It’s also not due to poor vision. It’s a common condition that
affects the way the brain processes written and spoken language.
Dyslexia is primarily associated with trouble reading. Some doctors,
specialists and educators may refer to it as a “reading disorder” or a “reading disability.” But it can also affect writing, spelling and even speaking.
People with dyslexia can still understand complex ideas. Sometimes
they just need more time to work through the information. They may also
need a different way to process the information, such as listening to an
audiobook instead of reading it.
If your child has dyslexia, she won’t outgrow it. It’s a lifelong
condition. But that doesn’t mean your child can’t be happy and
successful. There are many effective teaching strategies
and tools that can help your child. In fact, many people with dyslexia
have successful careers in business, science and the arts.
There’s a long list of famous people
with dyslexia. This list includes director Steven Spielberg, investor
Charles Schwab and actress Whoopi Goldberg. It also includes quarterback
Tim Tebow, and author Dav Pilkey, who created the popular Captain Underpants books.
People with dyslexia are often very creative. It’s unclear whether
such creativity comes from thinking outside the box or from having a
brain that’s “wired” a bit differently.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that struggles with reading and other issues can lead to frustration and low self-esteem. The stress of dealing with schoolwork can make kids with dyslexia lose the motivation to keep trying.
There are lots of tools and strategies that can help. It might take
some trial and error for you to figure out which work best for your
child. But finding the right strategies and seeing improvement can boost
your child’s confidence.
Essential Skills for Reading Comprehension For kids with dyslexia, reading a single word can be a
struggle. Dyslexia also makes it hard to understand and remember what
Early in elementary school, students are expected to read a passage
of text and answer questions about it. This is what’s known as “reading comprehension,”
and it’s essential for building a strong foundation for success in
school. Students with dyslexia often have reading comprehension problems
because they need to develop several underlying skills, such as:
Connecting letters to sounds: Kids have to learn that each letter of the alphabet is associated with a certain sound or sounds. (Teachers refer to this as “phonics.”) Once your child can make these connections, she’ll be able to “sound out” words.
The process of sounding out words is known as “decoding.” Once your
child can decode individual words, she can start to make sense of entire
Recognizing “sight” words: The ability to read a
familiar word at a glance without having to sound it out is called
“word recognition.” The more words kids can recognize by sight, the
faster they’ll be able to read. Average readers can recognize a word by
sight after sounding it out a dozen or so times. Students with dyslexia
may need to see it 40 times.
Reading fluently: Fluent readers can recognize
most words by sight and quickly sound out unfamiliar words. They also
can read smoothly and at a good rate. Fluency is essential for good
Understanding the text: Strong readers can
remember what they’ve just read. They can summarize it and recall
specific details. Readers with dyslexia can get bogged down sounding out
individual words. This interrupts the flow of information and makes it
harder to understand and relate the new material to what they already
If your child has been having trouble reading, it’s a good idea to
find out what’s going on and get her some extra help. That’s because
kids who start out struggling with reading rarely catch up on their
Fortunately, researchers have been studying dyslexia for decades.
They know which teaching methods and tools can help children with
dyslexia succeed. If dyslexia is diagnosed by third grade, it’s easier
to catch up. But it’s never too late. Back to the top
How common is dyslexia?
There’s no way to know the exact number of people with dyslexia. But we do know that features of dyslexia are very common.
More than 2 million students ages 3–21 have learning disabilities,
according to the U.S. Department of Education. And the vast majority
of them have trouble with reading. In fact, the term dyslexia is often used to mean disabilities with reading.
That figure doesn’t tell the whole story, however. It only covers
students who are getting services under the special education law IDEA.
So it doesn’t count kids who are being served under other laws. Or
kids who may not be identified with learning disabilities but who are
getting help through a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS). Also
missing are students who are struggling but getting no services or
support. Back to the top
What causes dyslexia?
Researchers have yet to pinpoint
what causes dyslexia. But they do know that genes and brain differences
might influence a child’s chances of having dyslexia. Here are some of
the possible causes of dyslexia:
Genes and heredity: Dyslexia often runs in
families. So if your child has dyslexia, there’s a chance you or another
relative may have it too. About 40 percent of siblings of children with
dyslexia may have the same reading issues. As many as 49 percent of
parents of kids with dyslexia may have it too. Scientists have also
found several genes associated with reading and language processing
Brain anatomy: Having dyslexia doesn’t mean
your child isn’t bright. In fact, many people with dyslexia have
above-average intelligence. But their brain may look different from the
brain of people who don’t have dyslexia. Consider, for example, the
planum temporale. This area of the brain plays a role in understanding
language. It’s typically larger in the dominant hemisphere (the left
side of the brain for right-handed people) than in the right hemisphere.
But if your child has dyslexia, the planum temporale is probably about
the same size on both the left and right sides of the brain.
Brain activity: To be able to read, our brains
have to translate the symbols we see on the page into sounds. Then those
sounds have to be combined into meaningful words. Typically the areas
of our brains responsible for language skills work in a predictable way.
But if your child has dyslexia, those areas don’t work together in the
same way. Kids with reading issues end up using different areas of the
brain to compensate.
As researchers zero in on what causes dyslexia, they’re also learning
how the brain can change. This concept is known as “neuroplasticity.”
Studies show brain activity in people with dyslexia changes after they
receive proper tutoring.
What does this mean for your child? With the right help, your child
can make real and lasting improvements in reading ability. Knowledge of
how the brain “rewires” itself may also lead to even more effective help for dyslexia in the future. Back to the top
What are the symptoms of dyslexia?
Because dyslexia affects some
people more severely than others, your child’s symptoms may look
different from those in another child. Some kids with dyslexia have
trouble with reading and spelling. Others may struggle to write or to
tell left from right.
Some children don’t seem to struggle with early reading and writing.
But later on, they have trouble with complex language skills, such as
grammar, reading comprehension and more in-depth writing.
Dyslexia can also make it difficult for people to express themselves
clearly. It can be hard for them to structure their thoughts during
conversation. They may have trouble finding the right words to say.
Others struggle to understand what they’re hearing. This is
especially true when someone uses nonliteral language such as jokes and
The signs you see
may also look different at various ages. Some of the warning signs for
dyslexia, such as a speech delay, appear before a child reaches
kindergarten. More often, though, dyslexia is identified in grade
school. As schoolwork gets more demanding, trouble processing language
becomes more apparent.
Many children have one or two of these issues on occasion. But kids
with dyslexia have several of these issues, and they don’t go away.
Here are some signs to look out for: Warning Signs in Preschool or Kindergarten
Has trouble recognizing the letters of the alphabet
Struggles to match letters to sounds, such as not knowing what sounds b or h make
Has difficulty blending sounds into words, such as connecting C-H-A-T to the word chat
Struggles to pronounce words correctly, such as saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”
Has difficulty learning new words
Has a smaller vocabulary than other kids the same age
Has trouble learning to count or say the days of the week and other common word sequences
Has trouble rhyming
Warning Signs in Grade School or Middle School
Struggles with reading and spelling
Confuses the order of letters, such as writing “left” instead of “felt”
Has trouble remembering facts and numbers
Has difficulty gripping a pencil
Has difficulty using proper grammar
Has trouble learning new skills and relies heavily on memorization
Dyslexia doesn’t just affect
reading and writing. Here are some everyday skills and activities your
child may be struggling with because of this learning issue:
Social skills: There are several ways dyslexia can affect your child’s social life.
Struggling in school can make your child feel inferior around other
kids. Your child may stop trying to make new friends or may avoid group
activities. Your child may also have trouble understanding jokes or
sarcasm. You can help your child decode humor and also try different strategies to improve self-esteem.
People with dyslexia tend to be better listeners than readers. But
dyslexia can make it hard to filter out background noise. This means
your child could have trouble following what the teacher is saying in a
noisy classroom. Sitting near the teacher can help reduce distractions.
Memory: Kids with dyslexia can take so long to
read a sentence that they may not remember the sentence that came before
it. This makes it tough to grasp the meaning of the text. Listening to
an audio version or using other kinds of assistive technology can help.
Navigation: Children with dyslexia may struggle
with spatial concepts such as “left” and “right.” This can lead to
fears about getting lost in school hallways and other familiar places.
Using a buddy system can help with transitioning from class to class.
Time management: Dyslexia can make it hard to
tell time or stick to a schedule. A cell phone alarm, picture schedule
and other prompts can help keep kids (and adults) on track.
Finding out what’s causing your
child’s reading issues can help in a variety of ways. Your child’s
teachers can use the information to figure out which methods of reading
instruction to use. A diagnosis could also open the doors to more free
resources and support at school. These resources might include
one-on-one tutoring sessions with a reading specialist and a laptop your
child can use at home and at school.
There’s no single test for dyslexia, and getting a formal identification often involves a team of professionals. As part of the evaluation process,
you may be asked to fill out questionnaires about your child’s
strengths and weaknesses. Your child’s teachers may be asked to do the
same thing. Here are the steps involved: Step 1: Get a medical exam. Your child’s doctor may
test your child’s vision and hearing to see if these could be affecting
her ability to read. The doctor will also ask you about your child’s
development and whether other family members have reading problems or
other learning issues. Step 2: Get a referral to a specialist. Your child
may be tested by a psychologist or other professional who specializes in
learning issues. These specialists can provide insights into how your
child thinks. They’ll do tests to zero in on which areas she’s
struggling with. Your child will be asked to read words and do some
rhyming, spelling and writing, among other things.
Psychological testing can also determine whether ADHD, anxiety, depression or other issues are interfering with learning. Step 3: Put it all together. The specialists will
discuss their findings and recommend ways to help your child. These may
include a type of tutoring called phonological awareness training. This
can help improve your child’s understanding of how sounds and letters go
Remember that it’s never too early to start asking questions and
getting your child some extra help. The sooner your child starts getting
the right kind of help, the better her chances are of catching up to
other kids her age.
There are resources in place to help infants and toddlers develop the
language skills needed to become good readers. If your child is under
the age of 3, you can ask your state’s early intervention system to do a free evaluation. No referral is needed. Back to the top
What conditions are related to dyslexia?
It’s not unusual for kids to be
diagnosed with dyslexia and another condition. There are also conditions
that can look like dyslexia because they have some of the same
symptoms. Here are some conditions that can coincide with or be mistaken
ADHD can make it difficult to stay focused
during reading and other activities. Roughly a third of students with
attention issues also have dyslexia. It’s also worth noting that
teachers sometimes overlook signs of dyslexia and assume a child has ADHD.
That might be because kids who have difficulty reading can fidget from
frustration. They can also act up in class to cover up not knowing how
to do what the teacher is asking.
Auditory processing disorder affects kids’
ability to sort through the sounds they hear. They may struggle to
understand what people are saying. Reading can also be tough for them.
That’s because so much of reading involves connecting sounds with
letters. Kids with auditory processing disorder often have trouble recognizing the difference between letters like b and d and sounding out new words.
Visual processing issues can make it hard to see the difference between letters or shapes. Kids with visual processing issues
may complain of blurry vision or of letters “hopping around on the
page.” They may try to compensate by squinting or closing one eye. They
often reverse letters when writing and struggle to stay within the
Dysgraphia can affect children’s ability write and spell. It can also make it hard to organize their thoughts on paper. Many kids with dysgraphia also have dyslexia.
Dyscalculia makes it hard to do math. Many kids have serious difficulties in both reading and math and may have dyscalculia in addition to dyslexia. Trouble learning to count is associated with both conditions.
Executive functioning issues can affect children’s ability to organize and stay on task. Kids with weak executive functioning skills may struggle with reading comprehension.
There are many ways parents and teachers can help with each of these
conditions. Some strategies may work better for some conditions than
others. That’s why it’s a good idea to get professionals to help you
identify which issues your child is struggling with. More information
can lead you to more effective ways to help. Back to the top
How can professionals help with dyslexia?
There are many people who can
help your child improve her reading and writing skills. Some of these
people may work at your child’s school. Some you may want to seek out in
your community. Here are ways professionals can help with dyslexia. Your Child’s Teachers Schools have been working for decades to help students with
reading issues. Your child’s teacher may be familiar with several
methods of reading instruction and try different approaches to help your
There are also accommodations
that can help in class. These might include giving extra time on tests
or letting your child use high-tech tools like word-prediction software.
Even without a diagnosis, your child’s school can do a lot of things to
help your child academically. Response to intervention
(RTI) is a process some schools use to provide extra help to students
who are falling behind. If your child’s school uses RTI, routine
screenings identify which kids need help to develop certain skills. Then
those kids will receive small-group instruction either within or
outside of their regular classroom. If your child doesn’t make enough
progress in a small group, the school should try other approaches until
it finds one that is successful. Informal supports
are strategies teachers can use to help struggling students. Set up a
meeting to talk about your mutual concerns. Common strategies teachers
use to help kids with dyslexia include using a multisensory approach to
link listening, speaking, reading and writing, and having kids repeat
directions back to the teacher.
Often, after trying some informal supports, you or the school may recommend getting a 504 plan. A 504 plan
will be created only if the child is found to have a condition that
interferes with learning. This is a written plan detailing how the
school will accommodate your child’s needs.
Another option you may want to pursue is to request an evaluation for special education services. An evaluation will determine whether your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
A key part of IEPs is setting yearly goals. If your child qualifies
for an IEP, you’ll get to help the teachers set these goals. Goals may
include increasing your child’s vocabulary. They may also include
improving reading comprehension.
The plan will detail how the school will help your child meet these
goals. For example, the plan might include twice-a-week sessions with a
reading specialist. It might also include giving voice recognition
software to your child. Reading Specialists Public schools have reading specialists who can work with your
child one-on-one or in small groups. These specialists can help your
child focus on improving reading skills. There are also private tutors
who use specialized methods of reading instruction that may help your
child. Your Child’s Doctor Sometimes dyslexia can take such a toll on your child’s
self-esteem that anxiety and depression can set in. This makes school
even more difficult. Talk to your pediatrician about what you’re seeing.
Seeing a psychologist could help your child manage stress. Parent Advocates Every state has at least one parent advocacy center.
These nonprofits are staffed by parents whose kids have disabilities.
These experienced parents have learned how to navigate the education
system. They can help you prepare for important school meetings and do
other things to get more resources for your child. You can find the
center in your area through the Parent Technical Assistance Network. Back to the top
What can be done at home for dyslexia?
Helping your child with dyslexia
can be a challenge, particularly if you’re never been confident in your
own reading and writing skills. But you don’t have to be an expert to
help work on certain skills or strengthen your child’s self-esteem.
Keep in mind that kids (and families) are all different, so not all
options will work for you. Don’t panic if the first strategies you try
aren’t effective. You may need to try several approaches to find what
works best for your child. Here are some things you can try at home:
Read out loud every day. If your child is very young, read picture books together. For a grade-schooler or middle-schooler, snuggle up with a copy of Harry Potter.
For a teenager, consider reading magazine or newspaper articles or
maybe a recipe. Billboards, store-discount signs and instruction manuals
are also fair game. Hearing you read can let your child focus on
understanding the material and expanding his overall knowledge base. Do
it every chance you can get.
Tap into your child’s interests. Provide a
variety of reading materials, such as comic books, mystery stories,
recipes and articles on sports or pop stars. Look for good books that
are at your child’s reading level. Kids with dyslexia and other reading issues are more likely to power through a book if the topic is of great interest to them.
Use audiobooks. Check your local library to see if you can borrow audio recordings of books.
You can also access them online. Some stores sell books for younger
kids that come with a recording of the story on a CD that prompts them
when it’s time to turn the page. Listening to a book while looking at
the words can help your child learn to connect the sounds she’s hearing
to the words she’s seeing.
Look for apps and other high-tech help. Word
processors and spell-check can help kids who have trouble with reading
and spelling. Voice recognition software can help older students tackle
writing assignments by letting them dictate their ideas instead of
having to type them. There are also lots of apps and online games that can help your child build reading skills.
Observe and take notes. Watching your child more closely and taking notes
on her behavior may reveal patterns and triggers that you can begin to
work around. Your notes will also come in handy if you want to talk to
teachers, doctors or anyone else you enlist to help your child.
Focus on effort, not outcome. Praise your child
for trying hard, and emphasize that everyone makes mistakes—you
included! Help your child understand how important it is to keep
practicing, and give hugs, high-fives or other rewards for making even
the smallest bits of progress. Your encouragement will help your child
See what it feels like. Use Through Your Child’s Eyes
to experience what it’s like to have dyslexia. Sometimes simply
acknowledging that you understand what your child is going through can
boost her confidence enough to try different strategies and stick with
them long enough to see which ones are the most helpful.
Make your home reader-friendly. Try to stock
every room (including the bathroom!) with at least a few books or
magazines your child might be interested in reading. Take a book when
you go out for pizza or on a trip, and read it to your family so you can
all discuss it. Look for other creative ways to encourage reading and
writing at home.
Dyslexia can present challenges
for your child and for you. But with the proper support, almost all
people with dyslexia can become accurate readers. Your involvement will
Wherever you are in your journey, whether you’re just starting out or
are well on your way, this site can help you find more ways to support
your child. Here are a few things that can help make the journey easier:
Connect with other parents. Remember that you’re not alone. Use our safe online community to find parents like you.
Get behavior advice.Parenting Coach
offers expert-approved strategies on a variety of issues that can
affect children with dyslexia, including trouble with time management,
anxiety and fear, frustration and low self-esteem.
Build a support plan. Come up with a game plan and anticipate what lies ahead.
Understanding dyslexia and looking for ways to help your child is an
important first step. There’s a lot you can do—just don’t feel you have
to do everything all at once. Pace yourself. If you try a bunch of
strategies at the same time, it might be hard to figure out which ones
are working. And do your best to stay positive. Your love and support
can make a big difference in your child’s life. Back to the top
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects reading, writing, spelling and even speaking.
Dyslexia is very common and is not a sign of low intelligence.
Teaching methods that involve sight, sound and touch can improve skills significantly.