Dyslexia Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 13, 2022
3 min read

The symptoms of dyslexia might be hard to spot until your child starts school. A teacher might be the first one to notice the signs, especially if your child struggles to read, spell, and follow instructions in the classroom.

Dyslexia symptoms change at different ages and stages of life. Each child with dyslexia has unique strengths, and faces distinct challenges. Yet there are some general signs that your child might need some extra help in school.

[Self-Test] Does Your Child Have Symptoms of Dyslexia?

Children with dyslexia have trouble processing language. Preschoolers who have this learning disorder are behind their peers in language skills. They take longer to speak and write than their friends, and they sometimes get their letters and words mixed up.

Preschoolers with dyslexia may show signs that include:

  • Finding it hard to learn or remember the letters of the alphabet.
  • Mispronouncing familiar words. “Baby talk” is common.
  • Having trouble recognizing letters. For example, they mistake "t" for "d."
  • Being unable to recognize rhyming patterns, like "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall."

The signs of dyslexia become more obvious in elementary school. Kids with this disorder have a harder time than their classmates in learning how to read and write.

Grade-schoolers with dyslexia:

  • Read more slowly than other kids their age
  • Can't tell the difference between certain letters or words
  • Don't connect letters with the sounds they make -- "buh" for "b" or "em" for "m"
  • Write letters or numbers backwards, such as "b" instead of "d"
  • Have trouble sounding out words when they read
  • Can't always understand what they've read
  • Write slowly
  • Misspell words -- even easy words like "and" and "dog"
  • Say that words on the page appear to blur or jump around
  • Struggle to follow a series of instructions

Kids who were able to hide their symptoms in elementary school might start to have trouble in middle school as the demands on them increase. They may withdraw socially as it becomes harder for them to communicate with their peers. Middle and high school students with dyslexia:

  • Have trouble writing clearly (make errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation)
  • Take a long time to finish their homework or complete tests
  • Have messy handwriting
  • Speak slowly
  • Avoid reading aloud
  • Use the wrong words -- like "furnish" instead of "finish" or "lotion" for "ocean"
  • Can't remember the names of words, so they might say "um" or "uh" a lot

If your child has these symptoms, talk to the teacher to find out what's happening in the classroom. Then, call your child's doctor to make sure a health problem like hearing loss or vision loss isn't to blame. If dyslexia is the cause, your doctor can refer you to a specialist for more tests and treatment.

The earlier children get diagnosed, the sooner they can start treatment to bring their language and writing skills up to speed.

People who weren’t diagnosed with dyslexia as children may discover later in life that they have it. Adults who have dyslexia may find that they have a hard time:

  • Reading, reading at good pace, or engaging activities that involve reading
  • Spelling, memorizing or remembering words
  • Taking notes or copying things down
  • Understanding common sayings or jokes that involve putting a different meaning to a set of words like, “in the home stretch,” or “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • Doing math, learning another language or remembering numbers such as passwords or pin numbers
  • Staying organized and meeting deadlines

If you think you have dyslexia, reach out to your health care provider for a referral to a specialist who can help diagnose your difficulties.