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Last Updated: 03/12/2018


 Article of Interest - Dyslexia

Overcoming Dyslexia

from NBC's Today Show guest Dr. Sally Shaywitz
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit


Dr. Sally Shaywitz will be one of the featured speakers at the LDA of Michigan's Annual Conference. Find out more about this conference at

In her latest book, Dr. Sally Shaywitz instructs parents in what they can do year-by-year, grade-by-grade, step-by-step for a dyslexic child. Read an excerpt of "Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level," below.

I now want to gather together all the clues that combined will serve as an early-warning system for recognizing dyslexia. The clues will help you answer the question: Should my son or daughter (or I) be evaluated for dyslexia?

No one wants to be an "alarmist" and put her child through an evaluation for trivial or transient bumps along the road to reading. Evaluations can take time, and those carried out privately can be expensive. But I think we have to remind ourselves that our children are precious, one of-a-kind individuals and have only one life to live. If we elect not to evaluate a child and that child later proves to have dyslexia, we cannot give those lost years back to him. The human brain is resilient, but there is no question that early intervention and treatment bring about more positive change at a faster pace than an intervention provided to an older child. And then there is the erosion of self-esteem that accrues over the years as a child struggles to read.

Childhood is a time for learning. A child who delays breaking the phonetic code will miss much of the reading practice that is essential to building fluency and vocabulary; as a consequence, he will fall further and further behind in acquiring comprehension skills and knowledge of the world around him. To see this happen to a child is sad, all the more because it is preventable.

Joseph Torgesen, a reading researcher at Florida State University who has carried out many of the critical studies on intervention, has this to say about the need to identify children early on and the cost of waiting: To the extent that we allow children to fall seriously behind at any point during early elementary school, we are moving to a "remedial" rather than a "preventive" model of intervention. Once children fall behind in the growth of critical word reading skills, it may require very intensive interventions to bring them back up to adequate levels of reading accuracy, and reading fluency may be even more difficult to restore because of the large amount of reading practice that is lost by children each month and year that they remain poor readers.

Most parents and teachers delay evaluating a child with reading difficulties because they believe the problems are just temporary, that they will be outgrown. This is simply not true. Reading poblems are not outgrown, they are persistent. As the participants in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study have demonstrated, at least three out of four children who read poorly in third grade continue to have reading problems in high school and beyond. What may seem to be tolerable and overlooked in a third grader certainly won't be in a high schooler or young adult. Without identification and proven interventions, virtually all children who have reading difficulties early on will still struggle with reading when they are adults.

Luckily, parents can play an active role in the early identification of a reading problem. All that is required is an observant parent who knows what she is looking for and who is willing to spend time with her child listening to him speak and read.

The specific signs of dyslexia, both weaknesses and strengths, in any one individual will vary according to the age and educational level of that person. The five-year-old who can't quite learn his letters becomes the six-year-old who can't match sounds to letters and the fourteen-year-old who dreads reading out loud and the twenty-four-year-old who reads excruciatingly slowly. The threads persist throughout a person's life. The key is knowing how to recognize them at different periods during development. Therefore, I have gathered the clues together to provide three distinct portraits of dyslexia: first, in early childhood from preschool through first grade; next, in school-age children from second grade on; and, last, in young adults and adults.

The earliest clues involve mostly spoken language. The very first clue to a language (and reading) problem may be delayed language. Once the child begins to speak, look for the following problems:

The Preschool Years

Trouble learning common nursery rhymes such as "Jack and Jill" and "Humpty Dumpty"

A lack of appreciation of rhymes

Mispronounced words; persistent baby talk

Difficulty in learning (and remembering) names of letters

Failure to know the letters in his own name

Kindergarten and First Grade

Failure to understand that words come apart; for example, that batboy can be pulled apart into bat and boy, and, later on, that the word bat can be broken down still further and sounded out as: "b" "aaaa" "t"

Inability to learn to associate letters with sounds, such as being unable to connect the letter b with the "b" sound

Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters; for example, the word big is read as goat

The inability to read common one-syllable words or to sound out even the simplest of words, such as mat, cat, hop, nap

Complaints about how hard reading is, or running and hiding when it is time to read

A history of reading problems in parents or siblings

In addition to the problems of speaking and reading, you should be looking for these indications of strengths in higher-level thinking processes:


A great imagination

The ability to figure things out

Eager embrace of new ideas

Getting the gist of things

A good understanding of new concepts

Surprising maturity

A large vocabulary for the age group

Enjoyment in solving puzzles

Talent at building models

Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to him

Problems in Speaking

Mispronunciation of long, unfamiliar, or complicated words; the fracturing of words-leaving out parts of words or confusing the order of the parts of words; for example, aluminum becomes amulium

Speech that is not fluent-pausing or hesitating often when speaking, lots of um's during speech, no glibness

The use of imprecise language, such as vague references to stuff or things instead of the proper name of an object

Not being able to find the exact word, such as confusing words that sound alike: saying tornado instead of volcano, substituting lotion for ocean, or humanity for humidity

The need for time to summon an oral response or the inability to come up with a verbal response quickly when questioned

Difficulty in remembering isolated pieces of verbal information (rote memory)-trouble remembering dates, names, telephone numbers, random lists

Problems in Reading

Very slow progress in acquiring reading skills

The lack of a strategy to read new words

Trouble reading unknown (new, unfamiliar) words that must be sounded out; making wild stabs or guesses at reading a word; failure to systematically sound out words

The inability to read small "function" words such as that, an, in

Stumbling on reading multi-syllable words, or the failure to come close to sounding out the full word

Omitting parts of words when reading; the failure to decode parts within a word, as if someone had chewed a hole in the middle of the word, such as conible for convertible

A terrific fear of reading out loud; the avoidance of oral reading

Oral reading filled with substitutions, omissions, and mispronunciations

Oral reading that is choppy and labored, not smooth or fluent

Oral reading that lacks inflection and sounds like the reading of a foreign language

A reliance on context to discern the meaning of what is read

A better ability to understand words in context than to read isolated single words

Disproportionately poor performance on multiple choice tests

The inability to finish tests on time

The substitution of words with the same meaning for words in the text he can't pronounce, such as car for automobile

Disastrous spelling, with words not resembling true spelling; some spellings may be missed by spell check

Trouble reading mathematics word problems

Reading that is very slow and tiring

Homework that never seems to end, or with parents often recruited as readers

Messy handwriting despite what may be an excellent facility at word processing-nimble fingers

Extreme difficulty learning a foreign language

A lack of enjoyment in reading, and the avoidance of reading books or even a sentence

The avoidance of reading for pleasure, which seems too exhausting

Reading whose accuracy improves over time, though it continues to lack fluency and is laborious

Lowered self-esteem, with pain that is not always visible to others

A history of reading, spelling, and foreign language problems in family members

In addition to signs of a phonologic weakness, there are signs of strengths in higher-level thinking processes:

Excellent thinking skills: conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction

Learning that is accomplished best through meaning rather than rote memorization

Ability to get the "big picture"

A high level of understanding of what is read to him

The ability to read and to understand at a high level over-learned (that is, highly practiced) words in a special area of interest; for example, if his hobby is restoring cars, he may be able to read auto mechanics magazines

Improvement as an area of interest becomes more specialized and focused, when he develops a miniature vocabulary that he can read

A surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary

Excellence in areas not dependent on reading, such as math, computers, and visual arts, or excellence in more conceptual (versus factoid-driven) subjects such as philosophy, biology, social studies, neuroscience, and creative writing

Problems in Speaking

Persistence of earlier oral language difficulties

The mispronunciation of the names of people and places, and tripping over parts of words

Difficulty remembering names of people and places and the confusion of names that sound alike

A struggle to retrieve words: "It was on the tip of my tongue"

Lack of glibness, especially if put on the spot

Spoken vocabulary that is smaller than listening vocabulary, and hesitation to say aloud words that might be mispronounced

Problems in Reading

A childhood history of reading and spelling difficulties

Word reading becomes more accurate over time but continues to require great effort

Lack of fluency

Embarrassment caused by oral reading: the avoidance of Bible study groups, reading at Passover seders, or delivering a written speech

Trouble reading and pronouncing uncommon, strange, or unique words such as people's names, street or location names, food dishes on a menu (often resorting to asking the waiter about the special of the day or resorting to saying, "I'll have what he's having," to avoid the embarrassment f not being able to read the menu)

Persistent reading problems

The substitution of made-up words during reading for words that cannot be pronounced-for example, metropolitan becomes mitan-and a failure to recognize the word metropolitan when it is seen again or heard in a lecture the next day

Extreme fatigue from reading

Slow reading of most materials: books, manuals, subtitles in foreign films

Penalized by multiple-choice tests

Unusually long hours spent reading school or work-related materials

Frequent sacrifice of social life for studying

A preference for books with figures, charts, or graphics

A preference for books with fewer words per page or with lots of white showing on a page

Disinclination to read for pleasure

Spelling that remains disastrous and a preference for less complicated words in writing that are easier to spell

Particularly poor performance on rote clerical tasks

Signs of Strengths in Higher-Level Thinking Processes

The maintenance of strengths noted in the school-age period

A high learning capability

A noticeable improvement when given additional time on multiple-choice examinations

Noticeable excellence when focused on a highly specialized area such as medicine, law, public policy, finance, architecture, or basic science

Excellence in writing if content and not spelling is important

A noticeable articulateness in the expression of ideas and feelings

Exceptional empathy and warmth, and feeling for others

Success in areas not dependent on rote memory

A talent for high-level conceptualization and the ability to come up with original insights

Big-picture thinking

Inclination to think out of the box

A noticeable resilience and ability to adapt

These clues across the life span offer a portrait of dyslexia. Examine them carefully, think about them, and determine if any of these clues fit your child, you, or someone else you are close to. Look for clues in the weaknesses and strengths. Identifying the weaknesses makes it possible to spot dyslexia in children before they are expected to read and in adults after they have developed some degree of reading accuracy but are continuing to show the remnants of earlier problems, reading slowly and with great effort.

If you think you or your child has some of these problems, it is important to note how frequent they are and how many there are. You don't need to worry about isolated clues or ones that appear very rarely. For you to be concerned, the symptoms must be persistent; anyone can mispronounce a word now and then, or confuse similar-sounding words occasionally. What you are looking for is a persistent pattern-the occurrence of a number of these symptoms over a prolonged period of time. That represents a likelihood of dyslexia.

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