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How to identify dsylexia in children

Updated on June 17, 2015

What is dyslexia?

It is estimated that about 1 in 10 children have learning difficulties associated with dyslexia. These children are predominantly boys but girls can also be diagnosed. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. However, once it is detected there are many resources that can be used to aid the child's learning.

The good news is that it is believed that many dyslexic people have a slightly larger right side of the brain; this means that they are more likely to be very creative, musical, sporty and good at problem solving.

The bad news is that the left side of the brain has been found to contain less grey and white matter in children with dyslexia. Basically, the grey matter of the brain is mostly composed of nerve cells and its primary function is processing information, whilst the white matter is found in the deeper parts of the brain and is responsible for the transfer of information around the brain.

Therefore, a deficiency of grey matter causes problems with processing the sound structure of language (phonology). In contrast, a deficiency of white matter has been found to have a negative impact on reading skills.

In a nutshell dyslexia can be defined as a specific learning difficulty characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, poor spelling and decoding abilities.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

10 key indicators of dyslexia in children:

  • Does the child struggle with key words that s/he should know in comparison with children of the same age? Some children dyslexia will struggle with many of the key words such as who and when as they cannot be sounded out e.g. c-a-t and no accompanying image to visualise.
  • How fluent is the child's reading compared to children of the same age? If there are long pauses between words then this could indicate that the child is struggling to make sense of the shape of the letters.
  • What is the child's level of comprehension? Is the child able to understand and tell you in their own words what they have just read?
  • When writing a story, is the child able to sequence events? One of the indicators of dyslexia is the inability to order events. Is the story logical? Does it follow events? Or is the story jumbled. As before, the child's age related expectations must also be taken into account when considering their story writing skills.
  • Also have a look at the child's presentation when writing? Many children with dyslexia will have problems with their fine motor skills and this could make their work look very disorganised.
  • Have a look at the type spelling errors the child is making. For example, is the child spelling simple CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words incorrectly e.g. set instead of sit?
  • Is the child's phonological awareness immature for their age? This may include leaving sounds out of words e.g. 'plup' instead of 'plump'.
  • Children with dyslexia with dyslexia may also have problems with mathematical concepts. This may be especially apparent when learning the times tables and the times on a clock. These are concepts that a child with dyslexia will really struggle with due to auditory short-term memory problems. They may forget the question before they have had chance to think about the answer.

What to do if you think a child has dyslexia

If you are a parent:

If you are a parent who is worried that your child may have dyslexia the first thing you need to do is speak to your child's teacher. You may find that your child's teacher already has concerns and they will be reassured to know that you are equally worried. You can then begin to work together to identify the best way forward and the best way to support your child at home and in the classroom.

However, if your child's teacher does not share your concerns your next step will be to begin to keep a diary of your concerns along with any evidence you may have e.g. copies of work your child has done at home or brings home from school. You can then arrange a meeting with the class teacher to highlight your concerns. If you do not feel that the teacher is taking you seriously however your next option will be to find out who the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) is at the school and arrange a meeting with them. You can then request that the SENCO puts a home/school support programme in place to support your child with any difficulties you feel they are having.

If you are a teacher:

First of all you will need to speak to the child's parents in order to raise your concerns (at this stage if the condition has not been professionally diagnosed then it will be best not to mention dyslexia specifically but purely to raise any concerns you may have regarding the child's learning). Keep the discussion low key and informal.

Secondly it is advisable to speak to the school SENCO to enquire whether concerns have been raised about this child in the past and additionally whether the school has a policy for assisting children with learning difficulties. You may find that your school has a computerised dyslexia screening programme that the child can be referred for.

You can now begin to put support in place in the classroom to use strategies that will assist the child with any specific difficulties they are experiencing. This should be done in collaboration with the school SENCO.

Intervention Programmes

High quality teaching is paramount to the education of all children but for children with dyslexia this might not be sufficient. In this instance an intervention tailored towards the child's needs will be required. The following is a guide to some of the interventions available:

  • The Active Literacy Kit, Dyslexia Institute - this is specified as suitable for children who are 7 years and over. It can be used for individual and group teaching. The aim is to teach children letter/sound correspondence through to automatic CVC reading and spelling.
  • Units of Sound, Dyslexia Action - this is a structured multi-sensory literacy development tool that is PC based. It is for use for both children and adults from Key Stage 2 upwards. It develops reading (decoding) and spelling skills from CVC upwards.
  • Toe by Toe - Toe by Toe is a small red book designed for anyone who finds reading difficult. This includes children with dyslexic tendencies. You do not have to have any specialist training to deliver this coaching programme and it can be used by parents to help their children.


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