Symptoms of dyslexia are varied in degree, but true dyslexia has a specific definition and can easily be diagnosed by a qualified examiner. Not all problems that manifest themselves in an inability to read are 'dyslexia'. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as follows:
"Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge."
Sometimes problems can be visual (Ocular motor developmental problems, or Scotopic Sensitivity), or they can be processing problems (Issues with short-term memory, executive dysfunction, or dyslexia). The origin of the problem has everything to do with the type of remediation that is needed. It is important to know what type of problem is causing your child's difficulty with reading, and often children have problems in more than one area. Finding one problem will not necessarily be the end of the struggles.
Whatever the issue may be, children with dyslexia often reverse numbers and letters. Most kids have a few random reversals here and there, but random problems are usually outgrown by time the child is 7. Also, problems come in varying degrees, so some kids may not have big enough problems to propel parents into action until they encounter more difficult multi-syllable words on a regular basis (4th grade and above). To see a writing sample of a child with diagnosed dyslexia at nearly 7, click here. (continued below..)
Many people hold the opinion that you should wait to see if a child outgrows the problem, but only 15% of children do. The other 85% end up needing some kind of help. The sooner remediation is begun, the less time it will take to 'rewire' the brain, and functional MRIs do show that the brain does change with remediation. Thus, I always recommend early exploration for the origin of the problem, rather than waiting. It doesn't hurt anything to give extra help early, but lack of help can mean struggling, lowering of self-esteem, frustration with academics, the development of phobias over schoolwork, tantrums, etc.
MEDICAL OR PROFESSIONAL advise, simple things you can do to see which
direction you may want to go in first..
1) Get a "developmental eye exam" --find a physician at the College of Optometrists in Vision Development at http://www.covd.org/ -- the eye exams are among the cheaper options and it is good to have your child's eyes checked anyway... note: you do not want JUST a vision check as many children with developmental ocular motor problems have 20/20 vision, so you do need a developmental specialist. You also have the option of trying to do vision therapy at home. The Optometric Extension Program Foundation provides assistance with home therapy for relatively less than you'll pay someone else to provide vision therapy.
2) Vary lighting as you read -- bright light vs. dim light, white light vs. yellow light can help determine if a light spectrum sensitivity is causing problems with reading. Also you can get some colored transparencies and try laying them over the pages as your child reads to test a variety of color spectrum choices.. this can help determine if Scotopic Sensitivity is an issue for your child. You can order a set of the Irlen overlays on Amazon here. (See http://www.irlen.com/ for more information about Scotopic Sensitivity.)
3) Go through a systematic testing like found at the back of the book Reading Reflex to find out if your child knows his phonemes automatically or not. If not, you can get something like **The Language Toolkit at epsbooks.com to work with your child on automatic recall of letter/sound combinations. IF your child doesn't do well with the Reading Reflex testing, there may be some kind of neurological processing difficulty such as dyslexia. (continued below..)
Other than these less complicated steps, a complete neuropsychological or psychoeducational evaluation would be advised as soon as possible if your child's problems exist after 7.5 to 8 years of age. It is worthwhile to note that early remediation (as early as age 5 or 6) can improve a child's outcome, particularly the level of reading fluency achieved. Even if a child is only suspected of having dyslexia, using a remedial program can improve reading skill and will not be detrimental to the child.
Remember, children often have multiple issues if they have a single issue.. so finding one problem may not be the complete solution. You might want to consider a complete evaluation if your insurance will cover it just to be sure you have a good grasp on what kinds of processing issues are going on. A great place to ask questions about where to find a good evaluator is the Yahoo group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IEP_guide/ . While much of the IEP info does not pertain to homeschoolers, there are MANY special education advocates on this list from most states and it is a great place to ask, "Who is a good evaluator near ?" and to find therapy resources.