Jul 102013

Are you trying to determine if your child has true dyslexia and need to know exactly what the dyslexia symptoms are?

Dyslexia Symptoms:

While reversals of letters are common among kids with dyslexia, there is a lot more to true dyslexia than an occasional reversal of letters. Below are the common symptoms of true dyslexia, which is (not a vision-based problem):

  • Difficulty with rapid naming or recalling names of objects, people, etc.
  • Speech-Language mispronunciations using incorrect sounds or syllables in words.
  • Difficulty hearing a new word and properly speaking the word.
  • Inability to properly name rhyming words.
  • Inability to remember simple words when reading even after multiple encounters.
  • Inability to recall what a word is when the child just read the same word in a prior sentence or paragraph.
  • Inability to remember simple word spellings even after multiple teachings.

Dyslexia is primarily characterized by a lack of phonemic awareness, where a student does not understand the sounds that relate to a specific letter or set of letters.

True dyslexia does not involve visual difficulties that interfere with reading.  Those are an entirely different matter than true dyslexia, which requiries specialized instruction in reading.

About Dyslexia Symptoms: What is a Lack of “Phonemic Awareness”?

Basically, the sound represented by the letter “c” could be pronounced with the same sound as either “s” or “k”.  These sound bites and their relationships to letters used while reading are considered “phonemes.”  The phonemes themselves are the little sound bites that make up words.

A child with phonemic awareness deficits, can’t remember which sounds are represented by which letters, and may confuse the sounds in words when speaking.  Therefore a child with true dyslexia will frequently mix up sounds and letters in words when writing, and sometimes when speaking.

As an example, my son with severe dyslexia used to say things like “kapano” for piano, “bebra” for zebra, and “windshiper” for windshield wiper.  Indeed, any tot has such cute little expressions, but when your child misspeaks words even as he reaches elementary school, he may not be aware of the differences in the sounds.   Using the Lindamood-Bell LiPS program is often the first step for children with the most severe reading issues and notable speech-language issues.

It is very important to remember, TRUE dyslexia is a language-based learning disability.  I can’t stress enough that dyslexia is not a vision problem. There are visual perception problems, ocular motor deficiencies, etc. that cause difficulty with reading, but they are corrected through cognitive training, vision therapy, etc.

Different conditions that cause difficulty with reading, and dyslexia symptoms don’t show the complete picture. Therefore, getting a comprehensive, neuropsychological evaluation is highly recommended.

A child with dyslexia symptoms often has accompanying difficulty with working memory skills, which means he will not be able to hold and manipulate information in his mind very easily.  For example, if a child is going to write a sentence, he may forget what he was writing before he gets the sentence written down.  He may not be able to perform math calculations in his mind very easily or remember the sounds in a word long enough to write it or decode it.

A third dyslexia symptom is difficulty with processing speed.  A child may not be able to find information he wishes to recall and use very quickly or easily.  It becomes laborious for him to find and use information he may have learned before, therefore he will often seem very inconsistent in his recall and usage of information.

It’s important to know that True “Dyslexia” (as defined by the International Dyslexia Association) is indicated when a person has a lack of phonemic awareness and deficits in short-term working memory. Regardless of the dyslexia symptoms, true dyslexia is not a vision problem.

However, some children with language-based dyslexia symptoms also often have visual-perception difficulties with letter orientation.  Their brains are built for 3-dimensional thinking, which is a gift except when it comes to trying to learn the proper orientation of letters on a page!  To understand what is it like to have dyslexia, you may want to check out this other article about what it is like to have dyslexia.

MANY other conditions can also cause difficulty with reading.  These other conditions are often lumped in together and labeled as “dyslexia” because of the definition of the word dyslexia, which is “difficulty with reading”. However, all conditions that manifest as difficulty with reading are NOT clinical dyslexia.  It is the definition of the word “dyslexia” that confuses people because the word is casually used in marketing all kinds of reading products.

Other conditions which can cause difficulty with reading may exist in conjunction with or separately from a lack of phonemic awareness and short-term working memory difficulties. Some of these conditions are:

It is nearly impossible for an untrained professional to determine EXACTLY what is causing a child’s difficulty with reading. You can’t tell just from the dyslexia symptoms. Also, overlapping conditions may exist making an observation-based diagnosis virtually impossible.

Often a child will have multiple conditions. People will jump on the most evident problem. Unfortunately, unless all or most of the problems are addressed, your child will not benefit completely from instruction he/she is receiving.

If you are concerned your child may have dyslexia based upon dyslexia symptoms, also consider the quality of reading instruction your child is getting. When looking at your child’s dyslexia symptoms, also look at how persistent and pervasive his problems are. Pay close attention to whether your child omits or inserts sounds within words when reading, has inconsistent reading performance, and strongly resists reading activities. Those can be symptoms of milder dyslexia.

A LOT of people would tell you to “wait” and see if your child outgrows his difficulties but that his highly unlikely (check out this article that shares “late bloomers” research). The cost of waiting is tremendous if your child does have dyslexia or some other learning difference. It takes a long time to remediate a child who has dyslexia. You can’t get started too soon if he does have it.

You should know that 85% of children who have difficulty acquiring reading skills have learning disabilities that require special reading instruction. Thus, only about 15% of children will “outgrow” their difficulties.

Put another way, it won’t harm your child to give him extra read instruction if he has dyslexia symptoms. However, it will make learning more difficult if you delay getting an evaluation or giving help. It IS ‘typical’ for a child of 6 to reverse letters sometimes, but not very often, and all children should have outgrown this propensity by age 8.

Here is the writing of a 7 year-old child with significant dyslexia symptoms:

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Copyright 2000, Sandra Cook dyslexia writing sample

As you can see in this dyslexia writing sample, every word except for one has a reversal or is oriented incorrectly.  On the last line, the word “Spout” has a backwards “s” and “t”, and an upside down “p.”  This child’s reversals are pervasive and affect most letters at different times.

While the visual-perception issues that cause the reversals are not part of the primary clinical definition of dyslexia, these visual-perception difficulties with letter orientation are often present in children with true dyslexia. Functional MRIs (fMRI) show differences in the brains of children with true dyslexia, and I think this means they are a different kind of thinker.  With their differences in brain processing, the co-existence of letter reversals is common.

In this dyslexia writing sample, you can also see evidence of phonemic awareness issues.  In the center word on the bottom line, the word is “water,” but the child thinks the sound of /t/ is the sound of /d/.  Children with true dyslexia will often confuse letters and sounds when writing.

Determining whether your child has dyslexia, or some other related condition, can be tricky. There are other developmental disabilities that mimic dyslexia. It is difficult for an untrained person to determine what a child has based solely upon dyslexia symptoms.

A child may have developmental vision problems, Scotopic Sensitivity, Attention Deficits, or other developmental delays which can manifest themselves as dyslexia.

Scotopic Sensitivity is a sensitivity to reflective light from the pages of a book and is less common than true dyslexia or vision problems. You can order a set of the Irlen overlays on Amazon and try them (for relatively little cost) or find out more about Scotopic Sensitivity at the **Irlen Institute website.

For an initial screenings, I recommend taking your child to a developmental optometrist and an educational evaluator, generally a psychologist, neuropsychologist, or educational consultant.

You can find a develpmental optometrist through the College of Optometrists in Vision Development at **http://www.covd.org/. If your child does have an occular motor deficiency (difficulty with smooth eye movements), then there are home therapy programs available. One that we have used is called **Home Vision Therapy.

You can call your pediatrician to get a recommendation for a qualified psycho-educational evaluator or call the local chapter of **CHADD or International Dyslexia Association for additional guidance.

If your child consistently, and persistently, mis-orients letters or numbers, or interchanges them with each other, you will want to pursue the possibility of developmental vision difficulties and dyslexia. They frequently co-exist even though dyslexia is not a vision problem.

If your child does have dyslexia, you will want to fund and use a reading program for dyslexia that is based upon the Orton-Gillingham methodology.  Researched and proven reading programs for dyslexia are based upon this methodology.