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Decoding Dyslexia

What are signs that a child should be referred for a dyslexia assessment?

Published on: October 31, 2022

Drawing of two silhouette heads with letters and numbers inside

There are numerous factors that come into play when making the decision to refer a child for a learning assessment. When a child is lagging in reading, it can be hard to know whether to pursue an assessment right away or take a wait-and-see approach. Some children who are initially behind in reading can suddenly have things “click” and they catch up, while others fall further behind during the elementary school years.

Here are some factors that can tip the scale in the direction of seeking an evaluation. The more factors that are present, the more likely it is that a child may have a learning issue that is worth exploring. The list below includes factors that could signal a problem, but not all of the listed signs are necessarily present in a child with dyslexia.

Keep in mind that some very bright children with dyslexia are able to compensate, or “mask,” their challenges. These children may achieve grade-level performance, but are not at a level that one would expect given their high intelligence. Experts in the field are divided about whether a very bright child with grade-level reading should be considered as having a learning disability. Highly intelligent children whose reading is at only grade level may show dyslexia-like patterns in their brain functioning (as reflected by noninvasive functional magnetic resonance imaging), whereas grade-level readers who are performing on par with their intelligence tend not to show this pattern.

Possible signs that a child should be considered for a learning evaluation:

  • Family and developmental history
  • Family history of dyslexia, especially in an immediate relative (a parent or sibling)
  • Delays in early language development, even if mild (“late talker”)
  • Speech articulation issues
  • Problem with verbally “tripping” over sounds (e.g., “psghetti” instead of spaghetti)
  • Difficulty learning the ABCs

Current academic functioning

  • Seems behind in reading
  • Has choppy delivery when reading aloud
  • Experiences spelling difficulties
  • Lacks strategies to sound out words
  • Has trouble learning the sounds that go with certain letters
  • Is challenged by learning sequences (days of the week, months of the year)
  • Has difficulty holding information in mind (following instructions)

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