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An Educator's Guide To Recognizing Dyslexia



Early Signs

Teachers work closely with their students, and are alert for potential signs of learning challenges in each learner. Since dyslexia affects approximately 20% of the population, identifying early indicators is essential for timely intervention and better outcomes. Early signs can include delayed speech and language development, difficulty with nursery rhymes or alphabet songs, challenges with rhyming or recognizing letters and their sounds. Early identification, combined with a structured literacy approach for intervention, is crucial for addressing reading difficulties effectively.


Difficulty with Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness difficulties, the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language, are closely linked to dyslexia. Individuals with dyslexia often struggle with tasks such as recognizing and producing rhymes, segmenting words into individual sounds, blending sounds to form words, and manipulating sounds in words. Challenges with phonological processing hinder the development of strong decoding skills, making it difficult for dyslexic learners to translate written symbols (letters) into corresponding sounds and vice versa. As a result, difficulties with phonological awareness are a key characteristic of dyslexia and significantly impact reading skills.


Speech and Language Delays

Speech and language delays can serve as an early indicator of dyslexia in children, as both conditions often share underlying difficulties in phonological processing. Children with speech delays may struggle to acquire and produce speech sounds, which can hinder the development of phonological awareness—a key skill for reading. These early difficulties with language and phonological processing can manifest later as challenges in decoding, fluency, and comprehension, which are hallmarks of dyslexia. Recognizing and addressing speech delays early on can be crucial for supporting children's literacy development and potentially mitigating the impact of dyslexia later in life.


Challenges with Decoding and Word Recognition

Difficulties in decoding and word recognition skills are prominent signs of dyslexia. Dyslexic individuals often struggle to accurately decode words, which involves sounding out words. Additionally, they may have trouble recognizing familiar or high frequency words with automaticity, leading to slow and laborious reading. Weaknesses in decoding and word recognition skills are hallmark characteristics of dyslexia and underscore the need for targeted interventions to support affected individuals in their literacy development.


Difficulties With Reading Fluency

Dyslexic students may read slowly and with effort, often exhibiting choppy or labored reading. Educators should observe if students have difficulty reading with appropriate speed, accuracy, and expression. Dyslexic individuals often struggle to read text smoothly and accurately, which can impede comprehension and overall reading proficiency. These difficulties in fluency may manifest as choppy or hesitated reading, frequent pauses, or word-by-word decoding instead of reading in phrases or sentences. Dyslexic readers may expend considerable cognitive effort on decoding individual words, leaving limited mental resources for higher-level comprehension tasks. As a result, their reading may lack fluidity and naturalness, impacting their ability to engage with and understand written material. Addressing difficulties with fluency is essential in supporting dyslexic individuals to improve their overall reading skills and academic performance.


Poor Spelling Skills

Spelling difficulties are common in dyslexia, and serve as an indicator due to the close relationship between spelling and phonological processing. Individuals with dyslexia often struggle with phonological awareness, which can lead to difficulties in translating sounds into written words. As a result, dyslexic individuals may have trouble remembering spelling patterns, distinguishing between similar-sounding words, and applying phonetic rules consistently.


Reading Comprehension Challenges

The link between dyslexia and reading comprehension lies in the core difficulties dyslexic individuals face with decoding, fluency and phonological processing, all of which are critical for understanding and retaining written information. Dyslexia often impedes the development of accurate and efficient word recognition skills, leading to slow, effortful reading that can disrupt comprehension. Moreover, weaknesses in phonological awareness make it challenging for dyslexic individuals to break down words into their corresponding sounds, affecting their ability to decode unfamiliar words and comprehend complex texts. Lastly, students suspected of dyslexia considered for an evaluation in the area of expressive and receptive vocabulary to determine whether underlying vocabulary deficits exists, further complicating overall comprehension.


Written Expression Issues

Dyslexic students may struggle with writing tasks, including organizing ideas, using proper grammar and punctuation, and expressing themselves coherently. Educators should observe if students' writing is disproportionately weak compared to their oral language skills.


Memory and Sequencing Difficulties

Dyslexia is often associated with weaknesses in working memory and sequential processing. Educators should be aware of students' difficulties in remembering information, following multi-step instructions, or recalling sequences, (e.g., days of the week, alphabet) and recalling sentences.


Attention Difficulties

While not exclusive to dyslexia, attention difficulties, such as ADD and ADHD frequently co-occur. Educators should note if students have trouble sustaining attention during reading or writing tasks, and/or if they exhibit impulsive behaviors.


Family History

Children with dyslexia often have a close family member who also has a history of reading difficulties. Additionally, multiple children in the family can also be diagnosed with dyslexia.


Response to Instruction

Dyslexic students often do not respond to traditional reading instruction approaches. Educators should monitor students' progress and consider the effectiveness of interventions. Lack of progress, despite appropriate instruction, may indicate dyslexia.


Comprehensive Assessments

When dyslexia is suspected, educators should collaborate with specialists, such school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and special education teachers to conduct comprehensive assessments. Formal assessments may include both standardized and non-standardized measures of reading, phonological processing, speech and language, executive function and cognitive abilities.


By being attentive to these indicators and collaborating with colleagues and specialists, educators can more effectively identify students suspected of having dyslexia and provide them with the support they need to succeed academically.


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