What Exactly Is Dyslexia? Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Photo Courtesy: PeopleImages/iStock

If your child seems to have issues with learning, especially when it comes to activities involving reading, they may have a condition called dyslexia. If you have dyslexia, doing schoolwork may be a challenge. While dyslexia is typically diagnosed in children, adults can also find they have it if their condition went unrecognized when they were younger. If you want to know how to determine if your child has dyslexia or if you’re an adult who suspects that you have undiagnosed dyslexia, read more about this condition.

What Is Dyslexia?

What exactly is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a learning disorder people are born with that makes reading difficult because you cannot relate speech sounds to letters and words.

This condition is not due to problems with intelligence, hearing, or vision. Many people with dyslexia are creative, bright, and gifted academically despite their difficulties with reading and writing. If your child has dyslexia, they can do well in school with academic and emotional support.

Signs and Symptoms

How will you know if your child has dyslexia? 

Before Starting School

Before your child starts going to school, you may notice they:

  • Have difficulty with learning new words or forming words correctly
  • Have Problems with learning letters, numbers, and colors
  • Start to talk late
  • Have difficulty rhyming

During School Years

Once your child starts going to school, their dyslexia symptoms may become more obvious and can include:

  • Difficulty learning to read like the other children
  • Reading well below their expected reading level
  • Difficulty understanding what they heard
  • Having trouble answering questions or finding the right words to use
  • Difficulty remembering the order of things
  • Problems telling letters and words apart
  • Being unable to pronounce words
  • Issues with spelling
  • Spending a long time reading or writing
  • Avoiding reading

Older Children Symptoms

As your child gets older, they may continue to experience some of the symptoms they may have had when starting school, along with:

  • Difficulty summarizing stories
  • Problems with learning a foreign language
  • Having trouble with math word problems

These symptoms are seen in children, teens, and adults with dyslexia.

If your child’s dyslexia goes undiagnosed and untreated, their reading difficulties in school usually continue into adulthood. In fact, some people aren’t diagnosed with dyslexia until they are adults.

Causes of Dyslexia

People are born with dyslexia. While the exact cause of it isn’t clear, experts think dyslexia is caused by problems in areas of the brain responsible for processing language. Your child is at increased risk of developing dyslexia if there is a family history.


How is dyslexia diagnosed? Testing for dyslexia often starts when your doctor or your child’s teachers suspect they may have a learning disorder. There is no single test that diagnoses the condition. Your doctors and learning disability experts usually look at many factors to determine if your child has the condition. These include:

  • Their developmental, educational, and medical history
  • A family history of dyslexia
  • Assessments for dyslexia that identify reading or learning disabilities
  • Vision, hearing, and neurological tests that can identify disorders other than dyslexia that may be contributing to your child’s learning difficulties
  • A psychological evaluation that can identify mental health issues that may be worsening your child’s learning issues
  • Tests for reading and academic skills to assess how severely your child is affected 

Some of these assessments are offered for free by public school systems. Adults with dyslexia are diagnosed with similar testing and evaluations.

Treatments for Dyslexia

Photo Courtesy: eli_asenova/iStock

While there is no way to correct the brain differences that cause dyslexia, early detection and assessments for dyslexia can help identify your child’s specific needs. Educational interventions for dyslexia can help your child become a competent reader. The sooner interventions are started, the better.

Educational techniques

Teachers may use hearing, vision, and touch techniques to improve their child’s reading skills. By helping your child use many of their senses to learn, teachers can help them process information. These educational techniques include listening to a taped lesson and tracing the shapes of letters in a word with their finger. These treatments help your child:

  • Learn to recognize the smallest parts of words
  • Understand that strings of letters create words
  • Improve their reading skills
  • Understand what they are reading
  • Build their vocabulary

In addition to these techniques, tutoring sessions with a reading specialist may help your child improve their reading skills. Many public school systems offer this extra help for free. 

Individual education plan (IEP)

In the U.S., schools are legally obligated to help students with dyslexia address their learning problems. If your child has dyslexia, their school can develop an individual education plan (IEP), a structured, written plan that describes your child’s specific needs and what the school will do for them to address those needs. IEP goals for dyslexia are personalized for your child.

What You Can Do For Your Child

If your child has dyslexia, you can take the following steps to help your child succeed:

  • Address possible learning issues early: If you think your child might have dyslexia, talk to their doctor and teachers as soon as possible. The earlier your child gets help with their learning difficulties, the better.
  • Read out loud to your child: Read stories to your child and listen to recorded books with them to help them improve their reading skills. When your child is ready, they can start reading stories out loud to you.
  • Talk to people at your child’s school: Act as your child’s advocate by asking their teacher how the school can help them succeed. Ask if the school can make an IEP for your child.
  • Set an example for your child: Choose a time each day to read something for yourself while your child reads. This sets an example, showing them that reading can be fun and helps support them in their reading.

What If You Have Dyslexia as an Adult?

Adults with undiagnosed dyslexia may have difficulties with employment. If you think that you have dyslexia that went undiagnosed in your childhood, you can learn how to overcome the challenges you’ve had with the condition by:

  • Seeking dyslexia screening assessments and help with reading and writing, regardless of how old you are
  • Asking about training or accommodations that your employer or college provides

What To Do Next

The following resources can help you learn more about dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association.

Other resources to learn about learning disabilities include:

If your child seems to have trouble with reading or learning difficulties in general, talk to your doctor and your child’s teachers. Feel free to ask them for more information about dyslexia and support groups in your area.

Resource Links:

  1. “Dyslexia” via Cleveland Clinic
  2. “Dyslexia” via Mayo Clinic
  3. “International Dyslexia Association” via IDA
  4. “Learning Disabilities Association of America” via LDA
  5. “National Center for Learning Disabilities” via NCLD
  6. “National Institute of Child Health and Human Development” via NICHD
  7. “National Institute of Mental Health” via NIMH