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What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a common learning disability. Children with dyslexia have an unusually difficult time learning how to read. They often struggle with reading new words, sounding out words, picking out words they’ve already learned, spelling and writing. 

Dyslexia doesn’t mean a child isn’t smart. Some kids with dyslexia keep up in school by working much harder than other kids, but they need specialized instruction to become strong readers. 

Although most people still use the word “dyslexia,” it’s now part of a diagnosis called “specific learning disorder.” That diagnosis can apply to a child who struggles with reading, writing or math. 

For more, read our Complete Guide to Dyslexia.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

Young children may show symptoms of dyslexia before they begin school. These include: 

  • Talking later than other children 
  • Trouble remembering words 
  • Difficulty telling left from right 
  • Trouble following directions 

In the classroom, a child with dyslexia may find it difficult to: 

  • Connect sounds with symbols 
  • Put sounds in the right order 
  • Sound out new words 
  • Read little words like the, and, but, in – they either skip them or read them twice 
  • Spell words correctly 
  • Read letters and numbers in the right order, like reading “left” as “felt”  
  • Understand rhymes 
  • Take notes 
  • Read aloud in class, often because they worry about being embarrassed 

Out of school, a child with dyslexia may struggle with: 

  • Understanding signs or logos 
  • Learning the rules to games 
  • Following simple directions 
  • Remembering multi-step directions 
  • Telling time 
  • Emotional outbursts from feeling frustrated 
  • Communicating with other kids 

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Professionals who can diagnose dyslexia include: 

  • Psychologists 
  • Neuropsychologists 
  • Reading specialists 
  • Speech and language therapists 
  • Educational evaluators 
  • School psychologists 

They will give the child several tests to evaluate the child’s reading ability. The tests will also make sure there are no other reasons that the child is struggling to read, like language barriers or hearing problems. Children are usually diagnosed with dyslexia after they start school. 

How is dyslexia treated?

Dyslexia is treated by teaching a child specific skills so they can learn read. These are usually taught by a reading specialist. Treatment can also include support to help kids feel less anxious or embarrassed about reading.  

Children with dyslexia can qualify for extra support from their schools, including:  

  • Extra time on tests 
  • A quiet space to work 
  • The option to record the teacher 
  • The option to speak answers instead of writing them 
  • Not having to read aloud in class  
  • Not having to learn a foreign language 
This guide was last reviewed or updated on March 5, 2024.