Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading. Kids with dyslexia have trouble reading. They can also have trouble with spelling, writing, and math.
Raising a child with dyslexia is a journey. As you move through it, you’ll gain a lot of knowledge about your child’s challenges with reading—and about the many ways you can help your child thrive at school and in life.
This overview can answer many of your basic questions. It can also lead you to more in-depth information about this common learning challenge.
Snapshot: What Dyslexia Is
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for people to read. It’s very common, although it’s not clear what percentage of kids have it.
Some experts say the number is between 5 and 10 percent. Others say as many as 17 percent of people show signs of reading challenges. The reason for the wide range is that experts may define dyslexia in different ways.
Dyslexia is mainly a problem with reading accurately and fluently. Kids with dyslexia may have trouble answering questions about something they read. But if it’s read to them, they may have no difficulty at all.
Dyslexia can cause trouble with other skills, too, like:
Some people think dyslexia is a problem with eyesight. Or they think of it as kids just reversing letters or writing backwards. But dyslexia is not a problem with vision or with seeing letters in the wrong direction.
It’s important to know that while dyslexia impacts learning, it’s not a problem of intelligence. Kids with dyslexia are just as smart as their peers.
Kids don’t outgrow dyslexia. But there are supports, teaching approaches, and strategies to help them manage their challenges and thrive in school and beyond. There are countless stories about people thriving with dyslexia, like actors, entrepreneurs, and elected officials with dyslexia.
Try a simulation to see dyslexia through your child’s eyes.
Get answers to common questions about dyslexia.
Explore a collection of dyslexia personal stories.
Dyslexia Signs and Symptoms
Dyslexia impacts people in varying degrees, so symptoms may differ from one child to another. Generally, signs show up as problems with accuracy and fluency in reading and spelling. But in some kids, dyslexia can impact writing, math, and language, too.
A key sign of dyslexia in kids is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds and then use that skill to read words accurately and fluently.
One reason kids have difficulty decoding is that they often struggle with a more basic language skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognize individual sounds in words. Trouble with this skill can show up as early as preschool.
In some kids, dyslexia isn’t picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These may include grammar, reading comprehension, reading fluency, sentence structure, and more in-depth writing.
Kids with dyslexia might avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. They may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they’ve mastered the basics of reading.
Signs of dyslexia can look different at different ages. Here are some examples of signs of dyslexia:
Has trouble recognizing whether two words rhyme
Struggles with taking away the beginning sound from a word
Struggles with learning new words
Has trouble recognizing letters and matching them to sounds
See more signs of dyslexia in preschool.
Has trouble taking away the middle sound from a word or blending several sounds to make a word
Often doesn’t recognize common sight words
Quickly forgets how to spell words after studying them
Gets tripped up by word problems in math
Makes many spelling errors
Frequently has to re-read sentences and passages
Reads at a lower academic level than when speaking or in conversation
See more signs of dyslexia in middle school.
Often skips over small words when reading aloud
Doesn’t read at the expected grade level
Strongly prefers multiple-choice questions over fill-in-the-blank or short answer
See more signs of dyslexia in high school.
Dyslexia doesn’t just affect learning. It can impact everyday skills and activities, as well. These include social interaction, memory, and dealing with stress.
Hear an expert explain how to choose books for kids who struggle with reading.
Challenges That Can Co-Occur With Dyslexia
Many kids have more than just dyslexia. There are a number of other learning challenges that often co-occur with it. A bunch of them have signs that can look like dyslexia symptoms. That’s why testing for dyslexia should be part of a full evaluation that looks at all areas of learning.
Here are some conditions that often co-occur with or may be mistaken for dyslexia:
Dysgraphia can affect a child’s ability to spell. It can also make it hard to organize thoughts on paper. Many kids with dysgraphia also have dyslexia. Learn about the difference between dyslexia and dysgraphia.
ADHD can make it hard to focus on reading. Roughly 40 percent of students with ADHD also have dyslexia. But kids with dyslexia may fidget or act out in class because of frustration over reading, not ADHD.
Executive functioning issues can affect different skills and areas of learning. Executive functions include organization, flexible thinking, and working memory. Read how executive functioning issues can impact reading.
Slow processing speed can impact reading, and many other areas of learning. Kids who struggle with it are slower to take in, process, and respond to information. Learn more about slow processing speed.
Visual processing issues make it hard to process what the eyes see. Kids with visual processing issues may complain of blurry vision or of letters “hopping around on the page.” They may try to compensate by squinting or closing one eye. They often reverse letters when writing and struggle to stay within the lines.
Download free tools to help kids with reading and writing.
See a list of children’s books that feature characters with dyslexia.
Possible Causes of Dyslexia
Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed exactly what causes dyslexia. But they do know that genes and brain differences play a role. Here are some of the possible causes of dyslexia:
Genes and heredity: Dyslexia often runs in families. About 40 percent of siblings of kids with dyslexia have the same struggles with reading. As many as 49 percent of parents of kids with dyslexia have it, too. Scientists have also found a number of genes linked to problems with reading and processing language.
Brain anatomy and activity: Brain imaging studies have shown brain differences between people with and without dyslexia. These differences occur in areas of the brain involved with key reading skills. Those skills are knowing how sounds are represented in words, and recognizing what written words look like.
The brain can change, though. (This is known as neuroplasticity.) Studies show that brain activity in people with dyslexia changes after they get proper tutoring. And scientists are learning more all the time.
Watch a video about dyslexia and the brain.
Get tips on what not to say to your child about dyslexia.
How Dyslexia Is Diagnosed
The only way to know for sure if your child has dyslexia is through a full evaluation, done either at school or privately. School evaluations are free. Having a diagnosis (schools call it an identification) can lead to your child getting supports and services at school. That includes specialized instruction in reading. Learn more about the difference between a school identification and a clinical diagnosis.
Before you go for the evaluation, however, it’s important to rule out any medical problems that might be at play. Your child’s doctor can check for vision or hearing problems.
There a few types of professionals who can assess kids for dyslexia. These include school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and pediatric neuropsychologists.
An evaluator will give your child a series of tests for dyslexia. The evaluator will also test your child in other areas to see exactly where any weaknesses lie.
A psychologist will look for other things that might be getting in the way of your child’s learning, too. These may include ADHD and mental health issues. ADHD often co-occurs with dyslexia. Some kids who struggle with reading may also have anxiety or depression. (Read more about the connection between dyslexia and anxiety.)
You may be asked for a family history. You may also be asked to fill out questionnaires about your child’s strengths and challenges. And your child’s teachers may be asked to give information on what they’re seeing in the classroom.
The specialist (or the evaluation team at school) will look at all the results together to make a diagnosis. There will also be a recommendation of ways to help your child. At school, this may result in your child getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan.
Find out how to decode teacher comments for signs your child may have dyslexia.
How Professionals Can Help With Dyslexia
There are many professionals who can help a child with dyslexia—both in and out of school. They focus on different things: instruction, intervention, school supports and services, counseling, and diagnosis. There are no medications or medical treatments for dyslexia.
These professionals include:
There are specific teaching methods to help kids with dyslexia. You may have heard about an approach called Orton–Gillingham (OG). It was the first to use instruction that is highly structured, sequential, and multisensory.
A number of research-based reading programs are based on OG. This type of instruction is known as multisensory structured language education (MSLE). Experts often consider MSLE the gold standard for teaching kids with dyslexia to read.
One of the things this instruction focuses on is phonological awareness. This is an early language skill that’s key to reading. Reading specialists and speech-language pathologists can work with kids on building this skill. They can also help with decoding, word recognition, spelling, and reading fluency.
Kids who get specialized instruction through an IEP will likely be taught using these methods. An IEP or a 504 plan may also include other supports, like accommodations and technology to help with reading. These can “level the playing field” for kids.
Explore a list of accommodations for dyslexia.
How You Can Help Your Child With Dyslexia
You are your child’s number-one source of support. From working with the school to working on reading skills, you can help give your child the tools and motivation to thrive at school and in life.
Here are just some of the things you can do:
Look into where to find free audiobooks for your child.
Discover your child’s strengths.
For more ideas, explore a collection of strategies to help with dyslexia. It’s important for you to have support, too: