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Dyslexia is a
learning disability that makes it hard to read, write,
and spell. It occurs because the brain jumbles or mixes up letters and words.
Children with dyslexia often have a poor memory of spoken and written
Having dyslexia does not mean that your or your child's
ability to learn is below average. In fact, many people with dyslexia are very
bright. But not being able to read well can make many areas of learning difficult.
Dyslexia is also called specific reading disability,
reading disorder, and reading disability.
Experts don't know for sure
what causes dyslexia. But it often runs in families. So it may be passed from
parents to children
(genetic disorder). Also, some studies have found
problems with how the brain links letters and words with the sounds they make.
Dyslexia is not caused by poor vision, and people with dyslexia
do not see letters and words backward.
Signs of dyslexia in
children who are too young for school include:
After a child begins school, the signs of dyslexia
If your child has one of these signs, it does not mean
that he or she has dyslexia. Many children reverse letters before age 7. But if
your child has several signs and reading problems, or if you have a family
history of dyslexia, you may want to have your child checked for the
A doctor or a school professional (such as a reading specialist) will ask you what signs of dyslexia you and your child's teachers
have seen. He or she will ask your child questions too. Your child may be offered to take
reading and skill tests. Tests may include those that look at your child's
personality and how he or she learns, solves problems, and uses words. Your
child may also have an IQ test.
These tests can help
find out if your child has dyslexia or another learning problem.
Treatment uses a number of
teaching methods to help your child read better. These methods include:
United States law requires schools to set up a learning
plan to meet the needs of a child with dyslexia. This plan is called an
Individualized Education Program (IEP). You, your child's teachers, and other
school personnel will have a say in designing the plan. The plan is updated each year based on how well your
child is doing and what your child's needs are.
counseling usually are not a part of treatment for dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a lifelong problem, but early treatment during childhood can help.
Support from family, teachers, and friends is also important.
Learning about dyslexia:
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The cause of
dyslexia is not clear, although it is probably an
inherited (genetic) disorder because it runs in
Some studies have shown that
people with dyslexia have abnormalities in the functioning of the areas of the
brain involved in reading and language.1
dyslexia vary depending on age. If your child has one
or two of the signs, it does not mean that he or she has dyslexia, but having
several of the signs listed below may mean that your child should be
A preschool-age child may:
Children in kindergarten through fourth grade may:
Children in fifth through eighth grade may:
Students in high school and college may:
Adults with dyslexia may:
A person is more likely to have
dyslexia if his or her parent or sibling has it. Also, a person is more likely to have it if he or she had a speech or language delay as a child.
If your child struggles with
language, reading, and sounding out words, you may want to have your child
dyslexia. You can also speak with your child's
pediatrician, teacher, or school counselor if you
believe your child's reading or other language skills are not advancing or your
child seems motivated but is performing below his or her potential.
If you have dyslexia and are concerned that your child may have some of
the signs of dyslexia, you may want to talk to your doctor or to school
personnel because your child is at increased risk for having the
A single test can't diagnose
dyslexia. Rather, your doctor or a school professional (such as a reading specialist) will ask you what signs of dyslexia you and your child's teachers
have seen. He or she will ask your child questions too.
Reading tests and other types of
assessments may be done to help find out more about your
child's skills. For example, tests may include those that focus on your child's
learning style, language and problem-solving skills, and
intelligence quotient (IQ).
It takes a team to diagnose dyslexia. School professionals or learning specialists in your area will assess
academic skills and abilities. Your child's doctor can assess your child's general health
and cognitive development. A complete medical, behavioral, educational, and
social history may be taken to rule out other conditions (such as a brain
injury) that can also interfere with the ability to read or memorize
It must be clear that your child doesn't have another problem that could cause him or
her to struggle with reading, such as a condition that affects
Dyslexia is only
For a child to qualify for special education assistance, federal law requires
that the child have tests to help check his or her language and math skills.
dyslexia consists of using educational tools to
enhance the ability to read. Medicines and counseling usually aren't used to treat
dyslexia. An important part of treatment is educating yourself about the
condition. The earlier dyslexia is recognized and addressed, the better.
Starting treatment when a child is young can improve reading and may even
prevent reading problems in the first years of school.2 But reading will likely not ever be easy for a person with
When a child age 3 years or older has been diagnosed
with dyslexia, federal law requires that public school personnel create an
Individualized Education Program (IEP) that's tailored to the child's needs.
The first step in developing the IEP is talking with your child's school to
create a treatment team made up of you, the teacher, and other school
personnel, including school counselors and special education teachers.
Your child's personalized IEP will detail specific disabilities,
appropriate teaching methods, and goals and objectives for the academic year.
It is evaluated at least once a year, with changes made based on your child's
progress. Parents have the right to appeal if they don't agree with their
child's IEP. Preparing children for further education, employment, and
independent living is also required by law. This should start no later than age
If you seek special education assistance for your child, it's handy to keep copies of:
According to a comprehensive U.S. government study on how
children learn to read, a combination of educational methods is the most
effective way to teach children to read. These methods include teaching
phonics—making sure that the beginning reader understands how letters are
linked to sounds (phonemes) to form words. Guided oral reading, in which the
student reads aloud with guidance and feedback, is also important for
developing reading fluency. The child must clearly understand the instructions
being given, and the instructions must be repeatable or systematic in order to
improve the child's reading abilities.3
Depending on the severity of your child's dyslexia, you may
want to have a teacher's aide or tutor available to help your child with
If school staff members suggest that your child be held back a grade (grade retention), talk to your doctor or another professional about your options. Grade retention may not help your child any better than other methods.
It is important to know
that dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Even though early treatment during childhood
can help, your child will likely always have to make an extra effort to read.
Each child with
dyslexia has a different set of abilities and
disabilities, which can range from mild to severe. A child's academic future
lies in a combination of several things: the severity of dyslexia, his or her
intelligence, support of family and school professionals, family resources,
motivation to learn, and any associated disability, such as
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Up to half of children with specific learning disabilities have
other impairments that interfere with their schooling.4Disabilities often associated with dyslexia include
ADHD, behavioral or memory problems, and difficulty using problem-solving skills
to achieve a goal.
Studies that have followed children with
dyslexia from kindergarten through high school show that most learn to read
accurately, although they usually read at a slow rate and aren't completely
fluent readers. So many teens with dyslexia may need some special assistance
in the classroom.
Extra time to finish classroom assignments or
tests is often needed by all children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia
also may need help managing their schedules, organizing work, and completing
multiple assignments and long-term projects, especially when they reach middle
school. It's also helpful to let them:
Parents can effectively support their child if they
understand dyslexia and how to deal with their child's special needs. Having
dyslexia can lead to poor
depression, or behavioral problems in some children,
which can hinder their reading progress. If you think your child has
self-esteem problems related to dyslexia,
counseling may help.
Typically children with dyslexia are very bright, although reading will
probably continue to be a challenge throughout life. The earlier dyslexia is
recognized and addressed, the greater the chance that your child will learn to
read at his or her highest possible level.
Encouraging and supporting your child while staying involved in his or
her education are other key factors. Helping children with coping strategies as
they advance in school will also help. Although extra effort and dedication are
required, often children with dyslexia are able to contend with this disability
and succeed in academics and other areas.
Parents can make a big difference
in improving the reading skills of a child diagnosed with
dyslexia. Because you are most aware of your child's
strengths and weaknesses, you can focus on learning strategies that will work
best for him or her. With young children, playing alphabet games and reading
rhyming books, for example, while offering support and encouragement, might
greatly improve reading skills. Staying involved with your child's education
throughout the school years will be a key part of your child's success.
You can be a positive force in your child's education. Following is a
list of ways parents can help their young children with dyslexia develop
reading skills and feel good about themselves.
Children who have dyslexia may need emotional support for
the many challenges they face. Following is a list of ways parents can offer
Vision problems can interfere with the process of reading, but vision problems don't cause dyslexia. Some people may claim that vision therapies (such as covering one eye or using colored lenses) help treat dyslexia. But there hasn't been strong evidence to support this claim.5
Some advertised reading programs
that promise success in teaching phonics and reading for children who have
dyslexia should be viewed with caution. Before you
invest in these programs, request research that documents their claims, and
talk to school personnel and doctors.
Reiff MI, Stein MT (2011). Learning problems. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 327–331. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Shaywitz SE, et al. (2006). Dyslexia (specific reading
disability). In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 1244–1247. Philadelphia: Saunders
National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Available online:
Shapiro B, et al. (2007). Specific learning
disabilities. In ML Batshaw et al., eds., Children with Disabilities, 6th ed., chap. 25, pp. 367–385. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Joint technical report—Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics, 127(3): e818–e856.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics, et al. (2009). Joint statement—Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics, 124(2): 837–844.
Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics (1999, reaffirmed 2006). The pediatrician's role in development and implementation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and/or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Pediatrics, 104(1): 124–127.
Grigorenko EL (2007). Learning disabilities. In A
Martin, FR Volkmar, eds., Lewis's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 4th ed., pp. 410–418. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and
Loewenson PR, et al. (2008). Learning disabilities section of School problems and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In LS Neinstein et al., eds., Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide, 5th ed., pp. 1034–1035. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Lyon GR, et al. (2011). Dyslexia. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 112–114. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Noble KG, McCandliss BD (2005). Reading development
and impairment: Behavioral, social, and neurobiological factors.
Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics,
Shaywitz SE, et al. (2007). Management of dyslexia, its rationale, and underlying neurobiology. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 54(3): 609–623.
Tannock R (2009). Learning disorders. In BJ Sadock, VA Sadock, eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 3475–3485. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Williams.
April 12, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
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