What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a complex language problem. It has to do with the way the brain works, not with vision. It involves not being able to break a word down into the sounds that make it up, and not being able to write and think about the sounds in a word. Kids with dyslexia have brains that work differently to process language. They have problems translating language to thought (in listening or reading) and thought to language (in writing or speaking).

How common is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability (LD); 80 percent of students with LDs have dyslexia[1]. It affects more boys than girls [2].

Why is early diagnosis and treatment so important?
When dyslexia is not found and treated early on, it tends to snowball. As kids get more and more behind in school, they may become more and more frustrated, feeling like a failure. Often, self-esteem problems lead to bad behavior and other problems. When dyslexia is not noticed or not treated, it can cause adult literacy problems. By identifying dyslexia early, your child will get the help they need to reach their potential.

What if I suspect my child might have a reading disability?
If you suspect your child may have dyslexia, do not wait! Have your child evaluated. Your child should not have to fail for a couple years before being able to getting the right kind of help. You and your child’s teachers can help your child overcome reading difficulties.

What are the signs of a reading problem in the early years?
Here are some warning signs that your child might have a reading disability:

  • Doesn’t know how to hold a book
  • Can’t tell the difference between letters and squiggles
  • Can’t recognize own name
  • Only says a small number of words
  • Doesn’t like rhyming games and can’t fill in the rhyming word in familiar nursery rhymes


  • Can’t tell the difference between the sounds that make up a word (phonics)
  • Slow to name familiar objects and colors
  • Can’t remember the names and sounds of the letters
  • By the end of kindergarten, can’t write most of the consonant sounds in a word (it’s normal for vowels to be missing until later)

1st and 2nd grades:

  • Has trouble pronouncing new words and remembering them
  • Has trouble blending sounds together to say words
  • Says reading is easier for their classmates
  • Falls way behind their classmates
  • Can’t figure out unknown words
  • Avoids reading
  • Resists reading aloud

2nd and 3rd grades:

  • Starts to withdraw
  • Has some troubling behavior
  • Seems to guess at unknown words
  • Does not get meaning from reading

What do I need to know about how my dyslexic child will learn to read?
There is more than one best way to teach reading. Different children learn in different ways. It is important that your child learn to read in the way that will work best for them.

Find out what teaching method the school is using to teach your child to read, and why. If the method is not working, work with the teacher to change it.
Here are some resources for helping kids with LDs improve their reading skills:

How can I find out more about dyslexia and get support?
For more on dyslexia, check out these resources:

Related topics on YourChild:

[1] Carnine D. IDEA: focusing on improving results for children with disabilities. Testimony in Hearing before the Subcommittee on Education Reform, Committee on Education and the Workforce, United States House of Representatives. March 13, 2003. Available at:http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/108th/edr/idea031303/carnine.htm. Accessed 18 May 2005.

[2] Rutter M, Caspi A, Fergusson D, Horwood LJ, Goodman R, Maughan B, Moffitt TE, Meltzer H, Carroll J. Sex differences in developmental reading disability: new findings from 4 epidemiological studies. JAMA. 2004 Apr 28;291(16):2007-12.

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan

Updated June 2008