Dyslexia is diagnosed using a complete evaluation including intelligence, educational, and speech/language assessments. The assessments used in diagnosing dyslexia should also include observations, input from teachers and parents, analysis of student work, and developmental and social histories.

During the assessment process, examiners look for evidence of the disorder and also rule out other factors that could be causing the student’s reading and language problems. Factors to rule out include, lack of instruction, lack of attendance, social and economic factors, and physical problems such as hearing or vision difficulty.


The symptoms of dyslexia can differ from person to person, and each individual with the condition will have a unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Preschool children

In some cases, it’s possible to detect symptoms of dyslexia before a child starts school. Symptoms can include:

  • delayed speech development in comparison with other children of the same age (although this can have many different causes besides dyslexia)

  • speech problems, such as not being able to pronounce long words properly and “jumbling” up phrases – for example, saying “hecilopter” instead of “helicopter”, or “beddy tear” instead of “teddy bear”

  • problems expressing themselves using spoken language, such as being unable to remember the right word to use, or putting together sentences incorrectly

  • little understanding or appreciation of rhyming words, such as “the cat sat on the mat”, or nursery rhymes

  • difficulty with, or little interest in, learning letters of the alphabet

School children

Symptoms of dyslexia usually become more obvious when children start school and begin to focus more on learning how to read and write.

Symptoms of dyslexia in children aged 5-12 include:

  • problems learning the names and sounds of letters

  • spelling that is unpredictable and inconsistent

  • putting letters and figures the wrong way round –such as putting “6” instead “9”, or “b” instead of “d”

  • confusing the order of letters in words

  • reading slowly or making errors when reading aloud

  • visual disturbances when reading – for example, a child may describe letters and words as seeming to move around or appear blurred

  • answering questions well orally, but having difficulty writing down the answer

  • difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions

  • struggling to learn sequences, such as days of the week or the alphabet

  • slow writing speed

  • poor handwriting

  • problems copying written language, and taking longer than normal to complete written work

  • poor phonological awareness and “word attack skills” (see below)

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made up of smaller units of sound (phonemes) and that changing and manipulating phonemes can create new words and meanings.

A child with poor phonological awareness may not be able to correctly answer these questions:

  • what sounds do you think make up the word “hot”, and are these different from the sounds that make up the word “hat”?

  • what word would you have if you changed the “p” sound in ‘pot’ to an “h” sound?

  • how many words can you think of that rhyme with the word “cat”?

Word attack skills

Young children with dyslexia also have problems with “word attack skills”. This is the ability to make sense of unfamiliar words by looking for smaller words or collections of letters, such as “ph” or “ing”, that a child has previously learnt.

For example, a child with good word attack skills may read the word “sunbathing” for the first time and gain a sense of the meaning of the word by breaking it down into “sun”, “bath”, and “ing”.


Teenagers and adults

As well as the problems mentioned above, the symptoms of dyslexia in older children and adults can include:

  • poorly organised written work that lacks expression –for example, even though they may be very knowledgeable about a certain subject, they may have problems expressing that knowledge in writing

  • difficulty planning and writing essays, letters or reports

  • difficulties revising for examinations

  • trying to avoid reading and writing whenever possible

  • difficulty taking notes or copying

  • poor spelling

  • struggling to remember things such as a PINs or telephone numbers

  • struggling to meet deadlines

Seeking advice about your child

If you are concerned about your child’s progress with reading and writing, first talk to their school teacher.

If you or your child’s teacher has a continuing concern, take your child to visit a GP so they can check for signs of any underlying health issues, such as hearing or vision problems.

If your child doesn’t have any obvious underlying health problems to explain their learning difficulties, different teaching methods may need to be tried, or you may want to request an assessment to identify any special needs they may have.