Dyslexia is a learning disability in reading, sometimes also called a reading disability. Children with dyslexia have trouble identifying speech sounds in words and connecting those sounds with letters in words (called decoding). They also have trouble reading at a faster pace without mistakes (called fluency). They might also have problems understanding what they read (called reading comprehension), or with spelling and writing. Dyslexia affects the language areas of the brain. It has nothing to do with how smart a person is.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability. As many as 1 in 5 children might have it, but many are never diagnosed or are diagnosed later in life.
There are other learning disabilities related to dyslexia that are not about reading.
Dysgraphia is a set of problems with writing and related skills, including handwriting, typing and spelling. A child might have trouble in one or all of these areas. Dysgraphia is no longer an official diagnosis. The diagnosis is now known as “specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression.” A child might have dysgraphia and dyslexia, or just dysgraphia.
Here is more on dysgraphia:
Dyscalculia is a learning disability in math. Children with dyscalculia often have trouble with math concepts, ideas like bigger versus smaller or solving math problems.
To learn more about all learning disabilities, see our page on Understanding Different Types of Learning Disabilities.
Dyslexia often runs in families. It seems to be linked to certain genes that affect how the brain handles reading and language. Researchers have not figured out exactly what causes dyslexia.
A child has risks for dyslexia if they:
Characteristics or symptoms of dyslexia don’t look the same in all children. There can be signs at all ages. Usually, parents and teachers notice characteristics of dyslexia when a child is learning to read.
In preschoolers, characteristics can include:
In school-age children and teenagers, characteristics can include:
Children with dyslexia can also have behavior and emotional challenges. They might be anxious or frustrated when trying to read. Or they might just not want to try reading.
Dyslexia is about more than learning. It can impact everyday skills and activities. These include social skills, memory and dealing with stress. Children with dyslexia are more likely to also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Sometimes, dyslexia isn’t diagnosed until a child is older. Characteristics in older children can include trouble with grammar, sentence structure and writing. Or a child might have trouble finishing schoolwork or tests on time.
There is no one test or symptom to diagnose dyslexia. Professionals, such as school psychologists, teachers with special training, clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists, can diagnose dyslexia. They look at many different things, such as:
The only way to know for sure if someone has dyslexia is through a full evaluation (testing). Having a diagnosis can mean that your child is able to get services and supports at school, college and in a job. School evaluations are free, but the school has to agree to test your child. Private evaluations can be very expensive. Some places offer them at lower costs.
Dyslexia is a condition someone has for their whole life. There is no way to cure it. But if your child is diagnosed early and gets support, they can learn to work through their challenges. For example, a child who gets extra help in kindergarten or first grade can improve their reading skills and do well in school.
Children with dyslexia should be able to get special education services and support in school, if the parent and school agree that services are needed. National special education laws cover dyslexia as a disability. Learn more on our Special Education 101 page. Section 504 accommodations (changes in how content is taught, supported or tested) might also be an option for your child.
Support for children with dyslexia can focus on:
Parents can help their children by:
If you see some of the symptoms listed above in your child, or you have a concern, it’s a good idea to talk to their doctor or teacher right away. The sooner your child gets a diagnosis, the sooner they can get help to stay on track with reading. And they can feel less frustrated.
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