The earlier a child with dyslexia is diagnosed, the more effective their future treatment is likely to be.
In practice, identifying dyslexia in younger children can be difficult for both parents and teachers because the signs and symptoms are often subtle. However, early continuing difficulties with differentiating sounds, particularly at the beginning or end of a word, can be a sign of possible difficulties in future.
Many children, including younger children, also develop ways to compensate for their dyslexia, such as relying on their long-term memory more than usual or by "picturing" the whole word.
Screening programmes have been suggested for children starting school, but pilot projects proved unreliable.
If you are concerned about your child’s progress with reading and writing, first talk to their class teacher. You may also want to meet with other staff in the school. If you or your child’s teacher has a continuing concern, take your child to visit your GP. It may be that your child has health problems not connected to dyslexia that are affecting their ability to read or write. For example, they may have:
If your child does not have any obvious underlying health problems to explain their learning difficulties, it may be that they are not responding very well to the teaching method.
To help them learn to read, an approach can be used where words are understood by learning sound-letter matching and by sounding out and building up words using a method known as synthesis and segmentation.
If your child is still having difficulties, the next stage would be for them to receive additional teaching and support, possibly using a different approach, such as smaller group work or one-to-one teaching, and frequent "short burst" inputs – for example, daily or more frequent sessions for 15 minutes. Many children, even those with mild or moderate dyslexia, usually make good progress with this type of support.
A more in-depth assessment may be recommended if concerns still exist about your child’s progress after they have received additional teaching and support. The assessment will be carried out by an educational psychologist, who will be able to support the teacher, child and parent and help them understand the child’s learning difficulties, as well as suggesting targeted support to help with the difficulty.
An educational psychologist is a professional who specialises in assisting children having problems progressing with their education due to emotional, psychological, cognitive (learning) or behavioural factors.
Requesting an assessment
There are various ways to request an assessment for your child, although it can sometimes be a time-consuming and frustrating process.
The first step is to ask to meet your child’s teacher and their school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). A SENCO is a teacher who is responsible for special educational needs within a school. All schools have a SENCO and they work with other teachers and parents to ensure the needs of pupils with special educational needs are properly met.
At the meeting you can discuss your concerns and interventions that have been tried already. The first step is to ensure appropriate interventions are being taken by the school for your child. If your child continues to have difficulties despite these interventions, you can request they are referred for assessment and advice by a local educational authority (LEA) educational psychologist or other specialist in dyslexia.
If your child’s teacher and the SENCO do not agree that an assessment is appropriate or required, you have further options. You can challenge the decision and request your child is formally assessed through the statutory assessment process by contacting the special needs department of your LEA directly.
However, before taking this formal approach, it may be useful to talk with your local educational psychology department to find the best way forward without recourse to the formal processes of a statutory special educational needs (SEN) assessment, which can often be time-consuming and bureaucratic. See below for more information about SEN assessments.
The Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) is an independent charity for parents of children with special needs. Their website contains information about steps you can take to have the educational needs of your child assessed, plus advice about how to appeal a decision and arrange an assessment with your LEA.
Alternatively, you can arrange to have your child assessed by an independent educational psychologist or another suitably qualified professional. You can do this by visiting the Dyslexia Action website for contact details of your nearest Dyslexia Action Centre. Dyslexia Action is a national organisation for people with dyslexia.
Dyslexia Action centres will charge for the cost of the assessment, which can vary slightly from centre to centre but it is usually in the region of £300-£500.
Some therapy and counselling services also offer dyslexia support and assessments. Find your local therapy and counselling services.
The assessment procedure
Before the assessment takes place, you and your child’s school may be sent an assessment questionnaire that asks questions about your child and related issues, such as their general state of health, how well they perform certain tasks and what you think needs to change.
Various different assessment methods may be used, but all involve your child taking part in a series of tests and observing them in their learning environment, as well as talking with key adults involved with your child’s learning. The tests are not limited to your child’s reading and writing abilities, but also examine other skills including:
- language development vocabulary
- logical reasoning
- the speed they can process visual and auditory (sound) information
- organisational skills
- approaches to learning
Dyslexia can usually be confidently diagnosed if a child's reading and writing skills are poorly developed, despite appropriate teaching methods having been used, and their other abilities, such as their understanding of logic or their verbal skills being unaffected.
After your child has been assessed, you will receive a report that outlines their strengths and weaknesses, and what could be done to try to improve areas they are having difficulties with. Understanding what your child is good at and what they enjoy is an important step in developing an educational plan that tackles their weaknesses.
Depending on the severity of your child’s learning difficulties, it may be possible for your child’s literacy difficulties to be managed through a specific action plan drawn up for them and undertaken by their school. If this is the way forward, an individual education plan (IEP) will be drawn up for your child that will be reviewed with you and your child each term.
In a small number of cases where a child’s difficulties do not improve and progress does not seem to be made despite appropriate interventions from the school, you may want to request a fuller assessment that covers all aspects of your child’s development.
This would result in a more formal, legally binding educational plan being drawn up for your child, which is usually known as a Statement of Special Education Needs (SEN). If this level of intervention is considered necessary, it will set out what your child’s educational needs are and the support they require to meet those needs in a document which is reviewed formally every year.
See the Directgov website for more information about getting help for special educational needs in under fives and statements of special educational needs.
Assessment in adults
If you are an adult and think you may have dyslexia or another literacy-related difficulty that has not been identified, you can also arrange to have an assessment through your local Dyslexia Action Centre.
Employers, colleges and universities may make a contribution to cover some or all of the cost of the assessment. However, this is purely down to their discretion and they have no legal obligation to fund the costs of your assessment.