The signs and symptoms of dyslexia differ from person to person. Each individual with the condition will have a unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the most common signs of dyslexia are outlined here.
In some cases, it's possible to detect symptoms of dyslexia before a child starts school.
Symptoms can include:
- delayed speech development compared with other children of the same age (although this can have many different causes)
- 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 sentences together 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
Primary 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 to 12 include:
- problems learning the names and sounds of letters
- spelling that's unpredictable and inconsistent
- confusion over letters that look similar and putting letters the wrong way round (such as writing "b" instead of "d")
- confusing the order of letters in words
- reading slowly or making errors when reading aloud
- answering questions well orally, but having difficulty writing the answer down
- 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
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 can 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 that a child has previously learned.
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 already mentioned, 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 PIN or telephone number
- struggling to meet deadlines
If you're concerned about your child's progress with reading and writing, first talk to their teacher.
If you or your child's teacher has an ongoing concern, take your child to see your GP so they can check for signs of any underlying health issues, such as hearing or vision problems, that could be affecting their ability to learn.
If your child doesn't have any obvious underlying health problems to explain their learning difficulties, different teaching methods may need to be tried.
You may also want to request an assessment to identify any special needs they may have.
If you're an adult and think you may have dyslexia, you may want to arrange a dyslexia assessment. The British Dyslexia Association has a directory of local dyslexia associations.
Read more about diagnosing dyslexia.
Some people with dyslexia also have other problems not directly connected to reading or writing.
Page last reviewed: 07 March 2022
Next review due: 07 March 2025