5 Early Warning Signs of Dyslexia

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Dyslexia means that you see letters and words backward.

That’s a common misconception. That can be a symptom of dyslexia, but it may not be present, and it’s far from being the primary symptom. With one child who has been officially diagnosed and another who has been mom-diagnosed, there are several signs of dyslexia that would have given me a heads-up when they were younger, had I known what to look for.

5 Early Warning Signs of Dyslexia

photo credit karoly czifra on flickr

1. Difficulty rhyming.

I never used to understand why my two dyslexic kids could not get the concept of rhyming words. It’s just that their dyslexic brains process information differently. The best way I can describe it is that they just don’t “hear” the rhymes.

It’s something that they picked up, but it wasn’t something that came easily.

2. Difficulty remembering names.

When Josh was younger, he had a very difficult time remembering things like names, words, and letter names. I often thought that one of his biggest barriers to reading fluency was being unable to call up the word that I could tell was just right there on the tip of his tongue.

When he had his dyslexia evaluation, there was a naming test where he was shown a huge variety of objects and was supposed to say the name of each. I was watching him. There was this one object that I could see from the look on his face he knew, but he just could not remember. It was very frustrating.

Later, he remembered the word he’s been trying to say. He said, “I knew what it was. I just couldn’t remember what it was called.”

3. Difficulty decoding words.

Even when a dyslexic kid learns all the letter sounds, he can still have difficulty blending the words together (and often does). He may sound out all of the letters correctly and then name an entirely unrelated word. He may also call a word by a synonym, such as house instead of home.

4. Difficulty differentiating left and right.

I can’t tell you how many times my dyslexic kids would write on the wrong side of the paper due to the difficulty telling the difference between left and right. Honestly, this is something that my non-dyslexic child did, too, but it was more persistent with the dyslexic ones.

Directional problems often persist for dyslexics into adulthood. This has nothing to do with intelligence or lack thereof. It’s just the way a dyslexic brain is wired.

5. Difficulty telling time.

Some dyslexics have difficulty telling time on a clock with hands. Granted, in this digital age, that may also be true of a lot of kids, but it is especially true of dyslexic kids.

Aside from b and d, neither of my kids reverse letters or transpose words. Dyslexia can look distinctly different from one person to the next, but all of the symptoms I’ve listed are signs that I noticed in my kids. I wish I’d known more about the signs and symptoms of dyslexia so that I could, potentially, have caught it and sought treatment earlier.

Do you have a dyslexic child? What signs did you notice?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Where do I start as far as getting my daughter tested for dyslexia? She is 8 and we are having incredible difficulties with reading- it’s starting to really interfere in ALL areas at this point. I just don’t know what to do for her- these symptoms ring true- or at least I could rule something out for my sanity. Thank you:)

    1. I highly recommend the free dyslexia testing at Lexercise. If it rules out the possibility of dyslexia, you can at least quit worrying about that. If it shows she would benefit from the full evaluation, their evaluation is a lot less expensive than you’ll find at most private practices. That’s what we did with Josh. He wound up doing the treatment through Lexercise and I couldn’t be more pleased. I just wish we’d found out sooner.

      I always recommend the free screening for parents who wonder if their child might be dyslexic because it will at least give you peace of mind if it doesn’t indicate any problems, but you can at least start to identify what you might be dealing with if it does raise some red flags. Hope that helps!

  2. Thank you so much for these clues from your family. My husband has dyslexia and is 53 so NO ONE was looking for clues “back then”. He is now a college professor with a Ph.D. teaching philosophy. One of the signs that he struggles with today is remembering people’s names – even friends we have had for years….challenging for a college professor when you get a new set of students every 18 weeks or so! He also says that he sees words moving on the page…words would be there one minute, then move the next. He also struggles with directions: right/left. I don’t know if any of those things might be indicators or signs just what he has experienced. Again, thank you for sharing your experiences….I love reading here!!

    1. Thanks, Ann. I can imagine not being able to remember names is difficult for your husband. My son really struggles with that.

  3. Did either of your children have speech issues? Or were they late talkers? I thought delayed speech was a common symptom as well.

    1. Yes, I did have one delayed talker with speech issues. This certainly wasn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, but rather just a few things that I didn’t know could be indicative of dyslexia that I wish I’d noticed.

  4. All three of my kids have dyslexia and here were some of the very early warning signs for us. I’m talking preschool warning signs. They were all late talkers with the exception of one and that particular child seems to have moderate to mild dyslexia. My oldest who is 9 has been diagnosed and is severely dyslexic. He talked late, stuttered when he did start talking, (we later found out it was because he couldn’t find the word. He thinks in pictures)said many words backwards, pasghetti for example. He would say sleep rhymes with eat, write backwards, very artistic, vivid imagination, lots of ear infections with 2 sets of tubes placed and two adenoidectomies. 2 percent of the population can have their adenoids grow back, and he is one of them. Of course they all struggle with them warning signs you mentioned also. But as a word of encouragement, my 9 year old is reading and is about 1 year behind right now and quickly closing the gap. Most of these kids are late bloomers and with the proper teaching and encouragement the can excel at anything they want to do. They have many gifts that balance out their challenges.

  5. Thanks Kris. I am attempting to diagnose my son myself as our insurance won’t pay for dyslexia testing. He’s got speech issues (stuttering and articulation) and sensory issues as well.

    1. All 3 of mine were late talkers then had additional speech issues and sensory issues. Great creative kids! Struggle to learn conventionally.

  6. I suspect one of our children may have dyslexia issues, but it either has not been severe, or she has learned coping mechanisms. Math is difficult, especially timed math facts. One thing we noticed when she was pre-school age was the creation of slightly bizarre words for things. Boogie board became “goo goo cluster” when she was trying to ask a question about playing in the snow. When she was asking about an upcoming baptism, she wanted to know if the baby was going to be ‘retext’ (instead of baptized). We just didn’t clue in that it might be a cognitive indicator of some kind.

    Now I feel the need to explore this further.

    1. Oh – and one other indicator – beside decoding difficulties, which she struggled with. (she could sound out the individual letters, but by the time she reached the end of the word, she could not recall all the sounds previous)

      She still, on occasion, will transpose complete syllables when reading aloud. So ‘commitment’ might come out ‘commentmit’, for example. It is very fluid, no hesitation, and sometimes she is unaware she has done it – on other times she catches her error.

    2. You might want to have her tested. (Again, I can’t recommend the free screening from Lexercise highly enough.) Just a week or so, I was reading about gifted kids with dyslexia. Some kids, who are both gifted and dyslexic, can come up with some amazing coping skills that often dyslexia isn’t even considered. You never know.

  7. I have two of my kids that are dyslexic and the symptom I noticed in both was their inability to remember a simple word that was decoded in one line but forgotten on the next.

  8. This is a great resource. Because of your website I found Lexercise. My daughter is doing great with it. She loves her clinician and is making giant strides. I also noted that my daughter has a hard time with time sequencing. She will often say “What are we doing yesterday?” or “When we went to Walmart tomorrow.” If I stop her, she knows what she said wrong. I also notice the problem with recalling facts that I know she knows. She has a hard time bringing that information up, which makes reading very slow. I switched curriculums so often thinking that was the problem. I felt horrible about her reading. I am so thrilled to have answers and to be giving her the keys to success. Thanks for your review of Lexercise. It gave me direction, and now I can see her finding a way to successfully read!

    1. One more thing…do you find your dyslexic children have a hard time memorizing and recalling math facts? She will know them perfectly, and the next day it seems like a new concept.

      1. Yes! We made many modifications with math. Lattice math was a lifesaver for my oldest when it came to multiplying multiple digits. (You might Google it if your daughter is having trouble. It seems like there’s a YouTube video that demonstrates it very well.) I wound up writing out the steps for long division and letting a couple of my kids use it as a template for awhile until it finally clicked. Remembering all those steps was very difficult for them.

    2. I am so glad to hear that you found Lexercise through my review! I honestly can’t say enough great things about them and the improvements that we’ve seen by going through the Lexercise treatment program. I know we’d still be struggling if we hadn’t found them. Congratulations to your daughter on her reading success!

  9. At what age would you recommend getting them tested? My son is 3-1/2 and dyslexia runs rampant in my husband’s family and to some degree in mine. There are some signs I’m already noticing with him and I’m wondering if there is a way to test this early and actually get a good result. I’m not seeing any of these same issues with my 2 year old daughter, so I know they are unique to my son. My older two ( from a previous marriage) have always turned their letters around but aside from that do well with everything else and that doesn’t seem to hold them back. I’m just seeing a different development pattern with my little guy.

    1. I know that Lexercise has developed the Mississippi Screener, which is used to screen children in Kindergarten (named because MS law requires that kids be tested early, which is great news for dyslexic kids!). I would strongly encourage you to call Lexercise and ask them what they’d recommend. It’s a small, personable company and the screening is free, so you wouldn’t be obligated to anything by calling and chatting with them. I suspect you’d be talking to their office manager, Darcy, who can advise you on the best time to screen. The earlier the better, but it may have to wait until your son is a little closer to reading age, like Kindergarten. I’m not sure.

  10. Your site is still one my favorite homeschooling sites! Thank you for all the information that you share. In one of the previous comments you mentioned that your kids had trouble memorizing math facts. Was there any specific method that you found to work best for them?

    1. Unfortunately, no. Just lots and lots of practice. When we got to multi-digit multiplication, I laminated a chart with all the facts. That took some of the frustration away and I thought that perhaps seeing the facts over and over would help cement them in the kids’ minds. We used a Math Shark to make practice more fun and I would print timed drills for practice. It was fun for them to try to beat their best times. The Lattice Method was extremely helpful to my older daughter with multi-digit multiplication. I’ve got a note to myself to do a blog post on it soon, but there are some good videos on YouTube that explain it well.

  11. So happy to see this! My 8 year old was an early talker, spoke clearly and constantly with a great vocabulary. He is having a terrible time learning to read, though, and I really notice the lack of blending skills and have noticed trouble with left/right and telling time. I have been wrestling with what to do (maybe he is just a late bloomer?), but I am definitely going to look into Lexercise.

  12. As an adult I still struggle with a few of these. However, I am an avid reader! So if your child struggles, keep going day by day! I know it is hard! I have 3 with this issue and we are getting there little by little.

    I also noticed that my kids did not try to sound out the words they saw in public until MUCH later. Then I got a foster child, who is not dyslectic and was amazed that at 4 he would identify letters and try to sound out words he saw all the time. This was not my experience. My oldest started to do this at 10 or 11. It was like words did not exist.

    The other sign for us was write numbers backwards and answers backwards for example, 8 * 3 = 42

  13. There are different types of dyslexia that aren’t as obvious…I have what’s known as scotipic sensitivity…this is a good article but way too general…some kids who are just not ready to read and write could fall into any of these catagories and this article could cause a parent to panic, unnecessarily! Need to be careful with this stuff.

    1. You’re right. There’s no need to panic unnecessarily. However, no one is going to be harmed by ruling dyslexia out early on, rather than spending years of frustration not knowing what you’re dealing with. I’d rather screen for dyslexia early and find out that’s not the problem than waste time and cause unnecessary frustration for child and parent if that is what the problem is.

  14. My son would reverse compound words at 2-3 yrs old. He would say things like “You gotfor to let me in” and “I want to do the mowlawner”. Now he describes his brain as having the pages of a wet book in his head with all the information he needs but he can’t peel the pages apart because they will tear and he doesn’t have a fan to dry the pages.

    1. How old is he? That’s a pretty clever analogy. It was almost painful to me to watch my son struggle to come up with a word that I knew he knew and I could tell by the look on his face that he knew it, but he just couldn’t remember.

  15. “Jumper” is now 19 years old and has graduated high school. He has earned Eagle Scout and is now an Assistant Scoutmaster with his troop. He came up with his description while working on the Disabilty Awareness merit badge in 2006 at age 14. The 2nd requirement is: “Speak to a person with a disability or read an article or book about a person with a disability and report to your counselor what you learned about that person’s experiences in dealing with a disability.” So he created an interview with himself to helps others understand how he feels. This is part of what he wrote: As a scout with dyslexia, I would like to say that sometimes it is really hard for people who do not have a visible disability to have trouble believing something is real. For instance, a lot of people think that dyslexia is just writing some numbers or letters backwards but it is more than that. Small words are hard to read because the letters seem to mix themselves up on the page. People think I am making it up because long words are easier for me but simple words can be really hard to get right. I have been called lazy or stupid because I have so much trouble with reading and writing. My vision is 20/20 but sometimes if I am nervous, excited, over-tired, or being rushed by someone, I cannot see the words correctly and I cannot read them at that moment. After get off by myself and I calm down, I can read again.
    The thing is that my brain has a different wiring system than most people so I don’t get information in and out of my brain as easy as others do. It is all there, I just can’t always get to it. I can learn something in the morning but forget it an hour later; only to remember it that evening. It is very frustrating both to me and my mom who is my teacher (I’m homeschooled) and people around me because they do not understand my difficulty. Things I have known for years often feel like wet pages in a book that get stuck together. I can’t get them apart to see what they say until they dry out and who knows how long or short a time that might be because my fan has a short circuit in it?
    While I might miss a solution that seems obvious to others, sometime my dyslexia can be a real asset because I can “think outside the box” and see solutions to a problem that others might miss.
    Sometimes doing merit badges and things at meetings are hard because I have a lot of trouble doing written notes, but I have a digital recorder now to help me and I am learning to use a voice to text program on my computer to help me write. I try to fill in the merit badge booklets from online before I get to the merit badge session so I am a little better prepared.

  16. I’ve been meaning to write a post about what dyslexia can look like. My kids don’t actually scramble letters. One of mine sees missing letters. And two of them see text in 3D. And two see the words floating and shaking.

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