How to identify dyslexia


Family history is significant as dyslexia is often inherited. But remember that parents may not be aware of their own dyslexia, as a generation ago people were not well informed.


‘Tell-tale’ signs



Throughout their school careers a dyslexic child may:

  • Appear bright and able, but can’t get their thoughts down on paper;
  • Have areas in which they excel, particularly in drama, art and debating;
  • Be clumsy;
  • Act as the ‘class clown’ to mask what they see as their academic failure;
  • Become withdrawn and isolated, sitting at the back and not participating;
  • Be able to do one thing at a time very well but can’t remember an entire list;
  • Look ‘glazed’ when language is spoken too quickly;
  • Go home exhausted at the end of a normal day because they have had to put so much

effort into learning;

  • Be bullied.


Pre-school children may show:

  • Persistent difficulty in learning nursery rhymes or the name for things.
  • Enjoyment in being read to but showing no interest in letters or words;
  • Signs of apparently not paying attention;
  • Continuing difficulties in getting dressed efficiently and putting shoes on the correct feet;
  • Problems with catching, kicking or throwing a ball or with hopping or skipping;
  • Difficulty with clapping a simple rhythm;
  • Delayed speech development.


Primary school children may show:

  • A poor sense of direction and confuse left and right;
  • Difficulty tying shoe laces and dressing;
  • A discrepancy between receptive and expressive language;
  • Short-term memory limitations, finding it hard to remember maths tables, the alphabet or classroom instructions;
  • Pronounced reading difficulties – but don’t forget that not all dyslexic children have these problems. Specifically look out for:
  • Hesitant or laboured reading
  • Omitted lines or repetition of the same line – loss of place in the text
  • Muddling words that look alike, e.g. ‘no’ and ‘on’, ‘for’ and ‘off’ and ‘was’ and ‘saw’
  • Difficulties in saying multi-syllabic words
  • Problems understanding what they have read.
  • Difficulties with writing and spelling. Errors might include:
  • A disparity between written and spoken language
  • Messy work, for example, curled pages, crossings out and badly set out
  • Handwriting that looks heavy and laboriousIDENTIFY DYSLEXIA
  • Confusion of similar letters, like ‘b’ and ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ and ‘w’ and ‘m’ – resulting in

bizarre spelling

  • The same word spelt differently in the same piece of work, such as ‘more’, ‘mor’ and

‘mro’ – confusion between upper and lower case letters, and concepts of letter name

and sound.


They may also surprise you, as in all other ways they are bright and alert, often artistic and creative.


A young person at secondary school may:

  • Continue to experience the same problems as at primary school, for example:
  • Still read inaccurately;
  • Still have problems spelling;
  • Confuse places, times and dates;
  • Have difficulty remembering maths tables and formulae;
  • Need to have instructions repeated;
  • Get ‘tied up’ using long words, such as ‘preliminary’ or ‘philosophical’;
  • Have difficulty planning and writing essays;
  • Suffer poor confidence and low self-esteem.


In addition, secondary school offers a new set of challenges which place immense pressure on dyslexic pupils, who already have problems with their short-term memory and organisational skills. This may demonstrate itself as:

  • Forgetting which books to bring to class;
  • Difficulty organising life around a timetable;
  • Misunderstanding complex instructions;
  • Problems trying to write down notes at speed, and completing work on time;
  • Memory difficulties which affect the marshalling of learned facts effectively in exams.


As a result of the strain, the student may be extremely tired and fractious and employ

avoidance techniques whenever possible. It is easy to see how motivation and self-esteem drop rapidly. For some these manifest themselves as challenging behaviour.

There are many persisting factors in dyslexia which will still be noticeable when the dyslexic child leaves school. These include:

  • Obvious good or bad days, for no apparent reason;
  • Disjointed written work;
  • Misreading which may affect comprehension;
  • Forgetfulness in everyday life.

Concern that a learner may be dyslexic should trigger an assessment, ideally from a

specialist dyslexia teacher in the school. A good understanding of the nature of their

difficulties and strengths should inform classroom practice and any extra help the child requires. If they continue to fall behind they should be ‘fast-tracked’ to more specialist Assessment and support.