Signs of Dyslexia in Young and Elementary School Children
As a disability advocate and writer who covers disability issues, I have observed that learning disabilities can be difficult to detect in children. Many students struggle with reading, writing, and math at one time or another. When elementary school students struggle in these areas continually over time, however, they may have a learning disability such as dyslexia.
A Definition of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a language-processing disability. Children with dyslexia have symptoms that persist consistently for more than six months, such as having difficulties in reading, writing, and processing and expressing language. Dyslexia may also affect children physically and impede the development of their social skills.
Young children with dyslexia tend to be unusually early or late in reaching milestones such as crawling, walking, and talking. They have trouble communicating and relating socially to their peers. Concepts such as the days of the week, the alphabet, colors, shapes, and numbers are difficult for children with dyslexia to grasp. It is also difficult to name people and objects.
They are slow to understand the connection between sounds and letters. Young children will be slow to develop fine motor skills such as holding a pencil correctly, using zippers and buttons, or brushing their teeth.
Dyslexia Symptoms in Elementary School Children
Reading and writing problems
Struggle to understand instructions
Has an unusual pencil grip – could be fistlike, awkward, or tight
Finds letters, words, numbers, sequences, and verbal explanations confusing
Problems in fluently reading age-appropriate material
Is unable to repeat a phrase that has just been said in the proper order
Has difficulty understanding content read silently or aloud
Has difficulty putting thoughts into words, has a tendency to speak in incomplete sentences
Lack of interest and confidence in their reading ability
Mispronounces some words and stutters when stressed
Learning and remembering new words is challenging
Is stuck in details when trying to stay on topic and state a point
Tends to guess unfamiliar words rather than analyzing them correctly
Struggles to speak with correct grammar, a varied vocabulary, and accurate words
Listening and taking notes is challenging
Has difficulty in pronouncing words correctly
Has problems reading and writing words and letters in the right order, and Problems remembering printed words
Frequently stops while speaking or using filler words such as “um”
Difficulty comprehending word problems in math
Has problems in understand rhyming such as in nursery rhymes
Confuses small words such as “to” and “at”
Has difficulty using new words correctly
Spelling rules are hard to master - spelling is inconsistent and phonetic
Struggles to tell the differences between similar words
Words are not consistently spelt correctly
Difficulty understanding idioms, humor, and puns
Problems with proofreading and correcting their work
Has slow or poor memory and recall of facts
Older children struggle to fully develop ideas through writing
Not understanding non-verbal communication cues such as body language, tone of voice, and mood
Older children tend to express ideas in a disorganized way
Struggles to express their feelings
Older children have problems with organizing writing assignments
Physical, Academic, Social/ Emotional and Other Challenges
- Complains of physical problems when they read such as headaches, dizziness, or stomach aches
- Complains of seeing or feeling non-existent movement when copying, reading, or writing
- Seems to have vision problems, yet eye exams do not identify what is wrong
- Is uncoordinated and clumsy in team sports or playing ball
- Difficulty with fine and or gross motor tasks
- Prone to motion sickness
- Prone to ear infections
- Low or high pain tolerance
- Has difficulty telling time or managing a schedule
- Has difficulty with tasks that depend on memorization
- Has problems remembering facts and numbers
- Struggles to understand spatial concepts and direction
- Is not consistent in doing daily tasks
- Struggles to learn new games or puzzles
Social, emotional, and other challenges
- Trouble developing and keeping friendships
- Difficulty keeping a positive social status and fitting into a peer group
- Struggles to feel confident about getting to know people and their ability to get along with their peers
- May confuse spatial concepts such as left and right – could be ambidextrous
- Struggles to count objects and deal with money
- May be very disorganized or compulsively orderly
- Extreme behavior such as being too quiet, a troublemaker, or a class clown
The video below shows how dyslexia affects an elementary school child's ability to function in a school environment and the impact it has on academic performance.
Problems Caused by Undiagnosed Dyslexia
When learning disabilities are not caught early, children will suffer when trying to learn at school. Many children with learning disabilities are average or above average intelligence, but they are unable to spell, read, or write at their grade level. It takes twice or three times as long for them to complete their homework. Unfortunately, school administrators may decide that the children are not “bad enough” or “behind enough” to get the specialized help that they need.
For example, children with dyslexia can do well on oral tests, but not so well on written tests. They learn best through:
- hands-on experience, observation
- visual aids
Children with dyslexia may be talented in the performing arts such as story-telling, drama, music, sports, sales, designing, engineering, or building things.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers may blame the children for their poor academic performance and label them as careless, immature, lazy, stupid, hyper, or having a behavioral problem. The children may be told that they were not trying hard enough and often seem to be lost in daydreams and lose track of time.
As a result, children with learning disabilities:
- Have poor self-esteem
- Think that they are stupid
- Try to hide and cover up weaknesses
- Become frustrated and emotional when dealing with reading or tests in school
- May become victims of bullying
ADHD and Dyslexia
About one-third of children with learning disabilities also have attention deficit disorder (ADHD), which has symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and impulsiveness.
When parents see these symptoms, they should write them down and share the information with a medical professional. Once children have been diagnosed, parents and caregivers can work with school administrators and teachers to ensure that these children's educational needs are met.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Carola Finch