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Signs of Dyslexia in Young and Elementary School Children

Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.

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.


Early signs

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

Language ProblemsReading 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

Physical Complaints

  • 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

Academic problems

  • 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
  • experimentation
  • demonstrations
  • 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.


Taking action

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.


Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities Association of America
Learning Disorders, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Language-Based Learning Disabilities (Reading, Spelling, and Writing), American Speech-language-Hearing Association
Dyslexia Symptoms, WebMD

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


Ruby from United States on March 14, 2016:

interesting some of those symptoms are pretty specific!

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 14, 2016:

There is a type of learning disability called dyscalculia which is difficulty with math. It is considered a separate type of learning disability than dyslexia.

Carol McNairy Wight from Provo, Utah on March 14, 2016:

Can a person be dyslexic in only one area? I excelled in language arts and am a writer, artist, and musician now. But math and numbers were impossible for me- and still are. I do reverse number sequences. I remember as a child stopping to go over the numbers to be sure I got it right.I never did learn the times tables. I often wish my teachers had just let me soar with the attributes I had , rather than stressing math so much. It didn't help any, anyway.

Do you think one can have just one area of dyslexia?

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 15, 2014:

Thanks for sharing, no body. There is more awareness of learning disabilities these days, but nearly enough.

Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on October 15, 2014:

I have never been diagnosed with dyslexia or adhd but I have known about my learning disabilities all my life. My mom and dad never really thought anything was wrong except I didn't work hard enough. I was convinced had I had complete quiet at home I would have done better, but we lived in a small mobile home and there was no such thing as quiet or "my own space." I would watch my brother listen to music in front of the television with his homework in front of him and carry on a conversation with two or three people at the same time. I was messed up in a room with a closed door and just faint voices in the air. I struggled all through school and never got over barely passing grades when I really worked hard. I have always known I was ambidextrous. It was one of the only things I could do that others could not, write with both hands and eat with both hands. So much of your article is me. I keep plugging away at things that challenge me. I write, I keep playing music, I am trying my hand at learning a different language. It takes very much repetition to learn something and then I forget it if I am not rehearsing it every so often. Thank you for this article. I really appreciate it. I will have to watch the video when I have more time. Voted up and interesting and useful. Bob.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 02, 2014:

Before all this information was available, children with dyslexia were written off as no-good. Thank you for sharing the symptoms so parents can recognize them and get help as early as possible. Good article, Voted Up!

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 01, 2014:

Thanks, mylindaelliott. Many people do not realize that about a third of children with learning disorders also have ADHD.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on May 31, 2014:

Good article, lots of useful information. People tell me their child only has ADHD all the time. I wonder if they realize it is a co-occurring disorder.

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