Diagnosing Dyslexia

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Diagnosing Dyslexia

A Guide to the Development of Reading-Related Skills

Early Preschool Accomplishments (age 3-4)

  • Begins to develop awareness that, like a roll of perforated postage stamps, sentences and then words come apart
  • Shows an interest in the sounds of language; repeats and plays with sounds, especially rhymes; recites nursery rhymes (“Humpty Dumpty,” “Jack and Jill”?
  • Identifies ten alphabet letters, most likely from his or her own name

Late Preschool Accomplishments (age 4-5)

  • Breaks spoken words into syllables (such as today – to-day) (50 percent of children can count the number of syllables in a spoken word)
  • Begins to break words into phonemes (20 percent of children can count the number of phonemes in a spoken word)
  • Recognizes and names a growing number of letters

Beginning Kindergarten Accomplishments (age 5–5 ½)

  • Compares whether two spoken words rhyme: Do cat and mat rhyme? Do hope and mat rhyme?
  • Names a word that rhymes with a simple word like cat or make
  • Recognized and names just about all upper-and lowercase letters

End of Kindergarten Accomplishments (age 5½-6)

Spoken language:
  • Continues to progress in breaking spoken words into syllables (90 percent of children can count the number of syllables in a word)
  • Identifies which of three spoken words or pictures begin with the same sound as a given word (when instructed: Tell me which word begins with the same first sound as car: mat, can, or dog – he answers can) or with a different sound than the other two (when asked which word begins with a different sound – man, dog, or mud – he answers dog)
  • Pronounces the beginning sound in a word (when asked to say the first sound of the word mat, he answers “mmmm”)
  • Counts the number of phonemes in a small word (when asked to count the sounds he hears in me, he finds two: accomplished by 70-80 percent of children)
  • Blends (pushes together) phonemes into a complete word (when asked what word the sounds “zzzz,” “oo” make, he answers zoo)
  • Names all the letters of the alphabet
  • Knows the sounds of almost all the letters of the alphabet
  • Masters the alphabetic principle; understands that the sequence of letters within a written word represents the number and sequence of sounds heard in the spoken word
  • Begins to decode simple words
  • Recognizes a growing number of common words by sight (you, my, are, is, the)
  • Uses invented spelling, such as writing krr for car
  • Writes many uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Writes his or her own name (first and last) and names of family members or pets

First Grade Accomplishments (age 6-7)

Spoken Language:
  • Counts the sounds in longer (three-phoneme) words (when asked, Can you count the sounds you hear in same?, he answers three)
  • Says what word remains if a given sounds is taken away from the beginning or end of a three-phoneme word (when instructed, Say bat without saying the “b”, he says at)
  • Blends the sounds in three-phoneme words (when asked, What word do the sounds, “m,” “aaaa,” “n” form?, he answers man)
  • Reads aloud with accuracy and comprehension any test that is meant for first grade
  • Links letters to sounds to decode unknown words
  • Accurately decodes one-syllable words (real words like sit and bath, and nonsense words like zot and shan)
  • Knows sounds of common letter groups or word families such as –ite and –ate
  • Recognizes by sight common irregularly spelled words (which do not follow the pattern of a word family), such as have, said, where, two
  • Has reading vocabulary of three hundred to five hundred words, including sight words and words that are easy to sound out
  • Monitors his or her own reading
  • Self-corrects if an incorrectly identified word does not fit with cues provided by the letters in the word or with cues provided by the context surrounding the word
  • Reads simple instructions such as “Open your book”
  • Begins to spell accurately short, easy words

Second Grade Accomplishments (age 7-8)

  • Routinely links letters to sounds to decode unknown words
  • Begins to learn strategies fro breaking multisyllabic words into syllables
  • Accurately reads some multisyllable real and nonsense words, such as Kalamazoo
  • Begins to read with fluency – reads accurately, smoothly, rapidly, and with inflection
  • Reads and comprehends fiction and nonfiction meant for second grade
  • Represents the complete sound of a word when spelling
  • Reads on his own voluntarily

Third Grade Accomplishments (age 8-9)

  • Reads aloud with fluency and comprehension any text meant for third grade
  • Uses knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and roots to infer meanings of words
  • Reads longer fiction selections and chapter books
  • Summarizes the main points from readings
  • Correctly spells previously studied words
  • Uses a dictionary to learn the meaning of unknown words

Fourth Grade and Above Accomplishments (age 9 and over)

  • Read to learn
  • Reads for pleasure and for information

Key is knowing how to recognize them at different periods during development. Therefore, I have gathered the clues together to provide three distinct portraits of dyslexia: first, in early childhood from preschool through the first grade: next, in school-age children from second grade on; and, last, in young adults and adults.

Clues to Dyslexia in Early Childhood

The earliest clues involve mostly spoken language. The very first clue to a language (and reading) problem may be delayed language. Once the child begins to speak, look for the following problems:

The Preschool Years

  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes such as “jack and Jull” and “Humpty Dumpty”
  • A lack of appreciation of rhymes
  • Mispronounced words; persistent baby talk
  • Difficulty in learning (and remembering) names of letters
  • Failure to know the letters in his own name

Kindergarten and First Grade

  • Failure to understand that words come apart; for example, that batboy can be pulled apart into bat and boy, and, later on, that the word bat can be broken down still further and sounded out as: “b” “aaaa” “t”
  • Inability to learn to associate letters with sounds, such as being unable to connect the letter b with the “b” sound
  • Reading errors that show no connection into the sounds of the letters; for example, the word big is read as goat
  • The inability to read common one-syllable words or to sound out even the simplest of words, such as mat, cat, hop, nap
  • Complaints about how hard reading is, or running and hiding when it is time to read
  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings

In addition to the problems of speaking and reading, you should be looking for these indications of strengths in higher-level thinking processes:

Should My Child Be Evaluated for Dyslexia?

  • Curiosity
  • A great imagination
  • The ability to figure things out
  • Eager embrace of new ideas
  • Getting the gist of things
  • A good understanding of new concepts
  • Surprising maturity
  • A large vocabulary for the age group
  • Enjoyment in solving puzzles
  • Talent at building models
  • Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to him

Clues to Dyslexia From Second Grade On

Problems in Speaking

  • Mispronunciation of long, unfamiliar, or complicated words; the fracturing of words – leaving out parts of words or confusing the order of the parts of words; for example, aluminum becomes amulium
  • Speech that is not fluent – pausing or hesitating often when speaking, lots of um’s during speech, no glibness
  • The use of imprecise language, such as vague references to stuff or things instead of the proper name of an object
  • Not being able to find the exact word, such as confusing words that sound alike: saying tornado instead of volcano, substituting lotion for ocean, or humanity for humidity
  • The need for time to summon an oral response or the inability to come up with a verbal response quickly when questioned
  • Difficulty in remembering isolated pieces of verbal information (rote memory) – trouble remembering dates, names, telephone numbers, random lists

Problems in Reading

  • Very slow progress in acquiring reading skills
  • The lack of a strategy to read new words
  • Trouble reading unknown (new, unfamiliar) words that must be sounded out; making wild stabs or guesses at reading a word; failure to systematically sound out words
  • The inability to read small “function: words such as that, an, in
  • Stumbling on reading multisyllable words, or the failure to come close to sounding out the full word
  • Omitting parts of words when reading; the failure to decode parts within a word, as if someone had chewed a hole in the middle of the word, such as conible for convertible
  • A terrific fear of reading out loud; the avoidance of oral reading
  • Oral reading filled with substitutions, omissions, and mispronunciations
  • Oral reading that is sloppy and labored, not smooth or fluent
  • Oral reading that lacks inflection and sounds like the reading of a foreign language
  • A reliance on context to discern the meaning of what is read
  • A better ability to understand words in context than to read isolated single words
  • Disproportionately poor performance on multiple choice tests
  • The inability to finish tests on time
  • The substitution of words with the same meaning for words in the text he can’t pronounce, such as car for automobile
  • Disastrous spelling, with words not resembling the spelling; some spellings may be missed by spell check
  • Trouble reading mathematics word problems
  • Reading that is very slow and tiring
  • Homework that never seems to end, or with parents often recruited as readers
  • Messy handwriting despite what may be an excellent facility at word processing – nimble fingers
  • Extreme difficulty learning a foreign language
  • A lack of enjoyment in reading, and the avoidance of reading books or even a sentence
  • The avoidance of reading for pleasure, which seems too exhausting
  • Reading whose accuracy improves over time, though it continues to lack fluency and is laborious
  • Lowered self-esteem, with pain that is not always visible to others
  • A history of reading, spelling, and foreign language problems in family members

In addition to signs of a phonologic weakness, there are signs of strengths in higher-level thinking processes:

Should My Child Be Evaluated for Dyslexia?

  • Excellent thinking skills; conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction
  • Learning that is accomplished best through meaning rather than rote memorization
  • Ability to get the “big picture”
  • A high level of understanding of what is read to him
  • The ability to read and to understand at a high level overlearned (that is, highly practiced) words in a special area of interest; for example, if his hobby is restoring cars, he may be able to read auto mechanics magazines
  • Improvement as an area of interest becomes more specialized and focused, when he develops a miniature vocabulary that he can read
  • A surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary
  • Excellence in areas not dependent on reading, such as math, computers, and visual arts, or excellence in more conceptual (versus factoid-driven) subjects such as philosophy, biology, social studies, neuroscience, and creative writing

Should My Child Be Evaluated for Dyslexia?

  • The maintenance of strengths noted in the school-age period
  • A high learning capability
  • A noticeable improvement when given additional time on multiple-choice examinations
  • Noticeable excellence when focused on a highly specialized area such as medicine, law, public policy, finance, architecture, or basic science
  • Excellence in writing if content and not spelling is important
  • A noticeable articulateness in the expression of ideas and feelings

Signs of Strengths in Higher-Level Thinking Processes

  • Exceptional empathy and warmth, and feeling for others
  • Success in areas not dependent on rote memory
  • A talent for high-level conceptualization and the ability to come up with original insights
  • Big-picture thinking
  • Inclination to think out of the box
  • A noticeable resilience and ability to adapt

After a child is evaluated, we know exactly what pattern to look for in the test results to diagnose dyslexia:

  • Difficulty reading single words
  • Particular difficulty decoding nonsense or unfamiliar words
  • Reading comprehension often superior to decoding individual words
  • Inaccurate and labored oral reading of passages
  • Trouble reading small “function” words – that, is an, for
  • Slow reading
  • Poor spelling
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