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Should My Child Be Evaluated for Dyslexia?

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By Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Clues to Dyslexia in Young Adults and Adults

Problems in Speaking

  • Persistence of earlier oral language difficulties
  • The mispronunciation of the names of people and places, and tripping over parts of words
  • Difficulty remembering names of people and places and the confusion of names that sound alike
  • A struggle to retrieve words: "It was on the tip of my tongue"
  • Lack of glibness, especially if put on the spot
  • Spoken vocabulary that is smaller than listening vocabulary, and hesitation to say aloud words that might be mispronounced

Problems in Reading

  • A childhood history of reading and spelling difficulties
  • Word reading becomes more accurate over time but continues to require great effort
  • Lack of fluency
  • Embarrassment caused by oral reading: the avoidance of Bible study groups, reading at Passover seders, or delivering a written speech
  • Trouble reading and pronouncing uncommon, strange, or unique words such as people's names, street or location names, food dishes on a menu (often resorting to asking the waiter about the special of the day or resorting to saying, "I'll have what he's having," to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to read the menu)
  • Persistent reading problems
  • The substitution of made-up words during reading for words that cannot be pronounced - for example, metropolitan becomes mitan - and a failure to recognize the word metropolitan when it is seen again or heard in a lecture the next day
  • Extreme fatigue from reading
  • Slow reading of most materials: books, manuals, subtitles in foreign films
  • Penalized by multiple-choice tests
  • Unusually long hours spent reading school or work-related materials
  • Frequent sacrifice of social life for studying
  • A preference for books with figures, charts, or graphics
  • A preference for books with fewer words per page or with lots of white showing on a page
  • Disinclination to read for pleasure
  • Spelling that remains disastrous and a preference for less complicated words in writing that are easier to spell
  • Particularly poor performance on rote clerical tasks

Signs of Strengths in Higher-Level Thinking Processes

  • 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
  • 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

These clues across the life span offer a portrait of dyslexia. Examine them carefully, think about them, and determine if any of these clues fit your child, you, or someone else you are close to. Look for clues in the weaknesses and strengths. Identifying the weaknesses makes it possible to spot dyslexia in children before they are expected to read and in adults after they have developed some degree of reading accuracy but are continuing to show the remnants of earlier problems, reading slowly and with great effort.

If you think you or your child has some of these problems, it is important to note how frequent they are and how many there are. You don't need to worry about isolated clues or ones that appear very rarely. For you to be concerned, the symptoms must be persistent; anyone can mispronounce a word now and then, or confuse similar-sounding words occasionally. What you are looking for is a persistent pattern - the occurrence of a number of these symptoms over a prolonged period of time. That represents a likelihood of dyslexia.

More on Sally Shwaywitz's work:

Sally Shaywitz, M.D., is the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at the Yale University School of Medicine. She and her husband are codirectors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Recognized as one of the country’s top doctors, Shaywitz has devoted her career to helping children and adults who are dyslexic.

Comments from readers

"Want some additional information, answers to questions, or support? Please consider joining and posting them at the 'Learning and Attention Difficulties' group found here at GS to receive to receive practical suggestions from parents who have faced similar challenges:"
"'Want some additional information, answers to questions, or support? Please consider joining and posting them at the 'Learning and Attention Difficulties' group found here at GS to receive to receive practical suggestions from parents who have faced similar challenges:'"
"I think this article was helpful and accurate except for the the pre-school years section. My daughter was a very early talker, knew all her letters by 18 months (much earlier than my other children), and could rhyme without any trouble. The only noticeable word that she couldn't pronouce as a baby was 'mule'. It was 'mool'. She breezed through kindergarten and first grade,then started having problems reading in 2nd grade. She was tested through the school system, and diagnosed with a non-specified learning disability. Because I wasn't happy with her progress in reading, I finally had her tested outside of the school system when she was entering the 6th grade. She was diagnosed as a 'gifted-dyslexic'. If you have any doubts or concerns about your child's ability to read, have them tested. I know from experience that the early clues are not the same for every child. "