By definition, dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty reading. There are secondary characteristics—difficulty spelling, and illegible handwriting, for example—but until a child has attempted to read, it’s probably too early to identify dyslexia.
Even so, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has listed several warning signs for dyslexia, shown in the chart below, and some of them apply to preschoolers.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting about five percent of American children. Its cause is unknown, although scientists think it probably has more than one cause. About a quarter of the children who have dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, though most children with dyslexia don’t exhibit ADHD. If an older child in the family or a parent has dyslexia, then the younger child has an increased chance of having it too.
Children diagnosed with dyslexia have normal intelligence and vision, yet they cannot figure out how to read by first grade. Eventually they do, but they often require intervention from the school system, a tutor or a dedicated parent.
Dyslexia affects information processing in the part of the brain controlling language. Usually children without dyslexia begin to realize that sounds combine to form words or parts of words, and that those sounds can be represented by letters. Children with dyslexia have difficulty making these connections.
Children with dyslexia do learn to read, but it takes longer. Teachers need to repeat the phonemes or basic sounds of English (about 44) and help children recognize these sounds in words and in syllables. “Go” for example, has two phonemes, g and long o. Then teachers need to connect these phonemes to letters, and the letters to tiny words which follow the rules of pronunciation.
If you are concerned about dyslexia, the National Center for Learning Disabilities website offers a 40-page toolkit about dyslexia, including several pages about characteristics of children pre-K to second grade and strategies to help them learn. Your right to have your child tested by the public schools, the type of testing done and a video from an educator who has dyslexia are included in the toolkit.