Differentiating between dyslexia and reading difficulties is essential in providing the right support for your child. A formal diagnosis of dyslexia can provide a comprehensive report detailing your child's strengths and weaknesses, helping you and your child's school determine the best approach to support their learning.
However, not all reading difficulties require a diagnosis. Teachers and parents can still take appropriate measures by working together to identify the nature and source of the difficulty and providing targeted interventions that cater to the child's individual needs.
Should I seek to get a diagnosis for my child?
This is a big question, especially when parents are asked to pay privately to have their child undergo a dyslexia diagnosis.
The journey from identification to diagnosis can be different for every individual. Still, we find it helpful to pay attention to what happens at the beginning of primary school, as it is initially difficult to tell the difference between a child who struggles with learning to read and a child with dyslexia. This often causes the parents or school to adopt a "wait and observe" approach, which can delay the decision to get a diagnosis, often for 2 to 3 years.
How to think about a dyslexia diagnosis?
I want to include a few words about this, because from all my discussions with parents, I can see that there are vastly different attitudes towards a diagnosis - both positive and negative - but it is generally a big deal for every parent. And how parents respond to a positive diagnosis shapes how children perceive their own dyslexia.
In itself, a positive diagnosis is not a good or a bad thing - it's a factual report. But of course, it does have implications.
Parents sometimes worry that a positive dyslexia diagnosis will be a cross to bear for their child. In countries or cultures where the discussion around dyslexia is not very open yet, or where dyslexia is recognised by law as a 'handicap' (something parents usually lobbied for so that dyslexic children can be eligible for special categories of support), many parents don't want to label their child as dyslexic or, by assimilation, handicapped. It's important to understand that these negative perceptions of dyslexia stem from a lack of understanding of the condition, which is progressively being rectified.
Obtaining a dyslexia diagnosis puts a name and an explanation on why your child struggles. It makes it possible to put in place the necessary intervention. Many parents explain that it is a relief for their child to understand that their difficulties come from a condition like dyslexia, rather than question their own abilities.
It also helps them to know that there is now a general understanding of why they are not doing well at school. Their parents and teachers can now "officially" agree on the fact that it is not the child's fault, they are not less capable than others, and they are not working less hard. In other words, a dyslexia diagnosis can help dissipate the potential blame and pressure that the child perceives from the outside or internalizes themselves.
When should I start thinking of getting a diagnosis?
When your child starts primary school is when the signs will start to look more like dyslexia and less like "teething pains" with learning to read.
If your child is still not able to name all the letters, struggles to spell their name, cannot read simple mono-syllabic words they have learned before, and generally strong hesitation with reading you should be alert to more looking for more signs.
You may also start noticing changes in behaviour: your child does not want to read, they say they don't like it, and they become anxious about going to school - they are late, or complain from stomach aches in the morning.
What signs should I look out for?
When you can see over a few months that their school results are consistently impacted by their difficulty, it is a clear sign to start their journey for a diagnosis. Once you can tell that they are not doing well at school, and a lot of it stems from their struggles with English, you want to start a conversation around getting a dyslexia diagnosis.
Talking to their teacher is important at this stage. It will help you validate three points:
How is your child's reading? How are they doing compared to their teacher's expectations of where they should be at this point in the curriculum. What to look out for: Every child learns at a different pace but there are certain skills that the teacher aims to have them master at certain points of the curriculum. You are looking for a general indication of whether they are on the right track or not, at a high level.
Has your child progressed as a result of additional support? At that point, the teacher or yourself will have given extra attention to your child to help reduce the gap: how effective were these efforts? What to look out for: They have not improved proportionately to the amount of additional effort they put it. For some children, their difficulty has actually got worse.
Is your child struggling more than their peers? Is there a clear gap between their results and that of other children in their class? What to look out for: the gap is slowly widening rather than improving.
There is a learning gap that starts developing between dyslexic and non-dyslexic students. It will only get larger with time, as their hindrance with reading holds back dyslexic learners. That gap is a sign that you need to take action, like starting to think about getting a dyslexia diagnosis, and research what it will require and mean for your child. The sooner you find tools and approaches that will help your child close that gap, the better.
You can refer to our articles on early signs of dyslexia to see a more comprehensive list os the signs to look for at every age and school year.
Trust your gut
There is a simple question that I often ask parents to ask themselves: are you able to understand or justify why your child struggles to this extent? You know their capabilities better than anyone. You know what they are able to do, you know how much they work outside of school, you know how much effort you put in with them to do homework. All these things considered, does it seem plausible to you that they struggle as much as they do? And this is really more about listening to your gut as a parent.
Parents of dyslexic children almost always tell me that they kept pushing for answers because they just knew something was off, long before anyone thought it was cause for concern. They could not reconcile that their child, whom they've always known to be bright and curious, struggles as much as he/she does. Parents often don't dare to vocalise this until there is external validation that the struggle is not normal. But if your gut tells you something is not right, trust your gut and start asking for answers.
What steps should I take to have my child diagnosed?
Considering all the above, how do you get around starting that discussion about a dyslexia diagnosis? Here are the steps parents tell me they take - or they wish they had taken:
Refer to free dyslexia tests. There is a multitude of online tests you can take to understand if your child could indeed be dyslexic. These are no official diagnoses, but the point is for you to understand if you recognise your child in the questions that are being asked. Maybe you find small details, inconspicuous habits, or unexpected skills that you didn't realise could be connected to dyslexia. We know that such tests can help you get clarity and decide if you should invest in getting a diagnosis, that is why we offer a free online dyslexia test as well.
Talk to your child's teachers about your concerns - Your child’s teachers will be in a good position to confirm your concerns about your child, as they can compare their performance to that of their peers. If they don’t notice anything wrong, but you are certain there is something to be investigated, consider contacting the school or the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) to discuss your concerns.
Look for assessment opportunities - an official dyslexia assessment can be difficult to get, especially in a timely manner. Check out our article on what you can expect and how you can prepare for a dyslexia assessment. A school doesn't need a formal diagnosis to put support in place for your child, but a diagnostic assessment can help to ensure that the appropriate interventions are put in place. It can be difficult to figure out where to start, that's why the GoLexic App offers a personalised programme for your child that focuses on training essential skills for reading every day in small and structured portions.
Get the assessment - the aim of the assessment is to identify our child’s individual learning style, to gather information about their reading, spelling, and writing skills, to determine whether there is a clear difference between a general level of ability and their reading and writing attainment, to consider other factors which may be affecting learning, and to identify whether any adjustments will need to be made to ensure your child has sufficient support to access the curriculum and exams fully.
What happens after receiving a diagnosis?
If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia: a dyslexia diagnosis helps you move forward by providing you with concrete information about what your child’s weaknesses and strengths are, which you can then use to determine, together with your child’s school, what the right type of support for them is.
If your child receives a negative diagnosis for dyslexia: even without a dyslexia diagnosis, most schools will provide support for children who struggle with reading in comparison to their peers. Dyslexia remediation methods can also help with reading difficulties of all levels, so there are still ways to remedy difficulties with reading. This is often a difficult position for parents because their child still struggles and needs extra help, yet they cannot benefit from the support and structures created for dyslexic children.
This is also why we created GoLexic the way that it is. It is built for dyslexic children, but in such a way that it will benefit any child struggling to read, and does not require a diagnosis. It is all the discussions I've had with parents over the years that made it clear to me how such a tool was missing, and causing many children to be left behind.