Signs of dyslexia

Identifying common signs or "symptoms" of dyslexia & reading challenges

Boy reading
Photo by Anita Jankovic

What are early signs that your child could have dyslexia or difficulties with reading?​

Catching dyslexia early is important, but it can be difficult. According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs, around 80% of dyslexic students in the UK leave school without a dyslexia diagnosis.

There are a lot of signs to look out for, but dyslexia is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ diagnosis. Every child with dyslexia and reading difficulties experiences different strengths and weaknesses, which can then translate into various indications and signs of dyslexia and reading difficulties.

This is why we put together a short guide to some of the most common signs or ‘symptoms’ of dyslexia at different ages, from preschool to secondary school and older.

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Recognising characteristics of dyslexia and reading difficulties

Simply defined, dyslexia is a form of reading weakness which impacts a person’s ability to decode words accurately and fluently. What is important to consider is that the meaning of dyslexia is not strictly defined, and there is no precise set of ‘symptoms’ that you should expect to see in your dyslexic child. Dyslexia can also be differentiated from other reading difficulties or ‘reading disabilities’. 

One of the most identifiable signs of dyslexia and reading difficulties is when your child struggles with word decoding. This process of identifying the connections between letters and sounds is important for a child to correctly read or pronounce written words, and any difficulty with determining letter patterns can have an impact on both the development of reading fluency, as well as spelling performance.

This can make it difficult to spot dyslexia at an early stage as most children will start learning how to read and write in Year 1 and 2, and it can be tricky at that point to determine if a child’s difficulties with this learning process are “normal” or a sign of something else. It also means that any issues with word decoding may only become apparent at that age.

So what should you look out for if you are trying to understand if your child experiences more difficulties than “normal”, or difficulties that are typical of dyslexia?

1 in 5

child only is diagnosed by the time they leave school: 4 in 5 children fall through the crack.

Source: BBC, 2019

Spotting dyslexia at reception class

There are certain behaviours you may have noticed already when your child was in preschool or their reception class. These include:​

  • Delayed speech development – while this may be due to a number of reasons other than dyslexia, your child may take longer to start talking due their inability to break down words into their component sounds, otherwise known as phonological awareness.
  • Jumbling up phrases and long words – a common sign is when a child mixes up the first letters of words or even letters within the word itself. For example, ‘runny babbit’ instead of ‘bunny rabbit’, or ‘constructions’ instead of ‘instructions’.
  • Difficulty with rhyming – your child may have little interest in nursery rhymes or doesn’t seem to recognise rhyming patterns, such as hat, rat, sat.
  • Trouble with the alphabet – they could have a hard time learning and remembering the different names of the letters in the alphabet.
  • Difficulty expressing themselves – your child may have some difficulty with putting sentences together correctly or finding the right word to use.

Although it’s not clearly linked to dyslexia, some parents have expressed concern regarding rhythm and coordination. Some dyslexic children have difficulty with activities that involve hand-eye coordination, such as throwing and catching a ball, and even have trouble dressing themselves, such as tying their shoelaces or buttoning up their shirt.

While it is important to note that every child learns to read at their own pace, academic difficulties are an important early indicator of dyslexia, especially in regards to reading and writing.

The GoLexic programme focuses on building up skills in phonological awareness that your child can use as a basis for their reading and writing learning journey. There is a free trial available to all new users!

Signs of dyslexia at primary school age

Spotting dyslexia at KS 1 (Year 1-2)

As your child starts school and begins with reading instruction during their Key Stage 1 years, signs of dyslexia start to become more obvious. Common signs of dyslexia from ages 5 to 7 include:

  • Difficulty associating letters with sounds – for example, your child may struggle to connect the sound or phonics of ‘b’ with the letter b.
  • Mixing up and sometimes reversing letters – such as ‘d’ and ‘b’ or ‘g’ and ‘q’.
  • Slow pace and mistakes when reading out loud – a child with dyslexia and reading difficulties will tend to read more slowly and make mistakes while reading out loud. They stumble over words or read words that are not printed in the text.
  • Complications with word decoding – as mentioned before, this can also cause your child to have difficulties with word attack, a skill that helps them to read and decode longer combination words, like ‘sunbathing’ or ‘cowboy’.
  • Struggles to learn sequences – this includes the alphabet, days of the week, or even a sequence of directions.
  • Expresses a dislike for reading – your child often complains about how difficult they find reading, and demonstrates avoidant behaviour when is ‘reading time’, such as disappearing or hiding.

Important signs of dyslexia at KS 2 (Year 3-6)

As your child starts to get older, and move through Key Stage 2 of their education, the expectations of their reading level start to increase. At this point, the signs start to become even more obvious, and more specific to different areas of reading difficulties. Signs of dyslexia among children aged 7 to 11 include:

When reading

  • Their oral reading is at a relatively slow pace, and seems stiff and awkward.
  • Unfamiliar words are difficult for them to read, and your child often tries to guess the word that they can’t sound out.
  • Actively avoids reading out loud, especially at school in a classroom setting.

When speaking:

  • Your child tends to forget specific words when speaking, and instead they substitute in vague terms such as ‘thing’ or ‘stuff’.
  • They use a lot of filler language, such as ‘uh’ and ‘um’ when speaking.
  • They often mispronounce unfamiliar words, especially longer and more complex terms.

At School and Home:

  • They have difficulty with remembering dates, names, and sequences, such as telephone numbers and random lists.
  • They need more time to complete tests.
  • They may struggle with learning foreign languages, and may have poor spelling and handwriting.


of parents said their dyslexic child tries to hide their struggles.

Source: All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs, Oct. 2019

Signs of dyslexia at secondary school (Year 7 +)

From the age 11 and up, you may start to notice your child struggles with keeping up with their homework tasks, and has a relatively harder time with their test preparation in comparison to their peers. Some more key signs to look out for are:

When reading:

  • their reading pace is slow, hesitant and laboured, especially when reading aloud and in front of a class.
  • they have poor reading comprehension.
  • they fail to recognise familiar words, or leaves out, repeats or adds extra words while reading.
    Misses a line or repeats the same line twice.
  • they easily lose their place on the page, and they often use a finger or a marker to keep the place (e.g. a ruler).
  • they have difficulty with summarising content or identifying the main point of a piece of writing.
  • they struggle with using dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias, or any alphabetical system.
  • they rarely read for pleasure in their free time.

When speaking:

  • their standard of written work is poor in comparison with their oral ability. They can appear to know more than what translates into their writing.
  • their teachers sometimes complain about their poor handwriting; They may also have neat handwriting but write very slowly.
  • their written work is badly set up, with frequent spellings crossed out several times
  • they spell the same word differently in one piece of work.
  • their spelling is poor and mistakes are often due to phonetic spelling of words.
  • they don’t follow punctuation and/or grammar rules.
  • they can write a great deal and ‘lose the thread’, or writes very little, but to the point.
  • they have difficulty taking notes in lessons, organisation of homework, and finds it difficult to complete assignments on time.
  • they struggle with essay-based or multiple-choice exams.

In their behaviour:

  • they can be disorganised or forgetful e.g. over sports equipment, lessons, homework,
  • they seem to be excessively tired after school, primarily due to the amount of concentration and effort required.
  • they can have low self-esteem due to challenges with academic achievement. Undermines their intelligence despite good grades.

In other areas:

  • they struggle with reading may limit their ability to acquire new knowledge, and their vocabulary may not progress at the same speed as other students.
  • they often do not instantly understand wordplay, such as puns.
  • they can confuse words that sound alike (homophones) like ‘effect’ and ‘affect’, ‘simulate’ and ‘assimilate’, ‘there’ and ‘their’.
  • they mispronounce names or words, and occasionally have difficulty finding the name for an object or articulating themselves.
  • they can misunderstand more complicated questions. For instance, they can find holding a list of instructions in memory difficult.

You have noticed your child shows signs of dyslexia, what's the next step?

We would like to emphasize that not all of these signs of dyslexia and reading difficulties may appear in your child. Some may also apply to other learning challenges.

However, you may notice that a number of these signs apply to your child. In that case, we recommend speaking with your child’s school and teacher to see if they share your concerns. You can also take our free online dyslexia test for a better understanding of your child’s areas of difficulties. This is good initial screening when deciding if you should seek a diagnostic assessment.

We know it takes time to get a full professional diagnosis for your child, that’s why we created an app that helps dyslexic children and children with reading weaknesses learn to read and write fluently, at home. Download the GoLexic iPad App in the App Store and get a two week free trial.

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