Clues to Dyslexia from Second Grade On

The specific signs of dyslexia, both weaknesses and strengths, vary widely. Problems with oral language, decoding, fluency, spelling, and handwriting are addressed, as well as strengths in higher order thinking skills.

The specific signs of dyslexia, both weaknesses and strengths, in any one individual will vary according to the age and educational level of that person. The five-year-old who can't quite learn his letters becomes the six-year-old who can't match sounds to letters and the fourteen-year-old who dreads reading out loud and the twenty-four-year-old who reads excruciatingly slowly. The threads persist throughout a person's life.

The following are some clues to dyslexia for children in second grade and beyond.

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 choppy and labored, not smooth or fluent
  • Oral reading that lacks inflections 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 true 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 looking for signs of a phonologic weakness, here are some signs of strength to look for and applaud in your child:

  • 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 over learned (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 dependant 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

Many of the above indicate strengths in higher-level thinking processes.

Excerpted and adapted from: Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


I am not very familiar with Dyslexia, and before reading this article I was not aware of the signs and symptoms of this disorder. However, I found this article easy to follow and very informative. As a future school counselor, I believe it is my responsibility to be knowledgeable about learning disorders such as this. As I read the article I also found myself thinking about how many teachers and/or counselors are not aware of the signs of this learning disability. I am glad there are websites like this that will give future educators some much needed insight. I also really enjoyed the "Strengths" section, I think it's important for students to know that a having a learning disability should not define them.

These is a great guide to identify specific clues that may be due to a student struggling with dyslexia. As a teacher that is transitioning into a counseling role, I would find this useful for both counselors and teachers. I really enjoyed the bullet point about the student may need more time to summon an oral response or may have trouble to answer quickly when called upon. This is key information that needs to be shared with teachers that a student with dyslexia may need more time to formulate his or her answers. Many times, teachers have a lot of material to get through and not much time. Unintentionally, they may be calling on students and expecting a quick response. Then quickly moving on when one is not given. This would be something I would highlight for teachers and those working closely with the student so they are aware that he or she may need more time when giving answers orally.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a great fictional book that discusses the topic of dyslexia. It is a fictional book that follows a 5th grade girl who has always thought she was stupid due to her struggle with academics. A teacher took notice of her struggle and finally had her tested for dyslexia. She then received the services she needed and began to enjoy school much better. It’s a great book to use as small groups or a book study for students.

Thank you for such a great illustration of Dyslexia - in my work in Meditation I explore how the mind can correct itself with neuroplasticity and psychoherapy. Something I think your readers would find interesting is to check out the Arrowsmith School in Toronto's website - they are able to isolate parts of the brain that are underutilized and train that specific part correcting many learning disabilities.Keep up the great work!

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