Signs & Symptoms Of Dyslexia

I taught in the public schools for almost 20 years and signs of dyslexia were all around me every year. I had not been told about dyslexia and its signs, though, so I remained blind to it until a presentation about the signs and symptoms of dyslexia opened my eyes.

Common Signs Of Dyslexia

  • Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
  • Difficulty with spelling
  • Letter reversals
  • Mistaking similar words (form/from, girl/grill, was/saw, on/no, etc.)
  • Switching or skipping small function words (the, a, an, etc.)
  • Leaving off word endings
  • Ear infections as a child
  • Late to talk
  • Labeled “lazy”, “dumb”, “not trying hard enough”, or “behavior problem”
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Difficulty telling time on a clock with hands
  • Trouble with rhyming

Common Strengths Of Dyslexia

Often overlooked, Dyslexia brings with it its own set of strengths as well:

  • Excellent thinking skills
  • An ability to figure things out
  • Curiosity
  • A great imagination/creativity
  • Talent at building things
  • Athletics
  • Great people skills

Common Dyslexic Reading Signs

A person with dyslexia CAN read, but the part of the brain designed for efficient, automatic reading is not being utilized, so reading is often slow, choppy, and inaccurate. At its core, people with dyslexia lack an awareness of sounds within spoken words. Even if students know phonics (which letters make which sounds), they do not rely on individual letters of words to help them read. Instead, they use their intelligence, picture clues, context clues, and memorizing the general shape of the words to read.

Here are some common reading errors. You will notice that the errors are usually one of five types:

  • The error has a similar shape
  • The error has the same letters but the letters are in a different order
  • Directional errors 
  • The student has found a familiar piece of the word that they recognize (the word is every but student says, “very”, or the word is this and student says, “his”)
  • The student has not used the letters at all, but has used context clues or pictures to guess a word that makes sense in that spot.

Students may also skip or switch smaller words and prepositions (the, a, of, and, at, to) and leave off word endings/suffixes (needed/ “need” or playing/ “play”).

Real Word Student’s Attempt
grill girl
form from
crabby crappy
nest next
trial trail
quite quiet
broad board
licks likes
spot stop, post, pots
lots lost
how who, now
blotted bottled
rush rust
stillness silence
of for
month mouth
felt left
may way
could called
small little
cat kitty
shoulder should
except expect
reserve reverse
bog or big dog or dig
fond found
bench beach
safest fastest


You may see poor spelling, even on common words or sight words that have been seen and used over and over. Students will try to spell by memory, and may treat every word as a sight word to be visually remembered. Even though kids see the word stop all the time, young students will usually spell it SOP (all capitals like the sign) or SOTP. They try to picture a stop sign rather than record the letters that represent the sounds in the order that they are heard.


Students may form letters in an odd way. They may start the same letter many different ways, start at the bottom and go up, use many strokes for a letter that only needs one stroke. You might not see ascending or descending letters (letters that are tall or go below the line) and letters don’t sit nicely on the bottom line.

Cursive can be difficult.

Sometimes you’ll see an odd pencil grip

Students will commonly leave off capitals at the beginning of sentence, or use capital letters in the middle of sentences. There may be very little use of punctuation.


In young students especially, but even into adulthood you may hear mispronunciation of words: (aminal, emeny, bisketti, ambliance, fustrated, brefkist, Yew Nork, cimmanon, dillexia). People with dyslexia may have a hard time finding the right word to say, despite having a good vocabulary and a good understanding of the meaning of the word. They may confuse words with similar parts tornado/volcano, manager/janitor, or may try to describe a word: “You know that thingy that you use to wash your hands… water comes out of it?” (faucet) or “ I like to catch snakes, but not the squeezy ones.” (boa constrictors)

Trouble Memorizing

Unless students see the logic behind it, they may have trouble memorizing a list or a sequence of steps, such as months of year, days of week, order of the alphabet (without using the song), steps of long division, steps of tying shoes, and basic math facts.