Dyslexia symptoms: What does dyslexia look like?

Dyslexia is more than just difficulty with reading and writing. So, what does dyslexia look like?

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological difference that can severely impact a person’s education and work life.

A life-long condition, dyslexia symptoms range from mild to severe.

Dyslexia primarily affects reading and writing skills, but it’s more about information processing.

This means that dyslexic people can have trouble processing and remembering information, or they may struggle with organisational skills.

Signs of dyslexia in children under 4

If you suspect your child who is yet to start primary school is dyslexic, you should look out for the following indicators:

  • Difficulty learning nursery rhymes
  • Difficulty paying attention, sitting still, listening to stories
  • Likes listening to stories but shows no interest in letters or words
  • Difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet
  • A history of slow speech development
  • Muddles words e.g. cubumber, flutterby
  • Difficulty keeping simple rhythm
  • Finds it hard to carry out two or more instructions at one time, (e.g. put the toys in the box, then put it on the shelf) but is fine if tasks are presented in smaller units
  • Forgets names of friends, teacher, colours etc.
  • Poor auditory discrimination
  • Difficulty cutting, sticking and crayoning in comparison with their peer group
  • Difficulty in dressing, e.g. finds shoelaces and buttons difficult
  • Difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball
  • Often trips, bumps into things, and falls over
  • Difficulty hopping or skipping
  • Obvious ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days for no apparent reason

Signs of dyslexia in primary school children

If your child is primary school age and seems to be struggling with spelling, reading, writing or numeracy, that doesn’t mean they are dyslexic.

Not all dyslexic children display the same strengths and weaknesses at school, but the general signs of dyslexia at this age are:

  • Speed of processing: slow spoken and/or written language
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Forgetting words

They may struggle with written work, having messy handwriting, lots of crossing out, spelling mistakes throughout, poor pencil grip, or badly set out written work.

A dyslexic primary school child may show slow reading progress, pronouncing words wrong, no expression when reading, missing out words, and failing to recognise familiar words.

In maths, young dyslexic children might confuse symbols or find it difficult to remember anything in sequences such as days of the week, the alphabet, or times tables.
The child might find it hard to tell the time, know what day of the week it is or understand the concept of yesterday, today or tomorrow.

Dyslexic children can be dreamy, easily distracted, excessively tired, or even the class clown.

Signs of dyslexia in secondary school children

If you or your child is in secondary school and you recognise dyslexia in them, the symptoms are similar to the symptoms in a primary school child.

A secondary school child with dyslexia may write very slowly, produce messy work, have difficulty with punctuation or grammar, have difficulty taking notes, or find tasks difficult to complete on time.

The general idea is that the child might know more than they can commit to paper, and they may even lose the point of what they’re trying to say when writing it down.

When it comes to reading, they may add or leave out words or sentences and read in a hesitant or laboured tone.

With maths, they may struggle to remember tables or basic number sets, confusing symbols, or misread questions that include words.

Dyslexic people of this age tend to think at a high level in maths but need a calculator for the simple sums.

Signs of dyslexia in adults

Again, dyslexia symptoms differ from person to person but dyslexia in adults tends to including some of the following problems:

  • Confuse visually similar words such as cat and cot
  • Spell erratically
  • Find it hard to scan or skim text
  • Read/write slowly
  • Need to re-read paragraphs to understand them
  • Find it hard to listen and maintain focus
  • Find it hard to concentrate if there are distractions
  • Feel sensations of mental overload/switching off
  • Have difficulty telling left from right
  • Get confused when given several instructions at once
  • Have difficulty organising thoughts on paper
  • Often forget conversations or important dates
  • Have difficulty with personal organisation, time management and prioritising tasks
  • Avoid certain types of work or study
  • Find some tasks really easy but unexpectedly challenged by others
  • Have poor self-esteem, especially if dyslexic difficulties have not been identified in earlier life
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