Watch Out for These Red Flags to Help Identify Dyslexia

How to help students with dyslexia


Children cannot grow out of dyslexia. Rather, the dyslexia will only have more severe consequences over time with lack of intervention. It is critical to keep an eye out for all possible red flags at every grade level to understand when intervention is needed. In their recent edWebinar, Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Ed.D., and Tracy Block-Zaretsky, Co-founders of the Dyslexia Training Institute, reviewed, grade level by grade level, the potential warning signs of dyslexia.

There is no definitive list of symptoms for dyslexia, Kelli explained. Every individual is completely different, so educators must figure out each student’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, depending on the severity of the symptoms it’s possible that they could show up at different ages, which is why it’s critical to watch for these red flags throughout all grade levels. There is also a misconception among some that students cannot be screened for dyslexia until as late as second or third grade. In fact, early screening, if possible, is key.

Preschool- and kindergarten-level red flags

These may include: difficulty learning nursery rhymes or recognizing rhyming patterns; lack of interest in learning to read; difficulty remembering the names of letters in the student’s own name or learning to spell or write their own name; difficulty reciting the alphabet; misreading or omitting smaller words; and stumbling through longer words.

Educators should keep in mind that letter reversal, as well as playing with sounds and making up words are still normal at these young ages (for the latter, it’s when they’re NOT doing this that could be a problem). There are also some comorbid conditions that could indicate dyslexia, such as rapid naming deficit, dysgraphia, and executive function or auditory processing deficit.

Handwriting of dyslexic child


Elementary-level red flags

These may include: reversing letters or the order of letters (after first grade); spelling phonetically; having accurate beginning and ending sounds but misspelling the word; not using words in writing that they would use in oral language; and disorganized writing, such as a lack of grammar, punctuation, or capitalization. These students may also have dysgraphia.

Educators must identify needs and provide appropriate accommodations, which become even more important as the grade levels progress. Tracy noted, “Accommodations do not replace remediation—we need to still do remediation. Remediation does not replace accommodations—some students may need accommodations throughout school, even after they’re had effective instruction.” Accommodations level the playing field, but do not provide an advantage.

Middle school-level red flags

These may include: lack of awareness of word structure and of knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to support reading; lack of smoothness or fluency when reading aloud; difficulty with reading comprehension and learning new information from text; difficulty learning new vocabulary or a foreign language; better performance on oral exams than on written, timed tests; and avoidance of reading for pleasure or reading aloud.

High school-level red flags

These may include: childhood history of reading or spelling difficulties because these can persist over time; a tendency to read with a great effort at a slower pace; continued avoidance of reading for pleasure; difficulty taking notes in lecture-based classes; and sacrificing their social lives for studying.

Appropriate accommodations, especially in the upper grade levels, could include more time on tests and assignments and access to audiobooks, speech to text, scribes, and notes. At any grade level, it is a good idea for parents to keep a homework log which would document each piece of homework, how long it takes the student, and how much support the parent had to provide. This can provide insight into issues that educators cannot see when a student turns in completed homework.

Ultimately, for those students who continue to have difficulties, educators should consider why they are still struggling year after year. Are they poor responders, or is it poor intervention? Is it the student or the teaching? To help these students, educators must believe that students can learn and want to learn about their own language, and of course, be on the lookout for red flags to make sure the student is getting the explicit, structured instruction they need.

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by Learning Ally.

Watch the Recording

This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Ed.D. is an author and co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute. Dr. Kelli is a certified special education advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She has studied Structured Word Inquiry, the Orton-Gillingham approach, Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Read Naturally. Dr. Kelli is a past president of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and is currently a writer-at-large for IDA. She is a dyslexia consultant working with schools to improve services offered to students with dyslexia and training teachers. She co-created and produced Dyslexia for a Day: A Simulation of Dyslexia, and she is a frequent speaker at conferences. She is also the author of the well-received book, Dyslexia Advocate! How to Advocate for a Child with Dyslexia within the Public Education System and the upcoming Dyslexia and Spelling: Making Sense of it All. She received her doctorate in literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. She is currently completing an MA in linguistics.

Tracy Block-Zaretsky is a co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute. She has provided remediation for children and adults with dyslexia for the past 20 years and has developed and taught workplace and family literacy programs. She is a certified special education advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is a past president of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Tracy has training in Structured Word Inquiry, the Orton-Gillingham approach, Lindamood-Bell programs, Read Naturally and a variety of reading and writing assessments. She co-created and produced, Dyslexia for a Day: A Simulation of Dyslexia, and has provided professional development for educators and training for parents at numerous conferences, private on-site trainings and online courses and webinars. Tracy is also a parent of a child with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD and Executive Function Disorder.

Join the Community

Empowering Struggling Readers is a free professional learning community that provides educators, administrators, special educators, curriculum leaders, and librarians a place to collaborate on how to turn struggling readers into thriving students.

learning ally Learning Ally is a leading ed-tech, nonprofit proven to transform the lives of struggling readers. We provide access to grade-level content to bridge the gap for students with learning differences who can cognitively comprehend the information but read below grade level. Our high-quality, human-read audiobooks coupled with a suite of teacher resources is a cost effective solution for your school.