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Identify behaviors that may indicate dyslexia or a learning disability

If you are visiting this website, you most likely have concerns about your child's communication, reading, spelling, or writing skills.

The lists below contain examples of behaviors that may indicate that your child has dyslexia. In addition to identifying the behaviors, it is important to track how long they have been persisting. An occurrence here or there of one or more of these behaviors should not raise a flag. Concerns are raised if the behaviors occur over an extended period of time, and importantly, adversely affect your child’s ability to succeed and meet expectations.

We've also included some of the behaviors that may be evidenced at any age at the very end of this list.

In addition, a family history of dyslexia or reading difficulty is important to consider.


Remember, everyone develops differently. These are merely guidelines.

Complete the checklist at the given age (including behaviors at the younger levels) and if you continue to have concerns, take the checklist to a professional, such as a medical practitioner or teacher, to begin a discussion about the potential of dyslexia or, in the case of younger children, a language disability.

3-4 years

At this stage, children are developing the oral language skills necessary for learning to read, spell, and write. They are learning about the sounds (phonemes) of the language and starting to notice letters. Potential indicators include:

  • delay in talking
  • speech that is difficult to understand (e.g., baby talk)
  • difficulty remembering letters in his or her own name
  • difficulty in learning and remembering the names of letters
  • difficulty learning nursery rhymes
  • difficulty remembering and following directions
  • does not have a favorite book
  • does not sit alone and look at books, does not turn one page at a time, does not know how to open and hold books
  • does not know that we read words from left to right
  • does not enjoy being read to for extended periods of time (5-15 minutes)

Kindergarten and First Grade

At this stage, children are learning to read. They are continuing to learn about sounds and word parts (e.g., syllables) and they are learning the alphabetic principle (i.e., the letter-sound correspondences). They are also learning how to write letters and words. Potential indicators include:

  • cannot separate a compound word into its two words (e.g., rainbow is rain and bow)
  • cannot separate words into their individual sounds by the end of kindergarten (e.g., dog has 3 sounds - /d/, /o/, and /g/.
  • has difficulty with letter-sound correspondences (learning the sound ‘duh’ goes with the letter ‘d’)
  • reads words with no connection to the letters on the page
  • relies heavily on the pictures in a story to "read"
  • has difficulty remembering basic sight words
  • has difficulty sounding out one-syllable words (e.g., dog, hop, bat, etc.)
  • says that they do not like to read and complains about how hard it is to do
  • avoids reading

Language and Literacy Development Guide: Birth to 6 years (Early Language Wheel)

Grades 2-3

Children at this stage have mastered the alphabetic principle (i.e., that the sounds in our language correspond to the letters on the page). They can read and write more complicated words and text. In 3rd grade the curriculum is moving from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." Potential indicators include:

  • difficulty pronouncing or reading long, complicated words
  • omits grammatical endings in reading and/or writing (-s, -ed, -ing, etc.)
  • difficulty remembering spelling words over time and learning spelling rules
  • exhibits many pauses or hesitations when talking
  • uses many filler words such as "stuff" or "things" instead of the proper name of objects when talking (i.e., word-finding difficulties)
  • needs extra time to formulate sentences
  • has difficulty telling a story in sequential order
  • has difficulty remembering dates, phone numbers, names, and random facts
  • is slow in acquiring reading skills
  • has no strategies for word attack (figuring out how to sound out a word)
  • makes wild guesses and stabs at words
  • difficulties reading "functor" words (e.g., for, with, this)
  • has messy handwriting

Grades 4-8

At this stage, students have mastered reading and spelling rules and are now expected to learn new information from reading. Potential indicators include:

  • has significant difficulty reading and spelling multisyllabic words, often omitting entire syllables as well as making single sound errors
  • has a lack of awareness of word structure (e.g., prefixes, roots, suffixes)
  • frequently misreads common sight words (e.g., where, there, what, then, when, the, etc.)
  • difficulties with reading comprehension and learning new information from text because of underlying decoding difficulties (i.e., sounding out words)
  • difficulty learning new vocabulary
  • difficulty comprehending text
  • problems with spelling
  • difficulties organizing ideas for writing
  • avoids reading for pleasure
  • is not smooth or fluent when reading aloud
  • avoids reading aloud
  • oral reading lacks inflection and is monotone
  • fails to attend to punctuation when reading aloud
  • does not perform well on written, timed tests
  • does better on oral exams than written

High school, college, and adult

Students at this stage are expected to analyze and synthesize information in written form as well as acquire factual information. Potential indicators include:

  • difficulty with automatic word identification, which can significantly affect acquisition of knowledge
  • slow rate of reading persists
  • difficulty with spelling and written composition
  • difficulty with note-taking in class
  • trouble learning a foreign language
  • difficulty organizing projects and completing assignments on time

Later Language Development Milestones

All ages

Individuals with dyslexia show unique patterns of strengths and weaknesses. They may exhibit some of the following characteristics:

  • special talents in mechanical abilities, music, art, drama, sports, or creative writing
  • may have strong visual spatial abilities, but some may exhibit left/right confusion and difficulties with concepts related to time and space
  • may have strong mathematical skills, but some may have difficulty memorizing math facts and solving word problems
  • difficulty with handwriting
  • difficulties making and keeping friends or strong social skills

Your child should have accomplished the skills below his or her age and be working on the ones at his or her age level.