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  • Julie Knight

Common signs of Dyslexia

Just like all of us, dyslexic learners are unique - the traits they display, and the severity of them vary from person to person. However, just because someone has one or a number of the traits, it doesn’t mean they are dyslexic. But if 10 or more traits jump out at you, it might be worth getting checked.

Here are some common red flags that may indicate a person thinks like a dyslexic:

Reading and Spelling

  • Problems learning the names and sounds of letters, compared to other children.

  • Problems with being able to break down individual sounds within a word, and replacing sounds within a word to make a new word (for example, “pot” has 3 sounds, and when the “o” is replaced with “a”, knowing that it now says “pat”).

  • Confuses the order of letters in words, for example “was” instead of “saw”

  • May confuse small words - e.g at/to, was/said, does/goes

  • Difficulty breaking down an unknown larger word into smaller words or sounds to predict what the word is (also known as decoding)

  • Reads words that are not on the page (guessing at what is written by context, pictures and shape of the word), or missing out words that are on the page (most often joining words that have no visual association, eg the, then, there).

  • Has trouble tracking from one line to the next, often losing their place.

  • Reads slowly.

  • Reads and rereads with little comprehension.

  • Rhyming is difficult.

  • Complains of dizziness, headaches or stomach aches while reading.

  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing or copying.

  • Spells phonetically and inconsistently.

  • May learn a spelling word at night, but will have forgotten it by the next morning.

  • Words that have been learned previously are still spelled incorrectly in their writing.


  • Has an unusual pencil grip; their handwriting is variable or is illegible.

  • Puts letters and figures the wrong way around - such as “6” instead of “9”, or “b” instead of “d”. Note here though that this is developmentally normal when starting school, but becoming more unusual at around year 3.

  • Slow writing speed.

  • Poorly organised written work that lacks expression. Even though they may be very knowledgeable about a certain subject, they may have problems expressing that knowledge in writing.

  • Difficulty planning and writing essays, letters or reports.

  • Difficulty taking notes or copying from the board.

Maths, Time and Sequencing

  • Adding and subtracting basic facts may show dependence on finger counting and other tricks; or they may know the answers but can’t do it on paper.

  • Struggles with learning times tables and other rote memory tasks. May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+, -, /, x, =)

  • Poor working memory, making it difficult to hold one piece of information in their head while performing another task. This makes ‘mental math’ very difficult.

  • Can count but has difficulty counting objects and dealing with money.

  • Has difficulty with word problems; cannot grasp algebra or higher maths.

  • Has difficulty learning sequenced information or tasks (eg. struggles remembering the sequence for solving tasks such as long division). May struggle with learning the order of months in the year or days in the week.

  • Has difficulty telling time, managing time or being on time.

Motor Skills

  • May have poor fine motor coordination.

  • They may be clumsy, uncoordinated, poor at ball or team sports have difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills and tasks.

  • May be prone to motion sickness.

  • Can be ambidextrous and will often confuse left/right or over/under.

  • Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) or dyspraxia often run alongside dyslexia.

Hearing and Speech

  • May have extended hearing; or hears things not said or apparent to others.

  • Is easily distracted by sounds.

  • Difficulty putting thoughts into words, speaks in halting phrases, leaves sentences incomplete, stutters under stress, mispronounces long words or transposes phrases, words and syllables when speaking.

Memory and Cognition

  • Has excellent long-term memory for experiences, locations and faces.

  • Poor short term memory (working memory).

  • Poor memory for sequences, facts and information that have not been experienced.

  • Thinks primarily with images and feeling, not sounds or words (little internal dialogue).

Behaviour, Health, Development and Personality

  • Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly.

  • Poor organisational skills.

  • Has difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions.

  • Has difficulty concentrating, or has a short attention span.

  • Seems to “Zone out” or daydream often; gets lost easily or loses track of time.

  • Difficulty sustaining attention; seems “hyper “or is a “daydreamer”.

  • Can be the class clown, trouble-maker or too quiet.

  • Had unusually early or late developmental stages (talking, crawling, walking, tying shoes).

  • Prone to ear infections; sensitive to foods, additives and chemical products.

  • Can be an extra deep or light sleeper; or continues bed-wetting beyond an appropriate age.

  • Has an unusually high or low tolerance for pain.

  • Has a strong sense of justice; is emotionally sensitive; strives for perfection.

  • May have difficulty interacting with peers.

  • Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, emotional stress or poor health.

In the Classroom

  • Appears bright, highly intelligent and articulate but is unable to read, write or spell at their year level.

  • Has a high IQ yet may not test well academically; tests well orally but not written.

  • They are labelled lazy, dumb, careless, immature, “not trying hard enough” or having a “behaviour problem.”

  • They feel dumb; have poor self esteem; they hide or cover up weaknesses with ingenious compensatory strategies; easily frustrated and emotional about school, reading or testing.

  • They may be talented in art, drama, music, sports, mechanics, storytelling, sales, business, designing, building or engineering.

  • They learn best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation and visual aids.

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