Dyslexia in School-Age Children
In most cases, you will probably not be aware that your child has dyslexia until he is in first or second grade. At that time, when reading instruction begins in earnest, your child is likely to lag behind and will begin to show signs of frustration at school.
After several months, you may realize that your child simply hasn't caught on to reading in the same way as his peers. He may still have difficulty recognizing letters of the alphabet, or he may know the letters and their sounds but seem unable to put them together to form even simple words. You may notice that he seems unable to remember words that he has seen before, and struggles to sound out every word he sees.
Symptoms in Children Ages 5–12
Not all reading problems stem from dyslexia. In fact, 95 percent of children identified by school authorities as having reading problems are struggling for other reasons, such as socioeconomic factors, language barriers, inadequate preparation for school, or overall low intelligence.
Because so many schoolchildren struggle with reading for reasons other than dyslexia, your child's teacher may not suspect dyslexia in your child, even if clear signs are there. Unfortunately, most schools do not screen for dyslexia, and very often children are not identified until they have fallen far behind their peers. Thus, it is your responsibility to be alert to possible signs and symptoms.
Do not wait for the teacher to tell you she suspects a problem before seeking help. Many teachers have not been trained to recognize dyslexia, and they may not recognize the signs in a child who is bright and actively participates in many class activities that do not involve reading or writing.
Problems with Reading and Writing
The surest sign of dyslexia is simply the fact that your child seems bright and capable at home and at play, yet he struggles with reading, writing, and spelling. School-aged children with dyslexia will exhibit many of the following symptoms:
Confusing letters with similar appearances, such as “b” and “d” or “e” and “c.”
Writing that contains frequent reversals, transpositions, or inversions.
Difficult remembering common sight words, even after repeated practice.
Stumbling, hesitating, or making mistakes or omissions when reading small, easy words like “and” or “from.”
Spelling phonetically and inconsistently (e.g., “foniks” for “phonics”).
Complaining that letters and words on the page move or become blurred.
Complaining of dizziness, headaches, or stomachaches while reading.
Even when she gains the ability to decode and recognize words and sentences, your child may read and reread material with little comprehension. As she matures and reading demands increase, new problems may arise.
Dyslexia and Math
In addition to problems with reading, your child may experience problems with math. Even if his math skills are strong, your child is likely to have poor rote memory and difficulty memorizing math facts such as multiplication tables. He may be able to do simple arithmetic, such as addition or subtraction, but have difficulty applying or using math concepts when confronted with story problems.
Even if your child seems to be good with math, he may often be unable to explain how he arrived at the correct answer or to write out the steps of the problem. All of these issues reflect an underlying problem with language; the child simply has difficulty understanding or remembering math concepts expressed in words.
Transposing numbers or making frequent errors with math symbols could be a problem for your child, such as confusing + and − signs, when copying from the board or textbook. This may reflect a perceptual problem or stem from the confusion over symbols that is part of dyslexia. Understanding time and time concepts might also be a problem.
Common Behavior Problems
Your first indication that something is wrong may be complaints from your child's teacher about her behavior or problems she is experiencing at school. Many behavior problems stem from the dyslexia itself; your child's teacher may complain that she doesn't pay attention or follow instructions, or that she is slow to complete classwork. These issues may be the direct result of your child's confusion and inability to understand much of what is going on around her.
Other behavior problems may be deliberate and could be an expression of her frustration and anger; she may intentionally try to disrupt the class to create distractions so as to avoid having to complete her work. She would rather that her classmates think of her as funny or bad than stupid. She may even want to incur punishment, if punishment means being sent to sit in the hallway or principal's office. To a child with dyslexia, such punishment can be a welcome reprieve from the torture of the classroom.
Some common behavior problems that your child's teacher may report are:
Laziness, carelessness, or immaturity
Being easily distracted
Resistance to following directions
Reluctance to work on assignments
To the teacher, all of these behaviors may seem deliberate. However, your child simply does not have the ability to conform to the expectations of a classroom when she is confused or unable to perform work at the same level and speed as the other children. You will not be able to help resolve the behavioral problem unless the learning problem is first addressed.
Social and Emotional Problems
Your child's school problems will probably also be reflected in problems at home and in interactions with his peers. Some of these issues may be directly related to his dyslexia, but many of these issues stem indirectly from the stress and frustration that is a constant part of your child's day.
From the age of seven, if not sooner, your child might be aware of her performance in comparison to other children her age. Struggling to understand concepts that other children find easy and making mistakes in schoolwork can be embarrassing. Showing your support and encouragement will help, but these problems will take their toll. Your child might complain of stomachaches or headaches in the morning, and while it may seem like an attempt to avoid school, the pain could be a very real manifestation of the stress and anxiety.
You can help your child deal with anger and frustration — and help yourself — by teaching him relaxation and stress-reducing techniques and also practicing them yourself. This not only will relieve tension at home, but will also help your child develop greater self-control and improve his ability to focus on his work.
It's easy to become short-tempered and frustrated at times, as dealing with your child may seem to require endless and fruitless repetition, day after day. It's tempting to shout, nag, and make dire threats of punishment. All of this, of course, will only make matters worse, as it will allow your child's dyslexia to become the focus of your home and family life.
Confronting these problems will take patience, understanding, and effort on your part. If you can lay aside your own feelings of frustration and disappointment, you'll be able to provide your child with the support and guidance he needs. Try to encourage him to participate in activities he can succeed at, because his self-esteem will be crucial to his development and to peace in your household. Be prepared to set limits; your child needs understanding, but he also needs structure and support in learning to control his own behavior.