How Dyslexia Is Diagnosed

There is no single test for dyslexia that all experts use, or a single agreed standard for testing. There is not even a definition of dyslexia that is uniformly accepted. The symptoms and characteristics of dyslexia vary significantly from one individual to the next, and the range of difficulties can vary from being quite mild to extremely severe.

Some experts define dyslexia broadly to include a range of common learning difficulties, whereas others use different names and categories to describe the various academic, social, and behavioral issues that may accompany dyslexia.

Dyslexia by Any Other Name

The process of diagnosis is complicated by the fact that experts in different fields often prefer using different names to describe the symptoms they see. For a specialist, the term “dyslexia” seems overbroad when more precise terminology can be used to describe individual symptoms.

Some experts might divide dyslexia into various subtypes; others might elect to call it something else entirely, such as “Developmental Reading Disorder.” The specific label attached to your child's learning problems may depend on who is doing the labeling; a medical doctor, for example, is likely to use different terminology than a learning specialist at your child's school. While this can seem terribly confusing, it is important to stay focused on what the evaluators tell you about your child's learning needs.

Who Can Diagnose Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is diagnosed by a specialist who is trained and qualified in the assessment of learning disabilities. This may include:

  • Clinical or educational psychologists
  • School psychologists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Learning disabilities specialists
  • Medical doctors with training and experience in the assessment of learning problems

Your child's evaluation might also include examination by other medical specialists. An audiologist might be involved in determining whether your child has problems with hearing or processing the sounds of language. A developmental optometrist might be needed to determine whether your child has vision difficulties that are contributing to his reading problems. Even if your child has 20/20 vision, reading might be hampered because of difficulties with near point vision, tracking, or eye teaming.

A neurologist may be involved to test for problems that may stem from brain damage or problems with brain function beyond dyslexia. If your child has problems regulating his behavior or sustaining attention, a child psychologist or psychiatrist may be consulted to evaluate for Attention Deficit Disorder or other psychiatric and emotional problems.

The purpose of all this testing is not only to determine whether your child has dyslexia, but also to consider and rule out the possibility of other problems that may contribute to his learning difficulties. Your child may have a number of different issues, some of which may be easier to treat than others.


Your child's teacher may suggest that he be tested for ADHD because of classroom behavior problems. If your child is having problems with reading or writing, it is crucial that he also be tested for dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Medication commonly used for ADHD may help your child pay attention in class, but it will not help him learn to read or resolve a learning disability.

Early Diagnosis and Screening

Because dyslexia is a primarily diagnosed through tests measuring skills related to reading and reading readiness, it is not possible to reliably diagnose a child who is too young to start school. Many common symptoms of dyslexia, such as letter reversals in writing, are also part of normal childhood development. Children grow and learn at different rates.

Even though most children can learn to read at age six, many are not ready to learn to read until age seven or eight. That is why reading instruction in schools generally continues through the primary grades, from kindergarten through grade three.

This does not mean that your child cannot be helped, however. There are many reasons why a young child may be struggling in school, but extra support and reading instruction will help all children who are falling behind.

A young child can be screened for early signs of dyslexia, and you can plan age-appropriate early interventions if indicated. If you are concerned about early signs of dyslexia in your preschool-age child (age three to five), you can also provide extra support at home to help build reading readiness skills.

Who Pays for Diagnostic Testing

Federal law requires that all public schools provide testing whenever there is reason to suspect a learning disability. This is true even if your child is in private school, although the law is unclear as to whether homeschoolers are entitled to testing or services.

Your health insurance may also cover the costs of some kinds of testing, particularly medical testing, such as evaluations by a neurologist or audiologist. Your child's pediatrician may be able to assist by making a referral for testing by appropriate specialists. Each health insurance policy is different, so the first step is to carefully review your policy.

You may prefer to arrange and pay for your own testing. Diagnostic testing can be very expensive, but you may feel more comfortable with the quality of an evaluation if it is done by professionals that you have selected.

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