Dyslexia: Know the Signs and Strengths

Section II of the Tennessee Dyslexia Guide says it well: “Students with dyslexia share some common characteristics, but it is important to remember that it manifests differently depending on the individual, their age, and other factors affecting his/her foundational reading skill development. In addition, students may have co-occurring disabilities/disorders, including twice exceptionality (i.e., gifted and dyslexia). Comorbid symptoms may mask characteristics of dyslexia (e.g., inattention and behavioral issues are more apparent or gifted students may compensate well).”

 

There are several good lists of the Signs and Strengths of Dyslexia.  Our favorite is taken from Sally Shaywicz, Overcoming Dyslexia as listed on the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity:

The Preschool Years


  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes, such as “Jack and Jill”
  • Difficulty learning (and remembering) the names of letters in the alphabet
  • Seems unable to recognize letters in his/her own name
  • Mispronounces familiar words; persistent “baby talk”
  • Doesn’t recognize rhyming patterns like cat, bat, rat
  • A family history of reading and/or spelling difficulties (dyslexia often runs in families)

Kindergarten & First Grade


Difficulties

  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page—will say “puppy” instead of the written word “dog” on an illustrated page with a picture of a dog
  • Does not understand that words come apart
  • Complains about how hard reading is; “disappears” when it is time to read
  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings
  • Cannot sound out even simple words like cat, map, nap
  • Does not associate letters with sounds, such as the letter b with the “b” sound

Strengths

  • Curiosity
  • Great imagination
  • Ability to figure things out; gets the gist of things
  • Eager embrace of new ideas
  • A good understanding of new concepts
  • Surprising maturity
  • A larger vocabulary than typical for age group
  • Enjoys solving puzzles
  • Talent for building models
  • Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to him

Second Grade through High School


Reading

  • Very slow in acquiring reading skills. Reading is slow and awkward
  • Trouble reading unfamiliar words, often making wild guesses because he cannot sound out the word
  • Doesn’t seem to have a strategy for reading new words
  • Avoids reading out loud

Speaking

  • Searches for a specific word and ends up using vague language, such as “stuff” or “thing,” without naming the object
  • Pauses, hesitates, and/or uses lots of “um’s” when speaking
  • Confuses words that sound alike, such as saying “tornado” for “volcano,” substituting “lotion” for “ocean”
  • Mispronunciation of long, unfamiliar or complicated words
  • Seems to need extra time to respond to questions

School and Life

  • Trouble remembering dates, names, telephone numbers, random lists
  • Struggles to finish tests on time
  • Extreme difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Poor spelling
  • Messy handwriting
  • Low self-esteem that may not be immediately visible

Strengths

  • Excellent thinking skills: conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction
  • Learning that is accomplished best through meaning rather than rote memorization
  • Ability to get the “big picture”
  • A high level of understanding of what is read tohim
  • The ability to read and to understand at a high level overlearned (or highly practiced) words in a special area of interest; for example, if he or she loves cooking they may be able to read food magazines and cookbooks
  • Improvement as an area of interest becomes more specialized and focused—and a miniature vocabulary is developed that allows for reading in that subject area
  • A surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary
  • Excels in areas not dependent on reading, such as math, computers and visual arts, or in more conceptual (versus fact-driven) subjects, including philosophy, biology, social studies, neuroscience and creative writing

Young Adults & Adults


Reading

  • A childhood history of reading and spelling difficulties
  • While reading skills have developed over time, reading still requires great effort and is done at a slow pace
  • Rarely reads for pleasure
  • Slow reading of most materials—books, manuals, subtitles in films
  • Avoids reading aloud

Speaking

  • Earlier oral language difficulties persist, including a lack of fluency and glibness; frequent use of “um’s” and imprecise language; and general anxiety when speaking
  • Often pronounces the names of people and places incorrectly; trips over parts of words
  • Difficulty remembering names of people and places; confuses names that sound alike
  • Struggles to retrieve words; frequently has “It was on the tip of my tongue” moments
  • Rarely has a fast response in conversations; struggles when put on the spot
  • Spoken vocabulary is smaller than listening vocabulary
  • Avoids saying words that might be mispronounced

School & Life

  • Despite good grades, often says he’s dumb or is concerned that peers think he’s dumb
  • Penalized by multiple-choice tests
  • Frequently sacrifices social life for studying
  • Suffers extreme fatigue when reading
  • Performs rote clerical tasks poorly

Strengths

  • Maintains strengths noted during the school-age years
  • Has a high capacity to learn
  • Shows noticeable improvement when given additional time on multiple-choice examinations
  • Demonstrates excellence when focused on a highly specialized area, such as medicine, law, public policy, finance, architecture or basic science
  • Excellent writing skills if the focus is on content, not spelling
  • Highly articulate when expressing ideas and feelings
  • Exceptional empathy and warmth
  • Successful in areas not dependent on rote memory
  • A talent for high-level conceptualization and the ability to come up with original insights
  • Inclination to think outside of the box and see the big picture
  • Noticeably resilient and able to adapt