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Dyslexia: The Indicators

Dyslexia: The Indicators

  • Some people can make it as far as secondary school, university or even the workplace before discovering they have dyslexia.
  • Dyslexic difficulties are often identified in primary school, but some people develop such good coping strategies that they remain undetected until much later.
  • If your child is reversing letters, there are things you can do at home to help.

It is when children start school and begin to focus on reading and writing that their signs of dyslexia usually become more obvious. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common indicators of dyslexia.

Q: What Is Letter Reversal?

A: If your child is switching the order of letters, this is known as “transposing” the letters. If your child writes certain numbers or letters upside down or backwards, this is known as letter reversal. Writing a ‘b’ for a ‘d’ or vice versa is the most common letter reversal. Writing ‘w’ instead of ‘m’ is an example of an upside-down reversal. When young kids write or read, it’s not unusual for them to reverse their letters.

Understanding what dyslexia is and how a child could be affected should be the first step a parent takes if they believe their child could be having difficulties. Our book, The Essential Guide to Dyslexia, is full of information about dyslexia and co-occurring conditions.

Phonological Awareness

The ability to create new words using individual sounds (phonemes) and to recognise these phonemes is known as phonological awareness. Common issues include…

  • Struggling with rhymes.
  • Difficulty breaking words down into syllables.
  • Difficulty making a word by combining sounds.
  • Mixing up vowel sounds, like writing ‘e’ instead of ‘i’.

Dyslexia in the Early Years

Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) may cause your child to exhibit the following indicators. These mistakes and behaviours are common to many young children. Dyslexia and other difficulties are identified based on the severity of the behaviour and the length of time it persists.


  • Showing no interest in letters or words, but enjoying hearing stories.
  • Learning to speak later than most children.
  • Confusing certain language sounds (e.g. ‘f’ and ‘v’).
  • Swapping the starting sounds of words (e.g. ‘ham and cheese’ becomes ‘cham and heese’).
  • Struggling to identify rhymes.
  • Struggling with patterns (e.g. classroom routines, days of the week).
  • Taking a long time to learn new words.
  • Obvious ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days for no apparent reason.
  • Is unable to recall the right word.
  • Family history of dyslexia/reading difficulties.
  • Has difficulty separating spoken words into sounds and blending spoken sounds to make words (i.e., has difficulty with phonological awareness).
  • Struggling to carry out more than one instruction at a time.
  • Has difficulty pronouncing some, especially multi-syllabic, words.
  • Difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet.
  • Finding it hard to learn nursery rhymes.

What Next?

Literacy problems in later childhood and into adulthood have been linked by a large number of studies to speech and language difficulty in early childhood. Much can be done to develop a child’s language skills before they start school, which is why it’s so important to identify potential speech and language problems as early as possible. Once they start school, this early intervention will support their reading development.

You should talk to your health visitor or family doctor if you’re worried about your child’s speech and language development. If your child attends a nursery or other early years setting and you think they may have dyslexia, discuss your concerns with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). You can reduce your child’s risk of low self-esteem or loss of confidence by getting them help early on. Most children can only be diagnosed from the age of seven onwards through a Diagnostic Assessment, but you need not wait for a diagnosis to provide support.

Common Spelling Mistakes

  • Rearranging letters – Hlep instead of Help.
  • Reversing letter order – Deb instead of Bed.
  • Skipping letters – Wich instead of which.
  • Spelling words the way they sound – Haws instead of House.

    Dyslexia in Primary School

    Q: Will the Schools Identify a Problem?

    A: Some schools will unfortunately take a very hands-off approach and will not attempt to get your child the help they need, hoping instead that the next school will deal with it when your child moves on. Others, however, will be ready to spot an issue early and start to help it as quickly as possible. If your child is attending a proactive school, their teacher may notice that they are struggling and contact you about the issue. When this is done, it means that the school and relevant professionals will be alerted to the issue so that arrangements can be made and the problem can be formally identified.

    It is possible for the statement process to take a number of years but if you work closely with the school, the Statement of Educational Needs should come through fairly quickly. With or without dyslexia, many children will struggle with numeracy, spelling, literacy and writing. So how do you know if dyslexia is the culprit? Areas of weakness alongside areas of strong ability – known as a ‘spiky profile’ – are a strong indicator of dyslexia.

    If other family members have similar weaknesses, this may also be of note. Abilities and weaknesses will vary from child to child. Other signs to consider include…

    • Poor concentration
    • Struggling to follow instructions
    • Forgetting words
    • Written or spoken language and overall processing speed appears slower
  • Indicators in Written Work

    • Struggles to read single words in isolation.
    • Struggles to read or write unfamiliar words.
    • Mixes up simple words, e.g. in/on, at/to.
    • Makes spelling errors like letter reversals.
    • Uses unusual sequencing of letters or words.
    • Poor pencil grip.
    • Makes anagrams of words, e.g. tired for tried, bread for beard.
    • Poor handwriting with many ‘reversals’ and badly formed letters.
    • Poor grasp of alphabetic principle (connection between letters and sounds).

    Dyslexia and other Special Educational Needs can be signalled by a wide variety of strengths and challenges, with key signs varying from child to child and changing as a child grows up. For more information on other indicators, check our Essential Guide to Dyslexia!

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