How to Identify and Address Early Warning Signs of Dyslexia at Every Grade Level

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is, “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The specific behavioral characteristics of students with dyslexia change somewhat as these individuals move up through the grades. Take a look at the list below and take note if any of these traits remind you of a particular student.


Students may have difficulty with:

  • Recognizing and producing rhymes, resulting in reduced interest in nursery rhymes 

  • Remembering rote, non-meaningful information such as letter names (also phone number and address)

Grades K–2

Students may have difficulty with:

  • Segmenting words into individual sounds and blending sounds to form words

  • Learning the relationships between sound and letters

  • Confusing letters that sound similar (e.g., d and t, b and p, f and v) 

  • Confusing letters that look similar (e.g., bdp, wm, hnu, ft)

  • Omitting grammatical endings in reading and/or writing (e.g., -s, -ed, -ing)

  • Learning basic sight vocabulary

  • Remembering spelling words over time and applying spelling rules

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Grades 3–8

Students may have difficulty with:

  • Reading and spelling multisyllabic words, often leaving out entire syllables as well as single sounds

  • Recognizing meaningful word parts related to structure (e.g., prefixes, roots, suffixes)

  • Mixing up common sight words (e.g., where, there, what, then)

  • Understanding and learning new information from text because of underlying word recognition difficulties 

  • Taking notes in class

  • Learning across the subject matter areas (social studies, math, science, etc.)

  • Slow rate of reading related to word recognition and fluency requiring extended time on tasks involving reading and writing

  • Spelling and written composition

High school, college, and adult

Older students and adults may have difficulty with:

  • Word recognition, fluency and rate affecting the ability to analyze text and need for extended time 

  • Taking notes, spelling and written composition

  • Learning a foreign language

How to provide effective intervention

Reviews of the research on reading acquisition have consistently suggested that more explicit instructional approaches have the strongest impact on the reading growth of children at risk for reading disabilities such as dyslexia (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). The most commonly used interventions appropriate for students with dyslexia are often referred to as structured literacy approaches. These approaches share the following characteristics (Moats & Dakin, 2007):

  • Explicit presentation of skills and concepts

  • Structured and sequential order of presentation

  • Multimodal stimulation (visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic modalities)

  • Intensive review and practice

Early identification makes a critical difference in achieving success because lack of intervention often leads to loss of self-esteem and anxiety. Unfortunately, a large percentage of students who continuously struggle and never receive the proper interventions eventually drop out of school, and many end up in the prison system.

Another important issue in reading instruction for students with dyslexia involves the intensity of intervention. Because of the need for more explicit and direct guidance, students with dyslexia often need more time-intensive instruction (Torgesen et al., 2001). The intensity of instruction should differ depending on the student’s skill level and rate of progress; teaching for the student with dyslexia needs to be strategic with systematic progress monitoring to determine whether a student should remain at their current intensity level or move to a more or less intensive level.

Dyslexia is a lifelong disorder that, if not addressed, can significantly affect self-esteem, achievement, and confidence. The good news is that with appropriate intervention, students with dyslexia can often compensate well and become effective readers and confident learners.

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Dyslexia: How to Recognize the Early Warning Signs and Provide Effective Intervention

Read this whitepaper by Dr. Pam Hook to learn how to recognize the warning signs of dyslexia at each grade and how to provide the appropriate interventions so that students become successful readers and motivated learners. 

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