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Early Indicators of Dyslexia

Years of experience have taught me that the signs of dyslexia show up very early - we may ignore them and hope the difficulties are just 'immaturity'.  But 9 times out 10 the child who was struggling early on in their school life, goes on to be diagnosed with dyslexia later in Primary school or even in Secondary school. But by then a lot of damage has been done -weak reading and spelling skills, poor grades, avoidance strategies and low self esteem have all set in.


So why wait?

 In my opinion prevention is better than cure, if we identify difficulties early we can intervene early.  It is not about ‘labeling’  but identifying skills to strengthen.  Many of the underlying skills that dyslexics lack can be worked on in a fun way at an yearly age.  For example: Memory games can improve visual and auditory memory skills which are key skills for learning to read. 

 It is important to realise that helping dyslexic learners is not simply about working harder or practicing more. Intervention is not more of the same but specific structured activities which strengthen weaker skills and compensate with a child's stronger skills. Most children identified early on will  ‘catch up’  before the gap becomes too wide.  In general the children I start working with in Reception or Year 1 will be 'turning the corner' by Year 3 and by Year 6 many teachers will not even notice their dyslexic difficulties. They avoid the sense of failure that may children experience.

It is also worth noting that we can not do any harm by giving children dyslexic interventions if they are not dyslexic.  We do not even have to use the term dyslexic with young children (although older children often find it helpful to know they are dyslexic.) Dyslexic interventions are good for all children, it is just most children can learn to read and write without them.


The signs are clear in Nursery and Reception age children (3 - 4 year olds) for those who know what to look for. Some signs can be seen even earlier.

Many dyslexics are late talkers, it estimated that this is the case for about 60% of dyslexics.  These children may have word finding difficulties and mispronounce words.  They may use immature grammatical structures.


Some dyslexics are late walkers or may be 'bottom' shufflers who didn't crawl.  Poor coordination  affects about 20% of dyslexics. 

Teachers should monitor children who are receiving speech therapy or occupational therapy at a young age as often these children are dyslexic.

Early signs for 3 -7 year olds


*Poor listening skills - difficulty remembering instructions/messages, appear not to be listening


*Poor 'working' memory - not able to remember nursery rhymes, simple number bonds


*Weak Auditory skills - muddles names, doesn't hear all the sounds in the word, mishears words 'big/pig'    'bag/back'


*Coordination difficulties - difficulty with fastening buttons, dressing, tying shoe laces, difficulty clapping a rhythm, pencil control

*Difficulty with gross motor skills, can appear clumsy, difficulty kicking a ball, hopping or skipping, problems with balance


*Poor visual discrimination - difficulty matching, doing jigsaws, finding an object in a busy picture, distinguishing letter/number shapes


*Poor sense of time - doesn't know which day it is, what time of day it is, difficulty remembering routines


*Inconsistent performance 'good days' and 'bad days'


*Word finding difficulties - long imprecise answers


*Spatial difficulties - unsure of left and right, difficulties matching shapes,


*Difficulties with sequences - days of the week, alphabet, order of numbers


    Teachers and parents are very observant people -if we notice these signs we should be confident to voice our concerns.  Early identification will change a child's future.

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The Early Signs of Dyslexia and Early Intervention

The signs of dyslexia show up very early, long before a child starts school, we may choose to ignore them because we hope they will go away....

Or we may be worried that there is nothing we can do at this early stage...

Or we may think that if we acknowledge a difficulty it will only make it worse....


In order to learn to read, write and do basic maths there are underlying skills that are needed:

Good spoken vocabulary

Coordination/motor skills

Visual skills

Auditory skills

Working memory skills


The foundations of these skills start between 0 - 2 and continue to develop (or not develop) throughout the preschool years.  This is why some school systems wait to teach reading and writing in order to give these skills more time to develop.


If one skill is weak we can usually compensate with our stronger skills. The difficulty with dyslexia is it is normally of a combination of skills that are weaker.  The combination is slightly different for each person which is why identifying and supporting dyslexic children is not straightforward.


Even as a very young child we will gravitate towards activities we enjoy and very often these are those we find easy or are good at.  As a result in those early years some skills become well practiced and very strong, while often our weaker skills become even weaker.


The key is to build up our child's confidence with their areas of strength but to be brave and expose them to things that may be more challenging.  It is also important to keep things fun and game based to avoid any sense of failure.


Difficulties with language skills are usually one of the first noticeable signs of dyslexia.  Vocabulary may be slow to develop, words may be mispronounced or muddled, 'thingy' or 'that' may be used as the child has 'word finding' difficulties. Research shows that around 60% of dyslexics are late talkers.


One of best ways of developing language skills is to talk to your child about things in their environment but always using the proper words or terms for example use the word 'rose' rather than 'flower'. Use everyday conversations and events as an opportunity to explain words and introduce new vocabulary.  Reading stories from the earliest age is another enjoyable way to develop a wide range of vocabulary. As soon as a child can sit up at around 6 months it is possible to share books and stories. Many people worry that the child will not understand what is being said but in fact young children 'drink' in the language both its rhythm and sounds and when they are ready they will imitate and draw on this language. Some children do find it harder to hear and distinguish sounds correctly and they may need specialist support.  Don't hesitate in consulting a Speech and Language therapist early on if their language development is slow or laboured.


Many people underestimate the importance of developing good coordination early on.  It is not that everyone needs to be a great sports person but our physical skills are the foundation of future learning. Even basic skills like crawling are an important foundation. About 20 % of dyslexics are late walkers and some do not crawl at all and are 'bottom shufflers'.  This affects the neuro pathways in the brain and makes future learning more challenging.  If you notice coordination difficulties early on consulting an Occupational Therapist can be very helpful.  Young children will consider a session with an OT as fun and will have none of the concerns that you have about something being wrong.


n addition, we want fine motor skills to develop naturally. There are lots of fun craft and mark making activities we can try at home.


In our modern age TV, video, ipads and smart phones are so part of our everyday life and we as parents enjoy their baby sitting benefits. Our children are happily engaged and we do not really consider the skills that they are not developing as a result.  In past when we went to a restaurant a child would do colouring or a dot to dot puzzle or we might engage in a conversation with our child. Think about the number of skills a child would develop in these activities compared to the passive skills that develop when using an electronic device.


Developing good visual skills should be a high priority for every preschool child but even more so for a dyslexic child where this could be an area of deficit. Fun activities that help to develop visual skills are Spot the difference, Mazes, Jigsaws, Dominoes, finding objects in a busy picture like 'Where's Wally'


Equally we should purposely try to develop auditory skills, again this can be done in a fun play based way. Saying and learning Nursery rhymes is so important for early language and memory development.  If child can say a remember a nursery rhyme early on then later they will be able to remember the alphabet sequence, simple instructions or sentences in a story.  Nursery rhymes also introduce children to the rhythm of language as well as the concept of rhyme.  Word play is important; games like 'I spy with my little eye', I went shopping... all help develop early auditory skills


We mistakenly think we have progressed in terms of activities for children.  However it is in fact the traditional games and childhood activities tend to be the most beneficial in developing the pre skills that children need for future learning and for success at school. For example building blocks, shapes sorters and wooden puzzles develop early visual and motor skills. Games like pairs, dominoes and ludo develop visual and counting skills. Dressing up and role play develop listening and language skills.  Many of us played happily as children without even realising how many skills we were developing.  We need to try to offer this same opportunity for our children.


Dyslexia is genetic and as we become more aware of it we can predict children who are likely to have dyslexic difficulties before they start school. Parents can take positive action and work on prereading skills to lessen the challenges faced by these children as they begin to learn to read and write.  This will need a deliberate effort as parent, as typically the games and activities we do with our children tend to be those we also enjoy or find easier ourselves. If we have poor coordination and do not enjoy sports, we are less willing to kick a ball around. If we did not enjoy reading as a child, we are less likely to read stories to our children when they are very young.  We often unknowingly perpetuate our own deficits as we avoid tasks we found difficult as a child with our own children.


There are so many fun and playful activities we can do with our children that can make such a difference in the long run.  I would encourage every parent to embrace to chance to help their child develop their early skills.

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