Q: My son is only in kindergarten, but he still does not know his ABC’s. When we sit with a book, he seems to know them; however, if I point to a letter on a street sign, he cannot tell me what it is. I read somewhere that dyslexia is very hard to distinguish before first grade – but I was still wondering – could this be a sign of dyslexia?
A: You are right when you say that the signs of dyslexia are hard to distinguish before a child reaches first grade. In the preschool child, the condition is not easy to spot, as the usual giveaways can easily be confused with the normal process of maturation in children.
That being said, if you suspect your son has dyslexia (or there is someone else in your family who suffers from it), the following points can help you identify a possible problem. Keep in mind that isolated symptoms are not an indication of dyslexia. Rather, it is only manifest when three or four symptoms consistently appear as a part of a pattern. Below are some indications of dyslexia that can be distinguished before first grade:
Clumsiness and poor coordination. This is a tricky thing to notice because all young children have trouble with gross motor skills when they are learning new skills. Clumsiness should only be noted if there is a lack of progress with a new skill for an extended period of time.
Difficulty with fine motor skills. Children with dyslexia might experience problems when trying to button their shirts, lace up their shoes, ride a bicycle, or catch a ball.
Problems with speech. As toddlers, all children speak a bit unclearly; however, as they grow, their speech should become clearer and more distinct. Children with dyslexia will often maintain unclear speech.
Difficulty sequencing. Remembering the order of verses in a song or rhymes in a poem is frequently hard for children with dyslexia. No matter how many times they hear a song, they will have difficulty remembering the sequence of the verses.
Poor listening abilities. The inability to focus on one person for an extended period of time can stem from poor short-term memory, which is one aspect of dyslexia. Because of this short-term memory issue, children with dyslexia will often have trouble following directions.
Writing and drawing. Handwriting and pencil grip gets better with age, but children with dyslexia have difficulty holding pencils or crayons and write many poorly formed letters. Some letters might be written backwards or in the wrong order.
Keep in mind that dyslexia is very hard to diagnose, even with older children, because it is often mistaken for other conditions. Psychologists or educational specialist perform multiple tests to definitively come up with a diagnosis. If your family has a history of dyslexia and your child exhibits three or four of the above criteria, I would suggest you pursue a diagnosis. Ultimately, the earlier he receives a diagnosis, the happier he will be academically.