While dyslexic children have difficulty reading, they are of normal intelligence and not slow learners.

“It is really important that the child understands that he is not slow or lazy. He has a reading difficulty, just like other people have a problem with their vision, their health or their hearing. He needs the correct help,” says Associate Professor Lourdes Mary Daniel, Senior Consultant and Head of Clinical Services, Department of Child Development, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

What is the difference between a slow reader and a child with dyslexia?

Reading is a learnt skill and children typically do not read until they are taught to do so. The process of learning to read begins in early childhood when children are exposed to baby books. Later the learning process focuses on the alphabet and on how to put letters together to make words and sentences.

Some children may be slow to read because of lack of opportunities or language delay. Children with dyslexia have a difficulty reading due to structural differences in the way their brain processes written language and graphic symbols. These structural differences are likely to be caused by genetic factors.

“Typically, a dyslexic child will have problems with word recognition, spelling and decoding as well as the speed with which the brain performs these tasks,” says A/Prof Daniel.

Symptoms of dyslexia in children

Since dyslexia is a learning disability, it can be difficult to recognise its symptoms before the child begins school.

Some common dyslexia symptoms include:

  • Difficulty reading single words, such as a word on a flashcard
  • Difficulty learning the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confusing small words, such as ‘at’ and ‘to’
  • Letter reversals, such as ‘d’ for ‘b’
  • Word reversals, such as ‘tip’ for ‘pit’

“Letter reversals in preschool alone are not a sign of dyslexia if there is no other reading difficulty. An isolated difficulty in early reading skills, for a child who is fast in every other aspect of learning and language, is often described by parents of dyslexic children,” says A/Prof Daniel.

Dyslexia is diagnosed through a complex testing process. Dyslexia diagnostic tests are usually available for children aged six and above.

Does dyslexia affect the child's academic performance?

Reading is an important life skill and is required to learn all subjects in school, whether it is English language, second language, science or maths. Therefore, dyslexia can affect learning and academic performance if the condition is not identified, and intervention not provided, at an early stage.

“Without intervention, the reading demands just increase as the child progresses through school, and learning and understanding just get more difficult,” says A/Prof Daniel. “Children may get demoralised and distressed when they realise that they are not as good at reading as their friends.”

Learning a second language such as Malay, Mandarin or Tamil is often very difficult for dyslexic children. The romanised script in Malay poses the same challenges as English, while the symbols in the non-romanised script of Mandarin and Tamil can be confusing for a child with dyslexia.

“Despite the challenges, many dyslexic children do very well in school,” says A/Prof Daniel. “Key factors are early identification, good quality intervention and very supportive parents and teachers.”

Read on to learn what parents can do to help children with dyslexia.

Ref: R14