Dyslexia and Reading Problems

Dyslexia is a complex language problem. It involves not being able to break down a word into the sounds that make it up, as well as not being able to think or write about the sounds in a word.

Dyslexia is not related to intellect. Kids with dyslexia process language differently. They have problems translating language to thought (in listening or reading) and thought to language (in writing or speaking). Research from the National Institutes of Health has shown that dyslexia affects 5–10 percent of the U.S. population, with estimates as high as 17 percent.

Warning signs of reading problems


  • Can't tell the difference between letters and squiggles
  • Can't recognize own name
  • Only says a small number of words
  • Doesn’t like rhyming games and can’t fill in the rhyming word in familiar nursery rhymes
  • Has difficult pronouncing words (may confuse words that sound alike)


  • Can't tell the difference between the sounds that make up a word (phonics)
  • Slow to name familiar objects and colors
  • Can’t remember the names and sounds of the letters
  • By the end of kindergarten, can’t write most of the consonant sounds in a word (it’s normal for vowels to be missing until later)

1st and 2nd grades:

  • Has trouble pronouncing new words and remembering them
  • Has trouble blending sounds together to say words
  • Says reading is easier for classmates
  • Falls way behind classmates
  • Can't figure out unknown words
  • Avoids reading
  • Resists reading aloud

2nd and 3rd grades:

  • Starts to withdraw
  • Has some troubling behavior
  • Seems to guess at unknown words
  • Does not get meaning from reading

Early diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia 

If you suspect your child may have dyslexia, do not wait. Call your doctor or speak with your child’s teacher.

If dyslexia is not found and treated early on, it can become more and more problematic. As kids get behind in school, they may become more and more frustrated. Often, self-esteem problems develop, which lead to bad behavior and other problems. When dyslexia is not noticed or not treated, it can lead to adult literacy problems. Identifying dyslexia early on can get your child the necessary help he or she needs to reach his or her fullest potential.

Helping your child with dyslexia learn to read 

There is more than one way to teach reading. Different children learn in different ways. It is important that your child learn to read in a way that will work best for him or her. Find out what teaching method the school is using to teach your child to read and why. If the method is not working, work with your child’s teacher to try some different options.

Additional resources:

  • Dyslexia Help (U-M) – This website has great resources for students and their parents, including helpful apps and games for people with dyslexia.

Suggested reading:

  • Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz


Reviewed and updated by Tim Visclosky, MD and Sara Laule, MD and Sydney Ryckman, MD

Updated July 2022