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How is Dyslexia Diagnosed? Should I Get My Child Assessed?

When a student is resistant to consistent research based instruction, parents ask WHY? There's a lot of talk about the possibility of dyslexia. Two questions many parents have are, "How is dyslexia diagnosed?" "Should I get my child assessed?" The focus of this blog will answer both questions.

How is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

According to, Dyslexia - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic, there's no single test that can diagnose dyslexia. A number of factors are considered, such as:

  • Your child's development, educational issues and medical history. The doctor will likely ask you questions about these areas and want to know about any conditions that run in the family, including whether any family members have a learning disability.

  • Questionnaires. The doctor may have your child, family members or teachers answer written questions. Your child may be asked to take tests to identify reading and language abilities.

  • Vision, hearing and brain (neurological) tests. These can help determine whether another disorder may be causing or adding to your child's poor reading ability.

  • Psychological testing. The doctor may ask you and your child questions to better understand your child's mental health. This can help determine whether social problems, anxiety or depression may be limiting your child's abilities.

  • Testing reading and other academic skills. Your child may take a set of educational tests and have the process and quality of reading skills analyzed by a reading expert.

Types of Tests Used for Diagnosis

Typically, there are four types of tests that are given when evaluating for dyslexia.

  1. Tests that assess phonological awareness.

  2. Tests that assess decoding.

  3. Tests that assess reading fluency and comprehension.

  4. Tests that assess rapid naming.

Sample tests may include some of the following. Clinicians will not give all of these assessments. They will choose the ones that are best for your child and that cover the 4 types of assessment listed above.

What is the Treatment for Dyslexia?

Once you know how your child learns and what their strengths and challenges are, a plan can be implemented to strengthen their skills. Here is what Mayo Clinic has to say regarding treatment.

Experts agree that dyslexia is a lifelong problem. However, early detection and evaluation to determine specific needs and appropriate treatment can improve achievement.

Educational Techniques

Dyslexia is treated using specific educational approaches and techniques, and the sooner the intervention begins, the better. The gold standard for teaching students with dyslexia is Orton Gillingham, which is what we use at The Joy of Learning. There are several other similar program based on Orton Gillingham including Slingerland, Take Flight, Wilson, Fundations, and many others, which are also very good. Psychological testing will help your child's teachers develop a suitable teaching program.

Teachers will use multi-sensory techniques for intervention, which involve hearing, vision and touch to improve reading skills. Helping a child use several senses to learn — for example, tracing the shape of the letter on a bumpy surface, or repeating the sound aloud while looking at the shape of their mouth in a mirror, help students developing a lasting understanding that will translate to fluent reading skills.

Treatment focuses on helping your child:

  • Learn to recognize and use the smallest sounds that make up words (phonemic awareness)

  • Understand how letters and strings of letters represent these sounds and words (phonics)

  • Understand what they are reading (comprehension)

  • Read aloud to build reading accuracy, speed and expression (fluency)

  • Build a vocabulary of recognized and understood words

If available, tutoring sessions with a reading specialist can be helpful for many children with dyslexia. The frequency of sessions and the length of time it takes your child to learn to read will vary based on their individual learning profile. For this reason, your child should have an individualized plan based on initial and ongoing assessment.

Individual Education Plan

In the United States, schools have a legal obligation to take steps to help children diagnosed with dyslexia with their learning problems. Talk to your child's teacher about setting up a meeting to create a structured, written plan that outlines your child's needs and how the school will help him or her succeed. This is called an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Note that while some schools offer small group reading intervention tailored to dyslexic learners, the vast majority of students end up needing additional support outside of school whether from a family member or professional Reading Specialist, to catch up. ( A future blog post will IEPs in greater detail. Stay tuned.)

Early Treatment

Children with dyslexia who get extra help in kindergarten or first grade are significantly more likely to catch up with grade levels peers and do well in school. Intervention in later grades can also be very successful, but keep in mind that the older the student, the bigger the deficit, and the longer it takes them to catch up.

Some students with dyslexia become completely proficient and voracious readers once they learn the tools to unlock reading. A child with severe dyslexia may never have an easy time reading, but he or she can learn skills that improve reading and develop strategies to improve school performance.

Should I have My Child Assessed?

If your child is struggling with learning to read, they need specialized instruction as soon as possible. As we've said, early intervention is by far the most effective and easiest approach.

If your child attends public school, you'll want to get them on an IEP and request intervention provided by the school. For this, you will need a diagnosis.

Look at your local International Dyslexia Association branch for a list of evaluators. Your child will most likely be assessed by an Educational Psychologist.

If your child attends a private school, is homeschooled, or is getting tutoring outside of school for their reading, it's not as important to have a diagnosis, but it can help the child's self esteem to understand how their brain works and why they need to work so hard at learning to read.

What if we aren't ready to do an evaluation, or there is a long waiting list?

The good news is that the interventions used to teach struggling readers are the same regardless of whether the student has a diagnosis. In fact, the methods used to teach students with dyslexia are great for everyone, whereas they are necessary for students with dyslexia. This means that students can get started with intervention before they have a diagnosis.

Some schools using a Response to Intervention model will place students in Tier 2 or 3 instruction with small group intervention based on their reading performance without needing a diagnosis. If this is available, take advantage of it.

Getting support outside school while you wait for a diagnosis (and once you have one) is also a great idea. Most parents find that their dyslexic children need more support learning to read than they can get at school. You can support your child at home by teaching them yourself using an easy to use homeschool curriculum such as All About Reading, or enrolling the help of a Reading Specialist for private tutoring.

A key component of learning to read is Phonemic Awareness, which is the ability to hear, separate, and combine the sounds in words. You can support your child's phonemic awareness at home using the tips in this article.

Will my struggling reader just catch up in their own time?

If they have dyslexia, no. They need systematic, multi-sensory instruction to become proficient at reading and writing.

If they don't have dyslexia, it's possible, but not likely. It is true that students today are asked to master content earlier than students 30 years ago, and the pressure can be a lot for little ones. Ideally, if everything was pushed a year later, young students could relax and play more like they used to. Unfortunately, that's not the case in most schools.

If your child is homeschooled and doesn't need to keep up with grade level content, it's perfectly fine to give them some time before doing formal reading instruction, which should happen by the age of 7. Waldorf schools begin teaching reading in 1st grade instead of Kindergarten, and students do eventually catch up.

If they attend a public or private school with a typical grade level progression though, being behind in reading will be a constant struggle that gets harder as they move through the grades, so catching them up as soon as possible is the best way to go.

What parents can do:

You play a key role in helping your child succeed. Take these steps:

  • Educate yourself and advocate for your child. As a parent, you are your child's best advocate. Unfortunately, there are still many teachers and administrators who are not well informed about dyslexia, and it is all too common for schools to not have enough funding for sufficient intervention. This means that you need to become well informed about what your child needs and what their rights are. Two great books to start with are Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz and Dyslexia Advocate by Kelley Sandman- Hurley.

(Note - The Joy of Learning earns a few cents of commission per book if you purchase the

books using these links, which helps to keep the blog going.)

  • Address the problem early. Support your child's reading by requesting additional support at school, doing at home learning on phonemic awareness and phonics, and/or working with a private Reading Specialist. Get your child evaluated if you suspect dyslexia.

  • Read aloud to your child. Reading aloud helps with children's vocabulary, comprehension, and love of reading by exposing them to interesting stories that they can understand, even if they can't read them yet. It's best if you start when your child is 6 months old or even younger. You can also listen to audio books with your child in the car or during free time.

  • Work with your child's school. Talk to your child's teacher about how the school will help him or her succeed. Ask what methods the school is using for reading instruction - hint: it should be something Orton Gillingham based that is considered structured literacy, NOT Lucy Calkins/Units of Study or Fountas and Pinnell. If the school doesn't use a particular program, ask how phonics is taught.

  • Encourage reading time. To improve reading skills, a child must practice reading. Decodable books, which only include words with predictable spelling patterns, are especially good for early readers. Subscribe to the blog to receive our upcoming post about decodable books in your email inbox.

  • Set an example for reading. Designate a time each day to read something of your own while your child reads — this sets an example and supports your child. Show your child that reading can be enjoyable.

Dyslexia is not a pigeonhole to say you can’t do anything. It is an opportunity and a possibility to learn differently. You have magical brains, they just process differently. Don’t feel like you should be held back by it.”

-Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice


Does Your Child Need Support with

Reading, Writing, Or Math?

The Joy of Learning provides engaging, evidence based instruction in reading, writing, and math, for students with diverse learning styles in grades K-12, taught by highly qualified Learning Specialists.

We offer 1-1 instruction in - person in the Boulder and Denver, CO areas, and the Jackson, WY area. Students at all locations can access our services through virtual instruction.

Interested to Learn More? Book a Free Consultation Here, or visit our homepage.You can also sign up for our mailing list to receive valuable tips about supporting your unique learner.

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