<< Resources Blogs Dyslexia Elementary Learners (K-5) High School Learners (9-12)

Unlocking Success: A Guide to Identifying Dyslexia Warning Signs in Students

Noah Sturdevant Published: March 8, 2024

I. Introduction

Understanding the signs of dyslexia in students is more than an educational necessity; it’s a pathway to unlocking their full potential. Early identification of dyslexia is pivotal, not just for academic success but also for nurturing the overall well-being of the child. This guide will delve into the warning signs of dyslexia, emphasizing the transformative power of early intervention. By understanding and addressing the reading challenges faced by students with dyslexia, educators and parents can help these students develop their reading skills and foster a love for reading.

It is important to emphasize that dyslexia is not a result of inadequate intelligence or a lack of motivation to learn. Instead, it reflects variations in cognitive processing. By employing appropriate teaching methodologies that cater to their specific needs, students facing dyslexia can achieve academic success. (The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) thanks Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., and Karen E. Dakin, M.Ed., for their assistance in the preparation of this fact sheet).

II. Why Early Identification Matters

“The five-year-old who can’t quite learn her letters becomes the six-year-old, who can’t match sounds to letters. By age 11 she is the child who would rather hide in the school bathroom than read out loud in class. At 18, her excruciatingly slow reading makes it nearly impossible to finish important tests in the allotted time—potentially hurting her college and career prospects (Suspect dyslexia? act early).”

Delays in breaking phonetic codes can lead to a child missing out on crucial reading practice, hindering the development of fluency and vocabulary. Consequently, when the pivotal transition from learning to read to reading for comprehension occurs, typically around fourth grade, these children may struggle even more to grasp essential skills and acquire knowledge through reading.

Despite growing awareness, many children with dyslexia go undetected until fifth grade or later. This delay is worrisome, especially considering that intervention effectiveness notably decreases after the third grade. A recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that early intervention, offered in the first and second grades, resulted in nearly double the reading improvement compared to interventions provided in the third grade. Additionally, first-graders who received early intervention showed even greater progress than their second-grade counterparts, emphasizing the critical significance of identifying dyslexia at an early stage.

Creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment for students with dyslexia is crucial for several reasons, each contributing to the holistic development and success of these students. Such an environment not only addresses the academic challenges associated with dyslexia but also nurtures the emotional and social well-being of these learners. 

III. Identifying the Dyslexia Warning Signs

Warning signs of dyslexia can start to emerge in preschool-aged children, typically between the ages of 3 and 5. However, it’s important to note that every child develops at their own pace, and while some warning signs may be present, it is not indicative of an individual having dyslexia and ultimately, should receive personalized intervention. 

Once a student starts formal schooling, typically in kindergarten, students with dyslexia often struggle with decoding due to underlying difficulties in phonological processing. Decoding involves translating written symbols (letters or letter combinations) into the corresponding speech sounds and then blending those sounds together to form words. 

Difficulties in Phonological Awareness

Dyslexia is mainly characterized by difficulties in phonological awareness and the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of language. These challenges can manifest in these key areas:



Visual Processing Challenges

While dyslexia primarily affects language processing, some individuals with dyslexia may also have visual processing difficulties. They may struggle to accurately perceive and process visual information, which can further impede their ability to recognize and decode written words. Issues with visual memory and processing can significantly affect learning and retention for students with dyslexia. This section sheds light on these often-overlooked aspects.



Impact of Dyslexia on Reading and Writing Skills

Persistent spelling errors and struggles with learning and recalling spelling rules are also characteristic features of dyslexia, often resulting in avoidance of reading and writing tasks. Dyslexia may also lead to poor handwriting, difficulties in organizing thoughts on paper, and challenges with grammar, further contributing to avoidance of these activities. Ultimately, unassisted dyslexia can lead to persistent and prolonged issues with spelling and writing tasks, potentially resulting in avoidance of reading or writing activities. 


III. You See the Warnings, Now What?

Now that the warning signs have been recognized, the next step involves understanding how to identify and adapt interventions, observing student behaviors and academic performance within the learning environment, and providing ongoing assessments to monitor student progress effectively.


Identifying reading intervention strategies involves assessing students’ specific needs and selecting evidence-based approaches that target those areas of difficulty. Here are steps to identify effective reading intervention strategies:

  • Conduct thorough assessments to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses in reading. This may include standardized assessments, curriculum-based measures, informal reading inventories, running records, and observations.
  • Analyze assessment data to pinpoint areas of difficulty for each student. Look for patterns in decoding, fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and other reading skills.
  • Use evidence-based practices to identify reading intervention strategies that have been proven effective for addressing specific reading difficulties. Look for interventions with a strong research base and alignment with students’ identified needs.
  • Consider each student’s unique profile and learning style when selecting intervention strategies. Choose interventions that are tailored to students’ specific strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preferences.
  • Select interventions that directly target the identified areas of difficulty. For example, if a student struggles with phonemic awareness, choose interventions focusing on phonological processing skills. If comprehension is a challenge, select interventions that teach comprehension strategies and vocabulary development.
  • Offer differentiated instruction by adapting intervention strategies to meet the diverse needs of students. Provide additional support for struggling readers, enrichment activities for advanced readers, and accommodations for students with disabilities or English language learners.
  • Incorporate multisensory approaches that engage multiple senses (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic) to reinforce learning and memory. Multisensory strategies are particularly effective for teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding skills.
  • Continuously monitor students’ progress during intervention sessions to assess effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Use progress monitoring tools, formative assessments, and ongoing observations to track growth and adjust intervention strategies accordingly.


By following these steps, educators can identify appropriate reading intervention strategies that address students’ individual needs and support their growth as proficient readers.

If a student is not making reading progress after intervention, it’s essential to reassess the situation and consider alternative strategies. Here’s what you can do:


Reevaluate Assessment Data Modify Intervention Provide Additional Support Consider Special Education Referral Provide Emotional Support
Review the student’s assessment data to identify specific areas of difficulty and determine if the intervention is targeting the root cause of the reading problem effectively. Modify the intervention by adjusting instructional strategies, materials, or methods to better meet the student’s needs. Consider incorporating different approaches, scaffolding techniques, or multisensory activities to enhance engagement and learning. Offer additional support to the student, such as increased one-on-one instruction, small group intervention sessions, or extended learning opportunities. If the student continues to struggle despite targeted interventions, consider initiating the process for a special education referral to assess eligibility for additional support services or accommodations. Offer emotional support and encouragement to the student to maintain motivation and confidence in their ability to learn. Emphasize their strengths and progress while addressing areas for improvement in a positive and supportive manner.


By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, educators can identify barriers to reading progress and implement targeted interventions to support student learning effectively.

Monitoring student reading progress involves a combination of formal and informal assessment measures to track growth over time. Here are several strategies for effectively monitoring student reading progress:

  • Running Records: Conduct regular running records, where students read aloud from a leveled text while the teacher notes errors, self-corrections, fluency, and comprehension. Running records provide valuable insight into students’ decoding skills, fluency, and comprehension abilities.
  • Reading Logs: Have students keep reading logs or journals where they record their daily reading activities, including the books they read, the time spent reading, and their thoughts about the text. Reading logs provide insight into students’ reading habits and preferences and help monitor their reading volume and engagement.
  • Progress Monitoring Tools: Utilize progress monitoring tools, such as curriculum-based measures (CBMs) or digital reading programs, to assess students’ reading skills and track progress over time. These tools often provide data on reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension and can be used to set individualized reading goals.


By combining careful observation, targeted intervention, and thorough assessment, educators can effectively support students with dyslexia in developing their reading and writing abilities and achieving academic success.


IV. Providing Targeted Support

Targeted support is crucial for students with dyslexia because it addresses their specific learning needs and challenges, allowing them to access the curriculum effectively and achieve academic success. Without targeted support, students with dyslexia may struggle to develop essential reading, writing, and language skills, leading to academic frustration, low self-esteem, and disengagement from learning.

By providing interventions tailored to their individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles, educators can empower students with dyslexia to overcome obstacles, build confidence, and reach their full potential. Here are several strategies to provide effective support:

  1. Implement Structured Literacy Programs:
    • Utilize evidence-based literacy programs focusing on explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
    • Break down reading and writing tasks into smaller, manageable components and provide clear, systematic instruction.
  1. Incorporate Multisensory Techniques:
    • Engage multiple senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) in learning activities to reinforce concepts and improve memory retention.
    • Use multisensory approaches such as tapping out sounds, tracing letters in sand or shaving cream, and using manipulatives to teach phonics and spelling.
  1. Provide Assistive Technology:
    • Offer assistive technology tools such as text-to-speech software, speech-to-text programs, audiobooks, and digital reading aids to support reading comprehension and written expression.
    • Ensure students are trained in the effective use of assistive technology and provide ongoing support as needed.
  1. Offer Individualized Instruction:
    • Tailor instruction to each student’s specific strengths, weaknesses, and learning style.
    • Provide opportunities for one-on-one or small group instruction to address individual needs more effectively.
  1. Scaffold Learning Tasks:
    • Break down complex tasks into smaller, sequential steps and provide scaffolding to support students as they work towards mastery.
    • Offer visual aids, graphic organizers, and other supports to help students organize their thoughts and ideas during writing tasks.
  1. Encourage Self-Advocacy:
    • Teach students about dyslexia and help them understand their learning profile and individual needs.
    • Encourage students to self-advocate by teaching them strategies to request accommodations and support when needed.
  1. Foster a Supportive Environment:
    • Create a positive and inclusive classroom environment where students feel valued and supported.
    • Encourage peer collaboration and provide opportunities for students to work together to support each other’s learning.
  1. Provide Ongoing Assessment and Feedback:
    • Regularly assess students’ progress in reading and writing skills and adjust instruction and support accordingly.
    • Offer constructive feedback that focuses on specific strengths and areas for improvement.


In our previous blog, “Unlocking Potential: The Right Combinations to Unlock Student Success for Learners with Dyslexia,” we explored five additional strategies to continue to unlock potential of students with dyslexia and help navigate their reading difficulties. By implementing these targeted support strategies, educators can empower students with dyslexia to develop their reading and writing skills, build confidence, and achieve academic success.

V. Fostering a Support Environment and Beyond

Creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment for students with dyslexia is crucial for several reasons, each contributing to the holistic development and success of these students. Such an environment not only addresses the academic challenges associated with dyslexia but also nurtures the emotional and social well-being of these learners. Here are the key reasons why this supportive framework is so important:

Builds Confidence and Self-Esteem

The challenges associated with dyslexia can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration. In a supportive and inclusive learning environment, students receive positive reinforcement and recognition of their efforts and achievements, not just their academic performance. This acknowledgment helps build their confidence and self-esteem, which are crucial for their motivation and willingness to take on new challenges.

Promotes Social Inclusion

Dyslexia can sometimes lead to social isolation or bullying, as peers may not understand why these students learn differently. An inclusive environment fosters understanding and empathy among all students, promoting social inclusion and reducing stigma. When students with dyslexia feel accepted and valued by their peers, it enhances their sense of belonging and community within the school.

Supports Emotional Well-being

The stress and anxiety associated with dyslexia can have significant emotional impacts. A nurturing environment provides emotional support and resources, such as counseling and stress management strategies, helping students manage their feelings effectively. Knowing they have a support system can reduce anxiety and depression, leading to better mental health outcomes.

Encourages Independence and Self-Advocacy

A supportive learning environment teaches students with dyslexia to understand their learning differences, recognize their needs, and advocate for themselves. This empowerment is crucial for their success beyond the classroom, where they will need to navigate challenges independently and advocate for accommodations in higher education or the workplace.

 Enhances Life Skills and Resilience

Through adaptive challenges and supportive feedback, students learn to cope with difficulties, developing resilience and problem-solving skills. These life skills are invaluable, equipping students with dyslexia to face future challenges with determination and resourcefulness.

Prepares for Future Success

By addressing both academic needs and emotional well-being, a supportive and inclusive learning environment prepares students with dyslexia for future success. They are more likely to pursue higher education, enter fulfilling careers, and contribute positively to society when they receive the support they need early on.

Reduces Emotional and Social Impact

Children with undiagnosed dyslexia often experience frustration, low self-esteem, and anxiety related to their academic struggles. They may also face social challenges, such as bullying or isolation, due to their difficulties. Early identification and support can mitigate these negative emotional and social consequences, helping children develop a more positive self-image and better social skills.

Supports Advocacy and Understanding

Early diagnosis empowers parents and educators to advocate for the necessary resources and accommodations in educational settings. It also fosters a greater understanding among peers, teachers, and family members, creating a more supportive and inclusive environment for the child.

Avoids Mislabeling and Misunderstanding

Without early identification, children with dyslexia might be wrongly labeled as lazy, unmotivated, or not intelligent. Early diagnosis clarifies that these children learn differently, necessitating different approaches to teaching and learning, and protects them from unfair and damaging labels.

Creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment is key to helping students with dyslexia thrive. This part talks about the collective effort required from educators, parents, and specialists. 

Teacher and Parent Collaboration

Open communication between teachers and parents is essential for supporting students with dyslexia. This section discusses how sharing observations and concerns can benefit the child.

When you talk with your child, there are a number of specific steps you can take to build his or her self-image.   First, let him know the nature of his reading difficulties.   Children are often relieved to learn that there is a name to explain why they have such trouble reading.   Second, give him or her the facts—including the benefits—about dyslexia, and be positive while speaking and working with your child. (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity)

Suggest listening to audiobooks or identifying a willing adult to read the assigned book to the student. Recommend that students read along with the audiobook version or follow the words alongside the reader. 

Suggest using assistive technologies currently available that read material aloud to the student. 

If the book/content has been made into a film or covered in a film, suggest that the student watch it to help give context to the story or content.

Offer extra time to finish reading assignments. 

Recommend books that may be shorter or less dense but equally rich in ideas and story for independent reading time. It is important to recommend the book with enthusiasm, the same enthusiasm typically reserved for more sophisticated titles. The objective is to get struggling readers to read AND to like it. 

Recommend graphic novels. Graphic novels provide struggling readers with a way of strengthening their vocabularies, building their reading confidence, and fostering their appreciation of the story. 

VI. Real-life Scenarios or Outcomes

Through anecdotes and case studies, this section illustrates the successful identification and intervention of dyslexia, emphasizing the positive outcomes and impact of tailored strategies.

VII. Conclusion

Identifying the warning signs of dyslexia is a critical step toward supporting students’ academic journey and overall well-being. This guide highlights the key points and encourages proactive efforts from all involved.

We encourage readers to share their experiences or insights on identifying and supporting students with dyslexia. Resources are available for further reading and support. To delve deeper into understanding and identifying the signs of dyslexia, contact MindPlay for more information on Signals and support systems designed to aid both educators and parents in this crucial endeavor.

Download Signals Flyer 

Computer-based spelling interventions offer a promising avenue for delivering personalized, targeted instruction to students with dyslexia, complementing traditional classroom approaches. Moreover, this research underscores the potential for the creation of innovative technology and software solutions specifically designed to aid learners with dyslexia. Such advancements have the capacity to revolutionize the support and resources available to individuals facing dyslexia-related challenges (Quratulain et al, 2023)


Hendren, R. L., Haft, S. L., Black, J. M., White, N. C., & Hoeft, F. (2018). Recognizing Psychiatric Comorbidity With Reading Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9.

Lovett, M. W., Frijters, J. C., Wolf, M., Steinbach, K. A., Sevcik, R. A., & Morris, R. D. (2017). Early intervention for children at risk for reading disabilities: The impact of grade at intervention and individual differences on intervention outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(7), 889–914. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000181

Quratulain., Ghazanfar, S.,& Sattar, A.(2023).A Computer-Based Method to Improve the Spelling of a Learner with Dyslexia. Journal of Social Sciences Review, 3(1), 235-243.

Suspect dyslexia? act early. Yale Dyslexia. (n.d.). https://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/parents/what-parents-can-do/suspect-dyslexia-act-early/


<< Resources Blogs Dyslexia Elementary Learners (K-5) High School Learners (9-12)