What Does Dyslexia Look Like in Children and Adults?

Learn about the early signs of dyslexia, when to seek a diagnosis, and what to expect through the diagnostic process.

By Ability Central

28 November, 2023

A teenage boy in a yellow shirt and gray pants scratches his head, frustrated with his homework

About 780 million people worldwide have dyslexia. However, dyslexia can be difficult to spot, especially before children start school. So, how do we know what to look for? This article will answer symptom-related questions, including:

  • What are the early signs of dyslexia?
  • What are the four types of dyslexia?
  • What are the symptoms of undiagnosed dyslexia in adults?
  • What is the process of getting a dyslexia diagnosis?
  • What are the types of Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs)?
  • Who can provide a test for a dyslexia diagnosis?
  • Where can I get more information about dyslexia and other learning disabilities?


What are the early signs of dyslexia?

Dyslexia can be difficult to recognize before a child enters school, but some early clues may indicate a problem. A child’s early signs of dyslexia may include:

  • Delayed speech
  • Slow speed at learning new words
  • Problems forming words correctly
  • Problems remembering or naming letters, numbers, and colors
  • Difficulty with rhyming games or songs


Teachers are often the first people to recognize dyslexia symptoms, especially when teaching children to read. These signs vary by age and severity but may include:

  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page
  • Lack of understanding that words can be split into parts
  • Inability to sound out simple words like “hat” or “cat”
  • Inability to associate letters with sounds, such as the letter T with the “T” sound


While dyslexia is most commonly associated with learning difficulties, not all signs of dyslexia are “bad.” Children with dyslexia can often:

  • Think outside of the box
  • Show more curiosity and creativity than others
  • Have vivid imaginations
  • Enjoy solving puzzles


What are the four types of dyslexia? 

Dyslexia does not have different diagnostic classifications. Instead, there are four recognized types. They are:

  • Phonological dyslexia, also called dysphonetic or auditory dyslexia. People with this type of dyslexia have difficulty processing the sounds of individual letters and cannot match the sounds they hear to the letters or words they see on the page.
  • Surface dyslexia, also called dyseidetic or visual dyslexia. People with this type of dyslexia have difficulty recognizing, learning, and memorizing whole words.
  • Rapid naming deficit. People with this type of dyslexia have difficulty quickly naming letters, numbers, colors, or objects.
  • Double deficit dyslexia. People with double-deficit dyslexia show deficits in both the phonological process and naming speed.


No matter a person’s age or the type of dyslexia they may have, dyslexia often affects communication of all kinds, not just reading. Someone with dyslexia might appear shy, detached, or insecure in school or the workplace. This is often because they’re worried they’ll say or do the wrong thing, like misinterpret teasing or sarcasm, or take directions too literally. It’s not that a person with dyslexia is unintelligent or uninterested; they may just process things differently than the people around them.


What are the symptoms of undiagnosed dyslexia in adults?

Learning disabilities in adults may have gone undiagnosed throughout childhood. In fact, about 40% of adults with dyslexia do not know they have it. Common symptoms of dyslexia in adults include:

  • Reading difficulties
  • Thinking in pictures
  • Writing errors
  • Poor coordination


What is the process of getting a dyslexia diagnosis?

Dyslexia evaluations consider all of the following:

  • Background information from parents and teachers.
  • Assessment of the person’s ability to listen to, understand, and express their thoughts through speech. 
  • Ability to recognize a written word.
  • Ability to spell, write, and read.
  • Ability to decode or sound out unfamiliar words.
  • Ability to rapidly name colors, objects, letters, and everyday words.
  • Family history of dyslexia or other learning disorders.


During the appointment, your doctor will likely run through a number of visual, audio, and physical tests, then use what they have learned to offer a diagnosis. From there, your doctor may make recommendations for next steps, like accommodations in school or at work.


What are the types of Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs)?

Learning Disabilities (LDs), also known as learning differences, difficulties, or disorders, are umbrella terms that describe several Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs). These include:

  • Dyslexia, which affects reading and related language-based processing skills.
  • Dysgraphia, which affects handwriting and fine motor skills.
  • Dyscalculia​, which​ affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.
  • Auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects the way a person hears sounds.
  • Language processing disorder (LPD), a type of APD where people cannot put meaning to the sound groups that make up words, phrases, and stories. 
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD), which are discrepancies between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial, and social skills. 
  • Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit, which means the person has poor hand-eye coordination, loses their position frequently when reading, and struggles using pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, or with other fine motor skills. 


Who can provide a test for a dyslexia diagnosis?

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI) each offer directories of professionals who provide testing and evaluation services for people with learning differences.


In addition, Ability Central maintains a searchable database for non-profits specializing in dyslexia. This database allows you to search by location and specialty to find organizations that provide resources, testing and treatment services, and learning intervention services for all ages.


Where can I get more information about dyslexia?

To learn more about dyslexia, see:


Where can I get more information about other learning disabilities? 

To learn more about other learning disabilities, see: 

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