Everyday I chat with mums who tell me “I think my child has dyslexia”. The great news is that most mums I chat with who believe their child has dyslexia actually have something different… Something that appears to be dyslexia but is much easier to solve.

There are 3 possible scenarios that could be happening if you believe your child has dyslexia, and this video will help you decide what’s happening for your child.

This video explains EVERYTHING you’d ever wondered about dyslexia:

Here are the possible scenarios of what could be happening to your child:

Scenario 1: Irlen Syndrome

Your child has Irlen Syndrome (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity). This is NOT actually phonological dyslexia, but it really looks like it and has a lot of similar symptoms when children read. Parents usually refer to this as dyslexia but it’s dealt with in a very different way.

For children with Irlen syndrome, the words are not staying still on white paper when they look at them.

The words may be moving or wriggling or slightly wobbling or they could even be fading from the page. Now, the real problem with this is that in our culture most things are printed on white paper.

To informally check your child, have them stare at a page of text printed on white paper and ask them what the words are doing on the page. If they tell you something other than “The words are staying still… What’s wrong with you, Mum?” Then your child is probably dealing with Irlen Syndrome. It’s important to be aware that kids with this issue are very easy to help. You can start by changing the background colour of the page your child reads and writes on.

Scenario 2: Phonological Dyslexia

With Phonological Dyslexia (also called Auditory Dyslexia), the words are not moving at all on the page. The words stay completely still but when the child sees the words, their brain is slow to recognise what sounds the letters represent.

This is really difficult for kids in school because it slows them down when they read or write and it makes school very hard and very tiring.

Children with Phonological Dyslexia will struggle to spell and will make many reading errors when they read. They will be pulling words out of their “sight word memory bank” in their brains rather than decoding the word in the way that most kids do. So that means that if a word is outside of familiar, frequently used words to them, they’re going to struggle to read them.

A quick, informal test for phonological dyslexia is to ask your child questions like this:

  • “If I have the word “BLACK” and I take the “L” out, what word would I have?
  • “If I have the word “BLADE” and I put an “M” where the “D” is, what word would I have?

Children with Phonological Dyslexia really struggle to pull words apart and put them back together, so if your child needs to think for a long time on questions like this, that can indicate Phonological Dyslexia.

Another quick check is to ask your child to read words that you’ve just made up, such as:

  • Trejivope
  • Rasdoper
  • Spliterstime

Kids with phonological dyslexia will really struggle with reading words like this, because they are used to recognising entire words but have trouble sounding out pieces of words.

Scenario 3: It’s something else… neither scotopic sensitivity nor phonological dyslexia

There are so many other reasons why a child could be struggling but the first place to check would be to have the child do an eyesight test. It could be the most important thing you do this week.

Another test worth doing is a hearing test, particularly for younger children who can have grommet issues. Now so many kids who struggle with their literacy are actually in that situation because they spent years struggling to hear all the words people have said or all the sounds within words.

So it’s helpful for kids to get a hearing test, particularly if they are younger because that can have such an impact on their learning.

Don’t just wait for things to improve… you need to take action.

There are plenty of other possibilities for why a child might struggle in reading, so parents, let’s not jump to conclusions.

What is always true is that changes won’t happen unless they are driven by parents and teachers. Don’t just take the “Wait and See” approach because it never ever works. Be proactive and help your child get what they need to get back on track at school.

Have you been through anything like this with your children? Please share your experience below in the comments.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
  • This is a pretty over simplified view of dyslexia. My son is dyslexic. The problem is primarily phonetic though there are other areas of difficulty. That was the key sign, noticed by teachers- in pre-primary, despite being very bright, he failed to learn phonics. Having no clue what the problem was I was advised to take him to a speech pathologist, which was weird because his speech was very good for his age (the teachers thought due to multiple ear infections his hearing may have been impaired resultling in the problems with phonics). She systemicatically taught him how to match each letter to a sound using fun multisensory games. It really helped him, but he was still falling behind in the class room. While he now knew all the letter sounds, he had trouble stringing them together to make words. He also couldn’t read sight words- like ‘though’ or even ‘the’. I disagree with the point in the article that they draw apon ‘sight word memory bank’. My son struggled with reading anything- sight words and phonetic words, though he picked up phonetics first and starting sound out everything even ‘the’ as ‘t-h-e’. I am not convinced that inability to learn sight words is a visual problem, sight words still follow phonetic rules- he was doing this as he couldn’t remember more complex spelling conventions such as ‘ough’ makes an ‘o’ sound therefore he would try to read ‘though’ as t-h-o-u-g-h. I knew he needed something more than speech pathology, so I pushed for the school to test for dyslexia which they eventually did. That helped alot, because the teacher started teaching him and a way that suited his style of learning. We got referred to a tutor that built on what the speech pathologist had done with systemic, structured, phonics based program. Basically he was taught phonics from scratch, starting with the sound each letter makes, building up to more difficult sounds like ‘sh’ ‘ch’, then ‘ough’ etc in a fun multisensory way. Now at 8 he has learnt all the 50+ sounds that make up the English language he can finally read short books. He now just needs work on incorporating all those sounds to make longer words and increase his speed and fluency so he can tackle longer books. Dyslexia, however, isn’t just a reading problem, though that is the primary area of difficulty. As I said my son has problems with maths, I think this is becuase he has trouble rememembering sequences and abstract info and has a poor working memory (he took longer learning to count that most kids- and never remembers birthdays/days of the week).Until recently he mixed up and read numbers ’15’ as ’51’. He still finds it difficult remembering things which to most people is automatic, like 7+7= 14. However now in year 3 he is allowed to use a calculator and write our maths problems on a white board he is starting to show strengths in maths. He really struggles with handwriting and spelling too. SO in addition to the phonics tutoring we also take him to an OT, she has been really helpful in addressing some of the other issues he has- fine motors skills, multitasking and sequencing. He handwriting is steadily improving, and it as helped him with motor development and his confidence in sport- he has really improved in tae kwan do, as he can now remember the patterns, and doesn’t mix up left and right as much. So in summary I think dyslexia is primary a language based disorder- where kids have trouble remembering and learning matching sounds to letters and letter combinations.Other areas of difficulty include dealing with abstract information, sequencing information and working memory problems, which can lead to problems with maths. In addition it is important to remember that dyslexia often appears together with disorders such as dysgraphia and dyspraxia, which I think can explain other problems that can co-occur with dyslexia such as fine motor skills and visual perceptual difficulties, though this is not the root cause of dyslexia itself.


  • This is a great article; very informative. Thanks for sharing.


  • Michael, what a fantastic article! My daughter has Irlen Syndrome, and we are struggling to get the word out and the understanding of the condition! She has terrible spelling still (has been diagnosed for over 12 months), even though we are working so hard!
    Thankyou for spreading the word on Irlen as so many people (including the Government) don’t feel there is enough evidence (obviously haven’t walked a mile in our shoes or that of everyone else diagosed with it haha). Way to go!


  • wow if nothing else you just reminded me I need to get my daughter into the peadiatrician for this exact check, I forgot I had got a referal last week, I knew there was a reason I came on here today.
    Many people struggle to understand her and obviously I understand her perfectly as I speak to her all the time.


  • Great article. Very informative.


  • he looks woried


  • I would’ve thought this would be relatively easy to diagnose. If your child is experiencing learning difficulties, surely you would take them to an expert to be checked out?! Surely you wouldn’t let them keep suffering?!


  • Thankyou. This is useful information to know and to share with friends. My latest challenge is a 9yo who’s decided to stop using punctuation, capitals and spaces in his writing. Instead of a paragraph, it is one long word. He’s a top reader and used to write very well.


  • This is a very helpful, informative article. Thank you Michael.


  • Great article thank you my 11 yr old has always had troubles we found out in ur 4 it was a tracking problem my other daughter has a similar problem with tracking although still having troubles with her reading I might discuss this article with the learning support teacher thank you this was a very helpful article

    • Usually when people say it is a tracking problem, you can solve it by finding a colour that works for your child. Often it’s blue or purple or pink. See what you can discover.


  • We went through years of trying to work out what was happening with our daughter. She struggled in school and was always falling behind. She was tested for dyslexia, but she doesn’t have it. We went through eye and hearing tests…all normal. We even saw occupational therapists because she had had trouble with fine motor skills. She was, and is, a very clever girl, but that was never reflected in her early years of schooling, not even at the beginning of high school. For us it was a diagnosis of exclusion. She has dyslexic disgraphia. She has great difficulty writing when she has to create ideas at the same time (as you do on tests or when writing essays by hand). Thankfully, we finally found a teacher and an aid that were willing to work with us to help her move from special classes to mainstream classes. With a lot of work on her, their and my part, and using a laptop to take notes (she doesn’t have the same problem when she types) she caught up to her peers and moved into the mainstream classes for HSC. This was something we didn’t even think she would be able to do as she was working at about a year 5 level when she started at her high school. She had a writer/scribe for her school certificate exams (she was in the last class to sit them) and again for her HSC. Since leaving she has completed a diploma in children’s services in one year (normally a two year program) at a private college. Because the program was competency based, she was able to complete all her work using a laptop (or in the field doing practical work) and her dysgraphia didn’t come play. It is really strange when she tells people about it her problem, because people think it means you can’t write, but she can write just fine, just not when she has to create at the same time. It seems the two processes interfere with one another or the paths in her brain get twisted and she can’t write for long or think properly when she has to write for any extended period. Thankfully, she works in an industry where she has to do very little writing and can do reporting on the computer which eliminates the problem.


  • Really enjoyed this. My daughter has been dianosed as dyslexia but have never had it broken down with names. Thankyou. Ohh. She has background noise hearing too


  • This is interesting, my grandsons teacher tells me he never writes on the lines it’s always above the lines, and suggested that he have his eyes tested, but then someone said it could be Irlen Syndrome.

    • It’s easy to check… Have your child stare at a point in the middle of a page of text that is printed on white paper and then ask your child what the words are doing on the page. If they say anything other than “the words are staying still and clear” then try them on different colours and see if that helps. Heaps more about it at http://www.dyslexiaimprovements.com... I’m a bit fanatical about getting that information out there to be honest. :-) Michael


  • Would you know if a Neuropsychologist would pick up on Dyslexia or does it require other testing?

    • They will look for phonological dyslexia, but they will not look for Irlen Syndrome because that is not their area. The problem is that Irlen Syndrome will create the same symptoms of poor reading that phonological dyslexia has, which is why about half the dyslexia diagnosises that I see are actually incorrect. I deal with this same situation every week and it’s a bit frustrating because parents are paying huge money for reports that are inaccurate.


  • If only we could have this tested with in schools by just asking these simple questions. When kids are little it’s best to catch it then.


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