As a 3rd grade teacher, I heard it numerous times: parents panicking about dyslexia because their child writes letters backwards. There is so much confusion among parents (and even many teachers) about how dyslexia presents itself in young kids. Whether your child is a struggling first grader who is still struggling with CVC and sight words, or an older child who STILL writes letters backwards, this post can help you learn a bit more about dyslexia, in parent friendly language.
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Dyslexia and Writing Letters Backwards
Experts believe that 20% of the population has some form of dyslexia, so it’s possible. However, if your child writes letters backwards, it’s just as likely to be a bad habit that formed early on.
Why does my child write letters backwards?
It’s simpler than you think, and not something to worry about most of the time. Remembering the shape of 52 different letters is pretty tricky. And then, once you write a letter incorrectly a few times, that bad habit is formed.
Certainly, if a child is approaching the middle elementary years and still struggling with transposing letters after lots of correction and practice, dyslexia could be something to consider, but not in isolation. If your child writes letters backward, rest assured it’s not at all the most important feature of dyslexia.
Twice Exceptional: Gifted and Dyslexic
Dyslexic kids are like any other student in terms of IQ. Some dyslexic kids really struggle across the board, while others are very bright or even gifted. Check out this wonderful list of dyslexia success stories!
Dyslexia is actually easier to diagnose in really bright children. That’s because dyslexia is identified as a reading problem that is unexpected when looking at all the child’s other abilities.
According to the Texas Education Code (Section 38.003), “These difficulties are unexpected for the student’s age, educational level, or cognitive abilities.”
Dyslexia and Math Struggles
There are many reasons that kids who are dyslexic can also struggle with math. It’s possible for a dyslexic child to also have dyscalculia. Here’s a bit more about dyscalculia.
It’s also possible that your child understands math concepts well, but the dyslexia is making it difficult to approach written math problems. Obviously, word problems are especially problematic.
Dyslexic kids also sometimes get really frustrated in school because the dyslexia is not being properly addressed, and that can lead to an understandable lack of motivation. However, never start with the assumption that your child is not performing well in school because of laziness or a lack of motivation; that’s NOT helpful for an unidentified dyslexic child who is frustrated!
The long and short of it? Researchers don’t have a full understanding of why dyscalculia and dyslexia often show up together. But they do.
PS, if a child writes letters backwards, they will often also write number backwards. The same rules apply.
Late Diagnosis of Dyslexia
Many parents believe their 3rd or 4th grader couldn’t be dyslexic because no former teachers have mentioned it. Teachers have a lot on their plates. Even a wonderful kindergarten or first grade teacher can easily miss a possible dyslexia diagnosis. Truthfully, there are still plenty of teachers who believe it’s a serious dyslexia warning sign if a child writes letters backwards, because even reading teachers don’t usually get lots of training on dyslexia.
Let’s take a look at a typical kindergarten class. Joey isn’t starting to read because he hasn’t been exposed to many books as a toddler and preschooler. Juan is bilingual, and while he will likely pass his peers in reading ability thanks to all the extra language exposure, he’s off to a slow start for now. Aaliyah is perfectly normal – just a late bloomer. And Katie will struggle with reading for years because, thanks to her excellent behavior, it will take a long time for someone to notice her problems focusing.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that out of all the jobs I’ve ever worked, none required having so many balls in the air as teaching. It’s an incredibly detail-oriented career, and it’s very easy to simply not notice little clues about individual students. This is especially true about reading, in which there are so many reasons a student might get off to a slow start.
Do you have a parent teacher conference coming up soon? Here’s my Ultimate Guide to the Parent Teacher Conference for parents.
Dyslexia and Early Exposure to Books
Are you thinking your child can’t be dyslexic because you did everything right? You read to your child nightly from the time they were infants?
Reading to children for fun and on a regular basis has been proven over and over again to be really important for reading development. By doing so, you’ve probably helped your child with print awareness, vocabulary, reading comprehension skills and more. Not to mention, you’ve probably had some really wonderful bonding time.
However, lots of language exposure isn’t enough for a dyslexic child. They need a dyslexia therapist to help with some of the building blocks of language.
Dyslexia and At-Home Practice
We’ll just keep practicing “sound it out.”
Oh, Mama. You mean well, but don’t do this to your sweet baby. We all make mistakes, but this one would be a doozy.
“Sound it out” isn’t gonna cut it.
1) It’s simply insufficient and confusing for a dyslexic child to hear “sound it out” repeatedly. If they knew how to sound out and segment letter sounds, they’d be reading fluently by now. Reading is an incredibly complicated skill to learn, even if you don’t have any extra challenges. It’s time to call in the experts!
2) You’re going to take all the fun away from reading. That is NOT what you want to do. I feel really strongly that reading together as a family should be fun and have written about it before.
3) If you want to work on reading at home, that’s wonderful. Just read to your child and enjoy stories together. Make sure you’re getting her into a quality dyslexia program with a trained specialist.
Dyslexia and SpEd Services
So many parents of students that I’ve encountered over the years worried that if their child was “labeled,” with dyslexia and received services from the SpEd department or dyslexia therapist, they’d be teased.
I taught for four years total in 3rd and 7th grade. In each of those school years, I had students pulled from class to receive support services. Not ONCE in four years did I ever hear a student get teased for getting reading support. And 3rd graders tattle about EVERYTHING, so trust me, I would know about it.
What did break my heart was seeing kids who needed extra support and weren’t getting it because a parent was afraid of their child being “labeled.” To see a child who feels anxious and upset about not being able to complete school work, or not having the accommodations they need is so much worse.
Fear of Lifelong Reading Struggles
“My dyslexic child will never learn to read well.”
No way! Don’t let your mind go there, Mama! First of all, dyslexia is on a spectrum of very mild to very severe. Your child may just have to work harder to get comfortable with reading. But with a high quality dyslexia therapy program, and lots of love from you, she will absolutely learn to read.
Also, in case you haven’t read the whole post, I’ll refer again to this list of incredibly successful dyslexic people for your encouragement. And if you listen to Dax Shepard’s podcast called Armchair Expert, you’ll occasionally hear him talk about his experience with dyslexia. He’s brilliant and successful, and he’s just ONE of many success stories.
Think about it – if 20% of the population has dyslexia, you can rest assured that plenty of successful people you know are either diagnosed or undiagnosed dyslexics.
No, you can’t outgrow dyslexia. Dyslexia will always be there. Kids DO learn to read with dyslexia, though!
The “Rising” Rates of Dyslexia
It’s more likely that it was previously under-identified in our schools. Now, experts estimate that roughly 15-20% of the population has dyslexia. That’s true across all cultures around the world and not unique to the English language.
If you’ve ever wondered to yourself, “Maybe I was dyslexic.” Well, there’s a decent chance you were (and still are, even if you’ve learned to live and read well with it).
This is probably the right spot to mention that dyslexia does run in families. If a parent has dyslexia, there’s a strong chance a child will have dyslexia, too.
Dyslexia Does Not Mean Dumb
No, dyslexia is a specific neurological difference that affects the way the brain processes language. It can also affect speaking and listening.
There are many reasons that kids struggle to read and dyslexia is only one of them.
Other possibilities include short-term and long-term memory weaknesses, slower processing speed across all tasks, attention deficit disorders that aren’t treated during the early years when a child is learning to read, lack of exposure to language and books, and even just being a late bloomer.
Dyslexia is unique and should be treated accordingly.
Dyslexia and Classroom Teachers
Many people think that if they just had a better classroom teacher, their child wouldn’t be dyslexic.
Having the best reading teacher in the school, or attending the best school in town sure can’t hurt anything. Every single child benefits from high quality phonics instruction.
However, dyslexia requires a lot more than that. Kids with dyslexia need a specific curriculum geared toward their unique challenges. It’s not something that can or should be handled in a regular classroom because not every child requires practice time and intensive instruction in those skills.
Regular teachers are not trained to teach dyslexic students, unfortunately. A child with dyslexia needs either a high quality dyslexia computer program or a dyslexia therapist.
Does your child keep getting in trouble at school? Check out my troubleshooting post here.
Declining Dyslexia Services
I have heard reluctant parents say, “I don’t want my child to have accommodations in school because real life isn’t like that.”
Ooof, I strongly disagree. There’s plenty of time to learn about bootstrapping it and hard work as a teenager and adult. It’s true that we all have challenges we must overcome. However, when it comes to reading challenges, every child needs to receive whatever supports are necessary to help them succeed. Reading is too important to a child’s self esteem to let them flounder for any reason.
Be your baby’s advocate! No one is better equipped for that job than you.
You can still hold your child to a high standard that’s appropriate developmentally.
If your child writes letters backwards, don’t sweat it!
If your child writes letters backwards, and you were worried about dyslexia, I hope you found the encouragement you needed. Just remember that writing letters backwards isn’t a meaningful sign of dyslexia. And if your child DOES have dyslexia, there are so many wonderful resources that can help along the journey. Everything is going to be okay, Mama!