How is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

Posted by Brainspring on 24th Sep 2014


Hi everyone,

I started rereading Overcoming Dyslexia, by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a few weeks ago.  I found myself learning just as much the second time around as I did when I first read the book a few years ago.  I highly recommend it to any teacher or parent working with struggling readers.

Overcoming Dyslexia

Please share your thoughts if you’ve also read the book.  Would you recommend it as whole-heartedly as I do?


Many of the students I work with are diagnosed with dyslexia.  Dyslexia is also beginning to get more attention in some states.  Phonics First is developed to effectively remediate dyslexia.  While I train teachers to work with struggling readers and work with students with dyslexia, I do not diagnose dyslexia.  A clinical diagnosis is often obtained from a Speech and Language Pathologist or Psychologist.  Since it is a part of the process I’m not personally involved with, I found it incredibly helpful to reread Dr. Shaywitz’s section on how dyslexia is diagnoses.


Diagnosing Dyslexia is Multi-Faceted

A clinical diagnosis of dyslexia comes from analyzing a variety of information: personal and family history, observations of speaking and reading, and tests of reading and language.  There are 3 steps to reaching a diagnosis.

1. Establish a reading problem

2. Gather evidence of “unexpectedness” of reading difficulty

3. Demonstrate evidence of an isolated phonological weakness

While these 3 steps are required for a diagnosis, the evaluation for dyslexia is tailored to the individual, so the steps might not be achieved through the same means for each person.


Types of Information and Evaluations Used

A reading problem is usually established by tests of decoding and comprehension.  As part of this, students should read words in isolation and nonsense words.  Included in this step are also silent and oral reading passages.   Oral reading is especially revealing because it requires the reader to focus on pronunciation.  Observations can be made of the reader’s effort, cadence, expression and fluency.


Gathering evidence of the unexpectedness of the reading difficulty requires getting a sense of the person’s learning capability.  This can be done by taking a history and listening for areas if strengths and weaknesses.  A test of cognitive ability might be helpful for a child, while levels of educational or professional achievement would be appropriate for adults.


An isolated phonological weakness can be directly measured with tests such as the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing.  With children it’s important to clarify that it’s an isolated phonological weakness, not a general language problem.  This can also be assessed with tests, such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.


Focus on Strengths

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that a diagnosis of dyslexia comes from an overall picture of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.  Those of us who work with these students need to focus on the students’ strengths, while we remediate the weaknesses.  Individuals with dyslexia often have well-developed thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills.  Dr. Shaywitz refers to this as the “sea of strengths” model, meaning individuals with dyslexia have an isolated phonological weakness amid a vast collection of strengths.  We should focus on our students’ strengths and interests in our teaching.


I want to leave you with a question to think about when working with your students this upcoming week:

What ways do you incorporate your students’ strengths into your teaching?

Please comment here throughout the week as you give extra attention to using your students’ strengths to enhance their learning.

I’ll be giving quite a bit of thought to the same question as I go about my week so I can share my ideas with you!

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