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Reading Disorders: What Parents Need to Know

Reading is a cornerstone of learning. However, it's not always easy for all kids to read. About 10 million children in the United States have some sort of reading disorder.

People with reading disorders can face challenges when their brain processes written words and text differently. Writing and math can also be challenging for children with reading disorders.

Usually, reading disorders develop at a young age, although a brain injury can cause a reading disorder at any age. There are also certain medical conditions that can be underlying causes, such as speech and hearing problems.

Keep in mind that children develop at different rates and spend varying amounts of time at each stage. In case your child's reading level is lower than what's expected for their age, check with your child's doctor. Children who are having trouble reading benefit from early intervention. Your child's doctor may suggest strategies to help your child or refer them to a reading specialist.

The big 5 of reading skills

The process of reading is complex and consists of many components. A good reader needs to develop 5 skills as they begin their reading journey: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

  1. Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and use individual sounds in spoken words. Phonemic awareness helps students learn the language better and improves their reading abilities.

  2. In phonics, a child learns the relationship between the letters of written language and the individual sounds of spoken language. Phonics is an essential skill that children use to read and spell and recognize words instantly.

  3. Vocabulary is a child's stored and growing collection of words they use in conversations and in reading.

  4. Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with good expression.

  5. A child having good comprehension skills can understand, remember, and make sense of what they read.

Children who have problems with one or more of these components can find reading difficult. A child with a reading disorder usually has more trouble understanding and recognizing what they read.

Common reading disorders in children

Hyperlexia and dyslexia are well-known types of reading disabilities.


A child with hyperlexia has a very high ability to read before they turn 5 years old and is fascinated by the written material, including letters and numbers. They have strong visual and auditory memories and can recall what they see and hear without too much effort.

However, despite their high reading skills, they have low reading comprehension. It is common for them to repeat phrases or sentences without comprehending the meaning. Children with hyperlexia are unable to use their language skills effectively. They have difficulty with who, what, why, where, and how questions. They also have difficulties speaking and communicating with kids their age.

Hyperlexia is often, but not always, associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). About 84% of children with hyperlexia are on the autism spectrum. It is estimated that only 6% to 14% of children with ASD have hyperlexia.

Types & symptoms of hyperlexia

There are 3 types of hyperlexia.

  • Hyperlexia type 1: Children with hyperlexia type 1 learn to read early and far above their expected level without developing any disabilities.

  • Hyperlexia type 2: Children with ASD have hyperlexia type 2. These children show more signs of ASD, such as avoiding eye contact, avoiding affection, having sensitivity to sensory input, and obsessing over letters and numbers.

  • Hyperlexia type 3: Children with hyperlexia type 3 have remarkable reading comprehension but lack verbal language development. They are outgoing, make eye contact, and show affection. Hyperlexic type 3 symptoms gradually disappear with time.

Hyperlexia diagnosis & treatment

There is no specific test to diagnose hyperlexia. Children with hyperlexia typically show symptoms and changes over time in their behavior. It is possible for a child with this disorder to also have another disorder, such as Autism Spectrum disorder, language disorder or social communication disorder.

Early intervention increases a child's chances of learning language and social skills. Discuss developmental issues with your child's doctor to diagnose hyperlexia.

A child with hyperlexia type 1 does not need any treatment. Early-age intervention is beneficial for children with hyperlexia types 2 and 3. Children with hyperlexia can benefit from speech, language, and occupational therapy.


Dyslexia impairs a person's reading ability and can affect both children and adults. Kids with dyslexia may have difficulty decoding words, matching letters to sounds, and recognizing words and spelling. Having dyslexia does not reflect a person's intelligence. As many as 1 in 5 children in the United States have dyslexia.

Symptoms of dyslexia

Dyslexia symptoms and severity can vary with age. Symptoms of dyslexia often appear before a child begins school. A young child may have speech delay, difficulty processing language, or trouble following directions. They have difficulty putting things in order and pronouncing new words and avoid reading activities. It may take them a while to process and summarize what they read.

Such children are prone to having difficulties memorizing and figuring out left from right. When reading, they may use reverse letters/sounds, such as "d" and "b" or "p" and "q," and may have a speech delay.

Dyslexia diagnosis & treatment

Dyslexia is usually diagnosed in childhood, but it can remain undiagnosed until adulthood. As a result of dyslexia, kids have difficulty reading, writing, spelling and speaking clearly. Dyslexia is genetic and often runs in families.

It is not possible to diagnose dyslexia with a single test. Evaluations typically involve identification, screening, testing, and gathering information about the child's history and issues. Professionals then assess a child's specific needs and determine how best to assist the child.

There are no medications that treat dyslexia. Early educational intervention can help a child learn effective ways to learn and read. Research shows that phonics instruction that involves letters and sound associations can significantly enhance the reading ability of children with dyslexia.

How to help your child with reading difficulties

It's important to act early if you notice problems with spoken language, rhyming, pronouncing, or finding words, especially if there is a family history.

Early intervention is essential because effective instruction boosts a child's learning abilities and prevent anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Reading the same book over and over again helps children who have dyslexia. As a result, they learn how to focus on one word at a time and develop a natural reading rhythm.

Reading aloud helps children who have dyslexia decode unfamiliar words and build fluency and confidence. Another excellent alternative to reading is listening to audiobooks.


Don't hesitate to talk with your child's teachers and pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child's reading development so they can get the right support to help them thrive.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from HealthyChildren Magazine, Summer 2022 (Copyright © 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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