Is Dyslexia Hiding in Your Classroom?

What might be seen as laziness or acting out could really be dyslexia in disguise.

Few teachers are trained in what dyslexia looks like in the classroom. If primary teachers do look for it, they tend to look for reversed letters or numbers. By the time students reach third or fourth grade, teachers have typically stopped looking for warning signs of dyslexia. By this time, kids are often really good at hiding their dyslexia, making it even tougher to spot.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is defined as a language learning disability, but because it’s a spectrum disorder, it regularly goes undetected. The condition can be affected by environmental factors that make it more difficult to find—such as parent involvement, IQ, attitude, school engagement, and coping skills. For instance, a child with low level dyslexia combined with a high IQ and parent engagement may slip through the cracks until later in their educational career. This means it looks different in every student.

How does dyslexia affect older students?

Older students living with undiagnosed dyslexia deal with physical struggles like headaches, vision problems, and exhaustion. They also deal in large part with emotional challenges like embarrassment, anxiety, and wanting to disappear. Learning to identify warning signs of dyslexia in a grade 3-8 student is an ability that can literally save lives.

Here are some warning signs you won’t want to miss. A student with dyslexia:

  • Exhibits frustration
  • Lacks confidence within peer group
  • Expresses a dislike for reading
  • Has no motivation for school
  • Has trouble rapidly naming people and objects
  • Struggles to identify or produce words that rhyme
  • Tends to guess at words
  • Is slow to learn background knowledge
  • Shows problems copying or taking notes
  • Has a poor ability to correct written work
  • Has difficulty understanding what was read
  • Shows problems with math word problems
  • Uses vocabulary words incorrectly

Personality types that could be hiding dyslexia

Identifying only one of these above challenges in a grade 3-8 student may not be a reason to suspect dyslexia, but more than one cue in the same student is cause to take notice. Finding a student with dyslexia can be easier when you know the disguises to look for.

The following personality types may hide dyslexia:

  1. The Bully picks on students who either cannot or will not defend themselves. Bullies often lack confidence, so they may be students hiding dyslexia.
  2. The Class Clown appears to love attention and makes it a goal to get laughs, but they may be hiding fear behind those laughs, fear that someone will discover their reading secret.
  3. The Pot Stirrer creates drama without being in the center of attention, so that you’ll focus on someone else.
  4. The Silent One is shy and/or withdrawn. This student is never in trouble, but rarely participates in classroom discussions. This student will also avoid conflict and stay clear of all drama. It can be tough for a teacher to gauge how much these students are learning.
  5. The Smart Aleck is extremely sarcastic, argumentative, and confrontational. This strategy is just as effective as the Pot Stirrer because the attention is not focused on academic tasks.
  6. The Socialite talks around any topic and with anyone in the room. This hiding strategy often masks the fear of being asked to read.
  7. The Unmotivated/Unorganized One is typically labeled lazy. This student appears to lack the internal drive to succeed academically, but is often completely overwhelmed.
  8. The Child who is Really Smart with strong site words, strong IQ but the “wheels fall off the bus” when reading expectations greatly increase.

How to help students with dyslexia

Once you’ve found these hidden students with dyslexia, what can you do to help them?

  • Difficulty with automaticity makes connecting to new information very difficult. A multi-sensory approach helps students in grades 3-8 move past anxiety and into memory building. Connecting prior knowledge to new learning can build compensating memory skills.
  • When students in grades 3-8 need content to learn new information, don’t let them struggle with the mechanics of reading. It holds them back from accessing information at the same speed and affects their comprehension. Human read audio books provide high quality access so that the mechanics of reading doesn’t hold them back from reaching their academic potential.
  • Visual processing issues occur when the brain processes differently. These challenges can be helped through specific brain-training activities. Matching games, puzzles, and even simple “I Spy” games can be helpful to train the brain to process more quickly.
  • Dyslexics may also have difficulty remembering the order of events. This means that it might take the student longer to explain what happened and it may appear as if the student is lying. More often than not, dyslexic students feel misunderstood and hopeless about school situations. Inviting these students into a group where they can feel a sense of belonging is a great place to start.
  • Give students with dyslexia the gift of time. The more time they have to develop coping strategies without stress, the better they will deal in the long term.
  • Help them with encoding by offering speech recognition apps like Dragon® Dictation.

The more you learn about what to look for in identifying dyslexia in older kids, the more you can help them. Webinars and online discussions about dyslexia are great places to start the learning. Your new knowledge will help you trust your observations and make a referral earlier.

Sign up for a Learning Ally demo to find out how this proven accommodation can help meet the needs of your students with dyslexia throughout elementary, middle, and high school.

Kimberley Moran

Posted by Kimberley Moran

Kimberley is an editor at weareteachers.com. She used to teach first graders. She lives along the Penobscot River in a little yellow house and starts her day with a blueberry muffin. Her work has appeared in parent.co, Good Magazine, and Public Radio International. Her book Hacking Parenthood is coming out in October 2017.