If your first-grade child is struggling to read, you might worry about dyslexia. You’ll find some key signs of dyslexia in 6 year olds.
All too often, parents of kindergarten and first-grade students are told to wait and see. As a dyslexia mom and kindergarten reading specialist, I find this frustrating.
There are obvious signs of dyslexia in six year olds. And there are no good reasons to postpone an evauation.
So if you are wondering if your child might be dyslexic, read one to find some key signs of dyslexia in six year olds.
Red Flags for Dyslexia in Kindergarten and First Grade
At its core, dyslexia is a problem with understanding sounds in language. This is called phonology.
If you feel your child cannot hear the sounds in words, that is a red flag for dyslexia.
Please note that the term red flag is loaded. It can have negative connotations.
There is nothing wrong with dyslexia. There are a lot of strengths that accompany dyslexia, and actually point to a diagnosis as much as the weaknesses.
However, your child needs a diagnosis to access the right type of support with reading and writing.
Signs of Dyslexia in a Six Year Old
Although there can be many signs of dyslexia in a six year old, some common ones are:
- Difficulty matching letters to sounds
- Challenges with blending sounds into words
- Guessing words
- Substituting words
- Mistakes with high-frequency words
- Terrible handwriting
- Lack of phonetic spelling
- Not fluently reading in first grade
- Persistence with early signs of dyslexia
Many of the preschool signs of dyslexia will persist into elementary school. However, the rigor of the reading demands makes it obvious in kindergarten and first grade.
Difficulty Matching Letters to Sounds
One sign of dyslexia in a six-year old is difficulty matching letters to sounds. One way this shows up is a persistent problem with identifying letter sounds in isolation.
However, some children do fine with sounds by themselves. Their parents might notice a child struggling to match sounds to letters in simple words when they try to read aloud.
Kindergarten and first grade curriculums tend to emphasize word families with parts. These are called rimes and some examples are:
If these parts still seem mysterious to a child, that could be a sign of dyslexia in a six year old. If a child cannot read new words with those familiar parts, that is also a concern.
Likewise, a child might struggle to link the sounds to letters within each position in a word. For example, a child might be able to read the initial sound in a CVC word but might not be able to identify the vowel or final consonant sounds.
When a six year old with dyslexia decodes the word “pet:”
- they could correctly say the /p/ sound
- they could substitute /i/ for the /e/ sound
- they could correctly decode the /t/ sound or overlook it
This type of inconsistency with decoding suggests a child could have dyslexia.
Challenges with Blending Sounds into Words
After a child can correctly identify letter sounds for letters, the next skill is blending those into words.
If a child consistently has trouble with phonemic awareness skills like blending phonemes in words, that is a sign of dyslexia.
One strategy I try with my kindergarten students is reverting back to oral blending. This means I give students sounds out loud. Then I ask them to blend them together into a word.
Oral blending sounds like this:
- Adult: /aaaaaa/ /ttt/
- Typical reader: at
With a child with possible dyslexia, it sounds like this:
- Adult: /aaaaaa/ /ttt/
- Struggling reader: (looks confused and guesses)
This also applies to blending words in a story. If your child has persistent problems blending sounds into words, that could a sign of dyslexia in a six year old.
Some parents of dyslexic children will notice wild guesses that make no sense. Especially once a child is fatigued with reading, they will just guess to be done.
Dyslexic children tend to be very smart and have large vocabularies. So they might use the first letter to think about what makes sense.
Some dyslexic children could also have a pattern of making harmless-looking mistakes like reading “sip” as “sap.” Some people might brush it off as “reading too fast” or “being competitive,” when it could really be dyslexia.
Another sneaky way children can guess is by using pictures. Parents might observe their children relying on illustrations instead of actually decoding words.
Unfortunately, some curriculums promote this as a strategy for “reading words” when it is truly intelligent guessing.
As mentioned above, dyslexic children tend to be really bright. They often have a lot of knowledge and a strong vocabulary.
So sometimes dyslexic children will substitute words. For example, a child might say “pony” for horse because they are using context instead of phonics skills.
They might also read “pound” as “pond” if they are more familiar with the second word.
Mistakes with high-frequency words
Another sign of dyslexia in a six-year old is trouble with high-frequency words. Often called sight words, these are function words that occur frequently in text like:
Dyslexia children often have difficulty with high-frequency words both in isolation and in context. These function words don’t carry meaning.
Thus, dyslexic children can not rely on their strong vocabularies or intelligence to guess those words. Their brains have a hard time matching the sounds to letters and context doesn’t give a lot of clues.
When dyslexic children read a sentence aloud, they will make errors on a lot of high-frequency words. They might just skip over the words entirely.
Often children with dyslexia also have poor handwriting. The link isn’t entirely clear.
However, there is a connection between letter name, letter sound, and letter formation that creates effortless handwriting. We know dyslexia makes recalling words and sounds hard. So it makes sense that connection to letter formation is cumbersome rather than easy and automatic.
Parents should also know about another learning disability that can co-occur with dyslexia: dysgraphia. Find out more in the blog post: Dyslexia and Dysgraphia – What Parents Need to Know.
Lack of Phonetic Spelling
By early first grade, a student should be able to segment words into sounds and use some phonetic spelling. A sign of dyslexia in a first-grade student is a lack of phonetic spelling.
Some children with dyslexia might hate spelling so much that they refuse to write (like my daughter in first grade). Others might still write random letters or squiggles on a paper instead of drawing on phonemic awareness skills.
Often parents and teachers just say, “Oh, writing is hard” or “this student is a perfectionist.” However, difficulty with spelling simple CVC words by the end of kindergarten is a huge red flag that parents and educators must not ignore.
Not Fluently Reading in First Grade
Children should end first grade as fluent readers. This means they should be able to read a grade-level passage in a relatively smooth voice while applying skills to sound out words.
If they cannot read fluently at the end of first grade, parents should take swift action. You might get pushback from the school saying your child needs more time.
But difficulty with reading is not caused by a developmental lag. This theory has been disproven.
Strengths of Dyslexia in a Six-Year Old
It’s important to also see the strengths that accompany the literacy problems. Often the presence of certain strengths helps support a dyslexia diagnosis.
Dyslexic children in kindergarten and first grade are very curious and learn content quickly when taught orally. People might say they seem “too smart to be dyslexic.” Dyslexia is actually that: an unexpected reading problem given someone’s intelligence.
Dyslexic six year olds tend to have a large vocabulary. They have excellent listening comprehension. They can recall what has been read aloud in great detail.
Six year olds with dyslexia are often creative and imaginative. They have strengths in puzzles, patterns, spatial activities like building, and art.
What to do if you think your six-year old is dyslexic?
If you believe your child is dyslexic, you can approach it two ways:
- medical route
- school route
You can start with your child’s pediatrician. Go to an appointment with a list of signs of dyslexia and ask for a referral to a specialist who assesses for learning disabilities.
If you are in a public school in the United States, write an email to your child’s teacher and copy the principal. List the same signs you see if your child and ask that they be evaluated for learning disabilities in reading and writing.
Dyslexic Six Year Old
Your dyslexic six year old is perfectly made. Remember there is nothing “wrong” with your child.
Dyslexic brains have a harder time with language. We want all people to be readers to have a strong society. Getting your child a diagnosis as soon as you can is the best start.