Expert Advice

Ask Dr. Silver

All Questions by Topic

« Back To Category List

Reading & Dyslexia

The following are past questions and answers from Dr. Larry Silver on this topic.

I have many symptoms of dyslexia, but I was never formally diagnosed. As an adult, is it worthwile to be tested?

How can an adult find help or a cure for dyslexia? I am 45 years old. I have all the symptoms for dyslexia and was never treated. Deep down inside I knew I had a disability. For many years I have struggled with the sounds of words and just couldn't hear them right. I barely talk because I always make a fool of myself when I mispronounce a word. Please help!

It is unfortunate that you have had to struggle for so many years. The first step would be to clarify if you have dyslexia, another form of a learning disability, or some other problem. To do this, find out where you can get formal testing designed for adults (psycho-educational or neuro-psychological testing). The results should help you clarify what can be done at this time to be of help.

Does my daughter need both a reading specialist and a tutor?

First I want to express my thanks for all the information available on the site.

Dr. Silver: My daughter is 12 years old and in sixth grade. Since first grade, she has had difficulties in reading and spelling. I had her tested recently for dyslexia. She was placed in extended school year services, tutoring at school, and given accommodations.

I wish I could have had her tested earlier. I sent her to a reading specialist in the summer, which was costly. I also have her go to a tutor, who works well with her but does not have the credentials of the reading specialist (who also tested her).

Question: Do I do a combination of both or just keep her with the tutor? I put her in private school, because I felt she would get lost in the system. Also, I am looking for a school that offers a program which works with kids like her. I am a single mother, trying to find the best possible avenues to bring out my daughter's talents.

Your daughter will need both remedial tutoring and an education program that can accommodate for her special needs. If she is in a public school, these services should be available. If she is in a private school, your resources may be more limited. Do you have an educational consultant or someone at her school who coordinates her special education program? If so, discuss these needs with this person.

I spend hours helping my daughter with her schoolwork each night, so she appears to be doing better than she is. How do I get the school to test her without letting her fail?

Dr. Silver,

I would love some advice on how to help my daughter.

At this time she has had no formal diagnosis of a learning disability. She is now in second grade and it seems she struggles with everything. I work a lot with her and try to help her understand things, but she never seems to quite "get it."

It now results in tears, frustration, and her thinking she is stupid and hating school. With the huge amount of work we do at home she has managed to be passing her classes, but I don't know that she is really learning.

She barely passed on into first grade because she was having a lot of problems in reading and was behind. That summer I sought the help of a friend who tutors kids in reading using a program that is supposed to be great for learning disabilities. With her help and a lot of work at home, we got her to grade level in reading.

All of her teachers so far have said that they can't quite put their finger on it — she is very hit or miss with things. One day she seems to know it, but then the next she doesn't. She still reverses letters a lot in reading and spelling. I have been told that she should grow out of this — but when?

At this time she struggles greatly with math. She seems to not understand how numbers work. My 5-year-old is able to do a lot of the work she can now do, because of just overhearing all the work I do with her. This is sending up a red flag to me. I know the schools are hard-pressed for the funds to do a lot of what is needed and I hate to waste their time. But that being said, I want to see my daughter get help and not have to work so hard if there is something we can do.

Unfortunately, the problems have not been bad enough for a teacher to say we need to test, but I wonder if I slacked off at home if they would be. It is a terrible place as a mother to be feeling like you need to let your child fail so she can get noticed.

Should I push the school into testing? Do you have any suggestions in helping me figure out what is going on? Thanks for any help you may be able to give.

I share your concerns. From your description, your daughter might have a learning disability. You are correct. By spending so much time with her each night, she appears to be doing better than she really is. Yet, you do not want to take away this help and have her do poorly just to show the school what you mean.

She should be evaluated. A psycho-educational assessment would be best. The first step is to submit a written letter to the principal, requesting a meeting to discuss your concerns with your daughter. The principal is required under education law to schedule this meeting. The classroom teacher, principal, school counselor, and special education person should be present. Share your concerns, using as many examples as you can. Be sure to explain just how much work you do each night. If the school agrees, they will do a formal assessment.

I need to warn you. Most school systems will not evaluate a child until the end of third grade. It is only then that they show enough of a discrepancy to meet their criteria for doing an assessment. If so, you might explore if it is possible to have these studies done privately and then take the results to the school.

Good luck.

How can I get the school system to help my son, who is a junior and cannot read, transition to the work world?

I am the mother of a child who has learning disabilities. He is now a freshman in high school and still reads at a first-grade level. His writing skills are also compromised.

Are there any tips you can give me to help my son? I am very upset with the school system in my town and don't know how to approach them calmly to make them understand that he is facing adulthood and needs to be able to get a job, drive a car, etc. What can I do?

I am very upset to learn that your son has gone through at least 12 years of public school and is still reading at the first-grade level. How did this happen? Was he not tested over the years? Did he have an IEP?

If the school system has never been concerned and if your son has never had an IEP, I would find an attorney who knows about education law and discuss what your options are. If he has had an IEP, you need to know that the school system must continue to work with him until the end of his 21st year. During this time he could receive further help with his learning disabilities and he could receive vocational training. If you do not know about this part of IDEA, ask the principal about it.

What is the difference between dyslexia and a specific learning disability in reading?

What is the difference between dyslexia and a specific learning disability in reading? Are they the same or is the term based on regional terminology?

Specific learning disability is the official term used today for students with learning disabilities. Such disabilities might impact reading, writing, math, or other areas. Dyslexia is no longer an official term used under federal education law. This term was initially used to describe a language-based (i.e., phonologically-based) reading disability.

My son is in kindergarten and cannot write his name, but the psychologist says he's on track. Should I request testing anyway?

My son is 5 and is having difficulty in school. He started in a child development program last year at age 4 and had a lot of trouble learning anything. We thought it was due to his ADHD and behavior. He could not spell or write his name, did not know colors, numbers, or any of the alphabet.

This year he is doing much better with his behavior. But he has been in school for nine weeks so far and still cannot spell or write his name without assistance. He only knows three letters of the alphabet and can only recognize the numbers one to five. He has trouble gripping a pencil tight enough to write.

He is in speech therapy and has been since last year. My husband was LD in school. My son has been evaluated by the school psychologist but she thinks that even though he has attended school for over a year, he is where he should be. Should I be concerned and request additional testing for him, or is he too young to be diagnosed with dyslexia or other LD?

I share your concerns. Yes, he might be too young to meet the school requirements to be identified as having a learning disability. (Most schools use a model that requires a child to be about two years behind and he is only five.) But, there is the opportunity to evaluate and help a 5-year-old without needing to conclude why the problems exist. If testing shows that he has areas of deficit, services can be provided without the formality of testing. Speak with the principal about getting such help.

If you are not successful, you have two options. First, you could get psychological and educational testing done privately and then take the results to the school, insisting on help. Or, you could set an appeal process in motion. To do this, send your principal a letter, requesting a meeting to discuss the need to evaluate your son. The principal must call such a meeting within 30 days (based on education law).

At this meeting, request an evaluation. If the team does not agree and does not agree to informally provide services, ask for the guidelines on how to appeal the team's decision. Such a process is required by law. Then, appeal to the next level within your school system. If the principal refuses to call a meeting, comment that IDEA, the federal education law, requires that the principal call such a meeting. If he or she still refuses, ask for information on how to appeal.

(Should the principal refuse, I would meet with your superintendent of school or an assistant. Bring your notes about each step you went through and ask what your rights are.)

Good luck.

Is LD passed on to offspring?

I was diagnosed with LD in math and reading when I was in eighth grade. Recently, my daughter has had problems with reading and writing. She is 6 years old and I was just wondering if LD is passed on to offspring.

There is a strong family pattern for learning disabilities. I would encourage you to keep a close eye on your daughter. If she continues to struggle, ask the school to evaluate her for possible learning disabilities.

Who should I go to first to find out if my child has dyslexia — the school or an outside professional?

How does one find out if their child has dyslexia? I have approached the teachers regarding this and they told me to seek help outside school. Yet when I speak to professionals outside school they say it is up to the school to test the child. Can you give me advice to help my daughter before she falls any further behind in school? She is entering third grade.

Thank you,


Submit a letter to the principal requesting a meeting to discuss your child's difficulties. The principal must schedule this meeting within 30 days. At the meeting, present your concerns and ask that the school evaluate her to clarify if she has learning disabilities. The principal must respond by either agreeing or saying that the school will observe her and test her if she continues to have problems. If you disagree, you can request an appeal process.

My son reverses letters and can't see the difference between adding and subtracting. He wears glasses but they don't seem to help. Where do I take him next?

My son of 8 years old shows symptoms of learning disabilities. At first, his teachers thought it was due to vision problems. He is wearing glasses and still doesn't show improvements.

He reverses letters and numbers and has problems with reading. He also cannot see the difference between adding and subtracting, no matter how I teach him. I don't know if I should bring him to a psychologist or neurologist.

Please help! Thanks.

The problems you describe are not the result of a vision problem. They might be the result of a learning disability. I would start with a psychologist who is skilled at doing the necessary studies to clarify why he has such problems.

My 6-year-old son is reversing letters and numbers. Should I get him tested?

I have a 6-year-old son that is having trouble at school. He reads a lot of common words backwards, such as reading pan for nap or dull for pull. He can do basic math, but if the answer is 32, sometimes he'll write 23.

It was upsetting me that he was making simple mistakes because he wouldn't take the time to look at things, and then I noticed he was having trouble focusing his eyes. I had his vision tested and it's fine.

I asked his teacher if she would refer him to get tested for a learning disability. She told me the school's waiting list is about 60 days. Am I going about it the right way by getting him tested? Where do I go from here? Can my son's doctor have him tested or refer me to a testing center? What kind of test do you do to identify learning disabilities? I feel completely lost and worry that I am failing my son. Please help!

Sometimes, 6 year olds still reverse letters and numbers. If this is his only problem, you might wait a little longer. If, however, you find that he is not mastering his first grade skills (reading, writing, math), then I would not wait.

Don't discuss this with the teacher. The process is for you to write a letter to the principal, requesting a meeting to discuss your son's difficulties. The principal must call such a meeting. The school psychologist and special education person will be present. Discuss your concerns with this team. If they agree, they will schedule testing. If they do not feel testing is needed now, you will still have focused everyone on his difficulties. If in the fall he has not made progress, request another meeting.

You can always have him evaluated privately. The testing is called psycho-educational testing.

Could a pre-kindergarten student who identifies numbers but not letters be showing early signs of dyslexia?

I teach early childhood special education and have a student who is pretty good at identifying numbers, but is not identifying letters or showing much interest in emergent reading. He likes books and looking at the pictures or singing the songs, but not identifying letters or sounds.

The child is 4.5 years old. His speech is good — he has received SLP therapy and his receptive and expressive language are both high. Could any of this difficulty in expressing letter knowledge, but not number knowledge, be an early sign of dyslexia? Is it perhaps just a matter of being 4 and not wanting to answer the questions? Also, his parent had a learning disability as a child — could this be genetic?

Thank you!

The problems you describe could be the initial clues that this child might have learning disabilities. The fact that he needed language therapy adds to the possibility of this diagnosis. If this child is in your class, it suggests that he is already seen as in need of special education services. The current approach would be to try remedial interventions and see how he responds. If he does not respond, then formal studies might be done.

My son had the precursors for dyslexia in preschool two years ago but is reading well now. Should I still be concerned?

My 6-year-old son was evaluated in 2007 by a neuropsychologist. She determined that he does have the precursors for dyslexia and what appeared to be the beginnings of it. I then had him evaluated for dyslexia and pre-screened for the Barton Reading and Spelling System. He is very intelligent and is reading above grade level. He can write, but it takes him time. His school refuses to believe he has dyslexia.

Where can I find more information to prove he has dyslexia even though he can read and write?

Your child was tested when he was in preschool. The results were based on levels of expected performance for that age. It may be that what was seen as a weakness then (precursor), improved with maturation and is not an issue now. You say he can read and write at grade level. So, he does not appear to have any deficits that might suggest dyslexia at this time.

It is difficult to use these data to assess if he has learning disabilities. I suggest that you stop pushing for a diagnosis (dyslexia) and ask the school to help clarify if he has any problems at this time.

Can an exercise program aimed at re-patterning neuronal pathways help children learn to read better?

Dear Dr Silver:

I wanted to ask your opinion regarding a controversial treatment of learning disorders. My daughter's school has begun a program of using what I believe is an old technique (40 or so years) that was found not to have conceptual or scientific foundation in the treatment of learning disabilities. They're using an exercise program aimed at re-patterning the neuronal pathways. The claim is that by doing exercises and crossing the midline of the brain the child is able to learn to read better.

The school is not only having kids with LD do the exercises but the entire school. As an adult with a learning disability who believes exercise is extremely important for many reasons, I disagree with the use of an unfounded method of treatment. I believe it gives parents false hope, wastes precious time in the classroom, and takes away from time that could be used with proven methods. I know that the American Academy of Pediatrics has denounced such methods. I respect your knowledge and expertise and I wanted your opinion on whether you believe patterning is an effective treatment for LD.

Thanks for your input.

David Kalis, LCSW, Ph.D.

You are correct. This method - originally proposed by Doman and Delacado - has been long shown to be incorrect in the concepts proposed and not successful as a treatment. You will need help in approaching the school board. First, you might contact the American Academy of Pediatrics and request their position paper on this approach. Second, you might look through the chapter on "Controversial Therapies" in my book, The Misunderstood Child, Fourth Edition, published by Random House/Three Rivers Press.

Why would a child diagnosed with ADHD have trouble retaining letter sounds?

My 7-year-old son has ADHD and an IEP in class at his school. He is very good in math, but when it comes too letter sounds, he cannot retain them so he can't read or write. How do I, as his mom, help him too remember from one day to the next? And why is it he can retain all the things to do with math and not reading? I am confused?


About 50 percent of children with ADHD also have Learning Disabilities. Your son sounds like this might be true for him. If not yet done, a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation will clarify why he is having difficulties and clarify how best to help him.

My third grade daughter struggles to read. What should we do?

My daughter is in third grade now and still struggles to read at an early first grade level. Her cognitive skills are fine. If I read the work to her from school, she can answer the questions. Reading for her is a new struggle every day. It seems like she will recognize a word one minute and the next, have no idea what it is.

She struggles with school at all reading-based subjects. She is getting learning assistance, but her progress is extremely slow. Her self esteem is starting to suffer and she is beginning to refer to herself as stupid. I am so worried about her state of mind as she sits in class with children who can do the work and she simply can't read the words.

She is very gifted in drawing and is very perceptive in understanding emotions, she is simply unable to read. I have told the school I believe her to be dyslexic, but there is little information available as to practical solutions to help her learn and be diagnosed. Where can I get affordable help for her? What techniques can I use to help her? How can I get a diagnosis?


Your daughter certainly sounds as if she has a learning disability. Only formal testing will clarify if this is correct and, if so, what to do. Unfortunately, many school systems will not test a child until they are significantly behind. This often means that they must have completed third grade and still be at first or second grade level with skills. I see this as a wait to fail model. Push harder for the school to do the testing. Maybe you could get a parent advocate to help you with this effort.

If you cannot find someone, contact the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Click on your state. Contact this state chapter of this organization to get possible names.)

If my third grade son continues to be frustrated trying to read, should the school do more?

My son was diagnosed at the end of first grade with short term memory problems and some phonics problems after falling behind in reading. His school is working hard with him, but it is a struggle at home to get him to read.

As soon as we say its time to read for a few minutes he is annoyed (he is now in the third grade) and gets quickly frustrated even with our help. He also seems to start to yawn soon after starting to read, even though he goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. and gets up at 7:00 a.m.) We let him pick what he wants to read and take breaks, but it is still a struggle. Are there issues we and the school could have missed and are there any suggestions on how to make reading less of a struggle?

If your child is in the third grade and continues to have problems with reading, despite what the school is doing, I would be worried. First, clarify what the school is really doing. You might find that he gets 30 minutes once or twice a week in a small group or that the interventions are not appropriate.

Yes, I would push to get him tested. Start by requesting a meeting of the special education team at your school along with the principal. Express your concerns and note that whatever is being done is not adequate. Request formal studies to clarify why he is not making progress. Please persist. Your son needs you to do this.

Can a child read well and still be dyslexic?

Is it possible for a child to be able to read at or slightly above grade level, but still have dyslexia? My nine-year-old son does fine in reading (he did have two years of Title 1 reading assistance), but has difficulty spelling and has handwriting that is often illegible.

Dyslexia is a name used for a specific type of learning disability, a language-based reading disability. Don’t focus on the label. If he is nine and still struggling with spelling and handwriting, you should ask your school special education specialist or a private specialist to assess and find out why.

Is it dyslexia when a four-year-old reverses letters?

I have a 4-year-old that I'm afraid might have dyslexia. The other day we came to a stop sign and spelled out the letters backwards, and it's happened a few times since then. Is this normal or should I do something about it?

Most children reverse letters and numbers until about five or six, some longer. I would not be worried. Watch and see if this pattern disappears by the time she finishes kindergarten.

How can we support my "reading-challenged" son who is the youngest in his kindergarten?

My son, who just completed Kindergarten and turned six in June, is one of the youngest in his class. He recognizes all letters and knows all letter sounds, but just CANNOT put the easiest three letter words together by sounding them out. We just had an appointment with a Developmental Pediatrician because he show difficulties focusing, he seems bright but only concentrates when something interests him. Math and other subjects are fine, but in reading, he is below grade level and constantly has to be redirected.

I wanted him to repeat Kindergarten but in an EPT meeting, it was decided not to because he has the potential. The Developmental Pediatrician said that some kids just can't learn how to read before they're seven. Could he have some "blockage?" He may be dyslexic.

The doctor told us to wait half-a-year and see how he does in first grade and then, if his reading is still below grade level, to see a speech therapist / specialist for dyslexia -- do you agree? Do you think there is anything we can do to help him before first grade starts? He is already aware of the fact that all the other children can read and he can't. He almost seems like he's giving up.


As your developmental pediatrician mentioned, development can be uneven between three and six or seven, especially for boys. Some kids are reading by first grade and some are not. Let him know that it is perfectly normal that he has not yet learned. “That is what first grade is for.”

I would let him start first grade. If you find him behind in a skill area, discuss with his teacher. If you feel he is frustrated, you might try to get the school to provide more reading help or get a private reading tutor. It may be too early to jump to formal testing.

When are extra support and services from the school a good idea?

My son is in first grade. He is among the youngest in the class. He has a very extensive vocabulary, yet in kindergarten, they said it was uneven with his cognitive abilities. He has no motor skill difficulties, is very creative, artistic, and intelligent yet they recommended Reading Recovery for him. They feel he will reach his potential with this program.

His teacher feels he is very young and that is part of why he hasn't developed yet. The bulk of his class is turning seven and he just turned six, so we are hoping this will bring his reading up to speed. Yet at home, I feel he reads to me beautifully.

I don't now if it's the system pushing my child to have high scores in the district, if he has a learning disability, or if he is just young. Should I have him evaluated or wait to see if Reading Recovery works for him?

Mrs. Meyers

Boys do mature later than girls. Some of your son’s problems might be because of his age. Your school wants to provide additional support and services to see if these efforts might “jump start” him. This is a good idea. Listen to his teachers.

Can a person who writes but can’t read be dyslexic?

After learning about dyslexia in my AP psychology class, I've been wondering whether I had it. It would explain my constant and perpetuating difficulty reading, but I seem to be an ok writer and have always taken honors and AP English classes. Of course, I was never able to read any of the required novels. Instead, I relied on classroom discussions and summaries to help me understand the books. Would it be possible for me to be dyslexic if I can write but not read? I seem to have some of the symptoms but not all.

I’m sorry it took high school and reading about dyslexia for anyone (you) to question why you have so much difficulty reading. Speak to your parents about requesting formal testing to clarify why you have this problem. Only by understanding the reason(s) will you be able to know what type of help will be most useful.

My son's IEP team says he doesn't qualify for an IEP or 504 plan. What are my rights?

My son struggled with reading but was a whiz in math and other subjects. We discovered he has auditory processing disorder just before third grade last year. An amplification system was placed in his classroom but he receives no other accommodations.

When the IEP team met, I was told he scored average to above average overall on all other educational testing except some subtests and does not qualify for an IEP or 504 plan. I asked for a meeting with the new teachers each school year and a specific accommodation page to be implemented for the teacher such as preferential seating and specifics about his disability because an amplification system does not resolve his disorder and was told that the former teacher would talk with them.

What are my rights? I was adamant to request the above but need further help.


It is not common to only find an auditory processing disorder. Has your son had formal testing to clarify what other factors might contribute to his reading disability? I would suspect that there is more.

You need to have a good educational consultant to help you with your school system. You need to clarify what accommodations are needed and how to approach your school to get these accommodations.

Is dyslexia genetic?

I have three boys aged 12, 8, and 6 and all three have been identified with dyslexia.

The oldest has been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia and visual stress syndrome. I am still trying to get him the best support possible. My middle son has been identified as having dyslexic tendencies and is being tested soon, my youngest son has shown quite profound dyslexic and dyspraxic tendencies, his school will be arranging something soon.

Does this mean it has been a genetic marker, as I also have visual dyslexia? What can i expect with my children, especially my youngest who has quite profound problems? Am I entitled to any help with them or are there any schools that are specifically for children like mine, a place where they can get the best education possible?

Many thanks

Yes, learning disabilities can be heavily familial. They do run in families.

Have they been formally tested and diagnosed? If not, approach their school principal to do the testing or arrange for it to be done privately. Only with formal clarification on the disabilities, can you request that the school provide services or seek private services.

You should be concerned. Move fast. If you need more information relating to your question, you might read The Misunderstood Child