Is it normal for a child to have delayed speech or letter identification? A lack of interest in books with a lot of text? When should parents be concerned that their child has dyslexia?

First of all, be careful. Dyslexia in preschoolers is extremely hard to diagnose because many of its symptoms are developmentally common for all preschoolers. However, the more symptoms that are present, and the longer they persist, the more likely it is that your child may need some help. True dyslexia is often marked by a combination of signs and a lack of progress over time.

What kind of combination are we talking about? Laura L. Bailet, Ph.D., and executive director of Nemours BrightStart! Dyslexia Initiative, says a family history of dyslexia, serious reading and spelling difficulty, and delayed speech and language development could be signs that when combined, are a red flag of possible dyslexia. Other early symptoms include:

  • Difficulty pronouncing words correctly (for example, "aminal" for animal)
  • Difficulty rhyming
  • Problems learning the names of shapes and colors
  • A hard time learning letter names and letter sounds
  • Difficulty separating and blending word parts (for example, syllables and individual letter sounds)
  • A tough time learning to write one's own name
  • Problems with fine-motor skills, such as coloring, writing, and tying shoes

As a parent, you can help in a number of ways. But in general, any activity that builds vocabulary, listening skills, and understanding of print will be beneficial. Dr. Bailet suggests the following:

  • Read a variety of books to your child daily, starting around 6 months of age, and keep reading activities short and fun
  • Point to each word as you read, or move your finger left to right across the print
  • Pause frequently during reading to ask questions or have your child say the next word
  • Engage your child in language play, with rhyming words or words that start with the same sound
  • Introduce new vocabulary words through daily conversations with your child
  • Use routine activities (like mealtime or car trips) to talk about new words, discuss something interesting that has happened, and share ideas and feelings
  • At age 3 to 4 years, begin talking about letter names and letter sounds
  • At age 4 to 5 years, begin encouraging your child to read and write his own first name.
  • Provide magnet alphabet letters or letter blocks for play.
  • Provide markers, crayons, and paper to encourage drawing and beginning writing
  • Place your child in a high-quality preschool program if possible

Even if you do all of these activities, Dr. Bailet says, you won't be able to ensure that your child doesn't struggle with dyslexia. "But by engaging in daily activities to build language and literacy skills, your child will be better prepared for school and you may prevent serious reading difficulty for him or her." At the very least, you'll be able to recognize ready trouble early on. Most dyslexia isn't recognized until the 3rd grade, or later.

That's unfortunate. Because beginning early "with appropriate reading methods, starting in kindergarten, gives each child the best chance for becoming a successful reader," Bailet says. So stop worrying and start rhyming! Anything you can do to build a love for words will help your preschooler, dyslexic, or not.