How early can dyslexia be detected in a child? And if you suspect your child is dyslexic, what's the next step?

According to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It's likely to be present at birth and its effects are lifelong. But although it presents challenges with conventional learning, dylsexia need not be devastatingly debilitating.

Early signs of dyslexia

Although dyslexia is often first picked up in school-age children because of the associated problems with formal learning techniques, there are signs to look out for earlier – and early detection often means more effective treatment.

However, if your child shows these signs it doesn't necessarily mean he or she is dyslexic, as lots of young children struggle with language to some extent.

A BDA spokesperson says: 'Many very young children make similar mistakes to dyslexic children, but it is the severity of the trait, the clarity with which it may be observed, and the length of time during which it persists which give the vital clues to the identification of the dyslexic learner.'

Things to look out for include:

• Walking early without first crawling (although may have 'commando-crawled' or bottom-shuffled).

• Delayed speech development.

• Confusing different words, such as saying 'lunch' instead of 'breakfast'.

• A tendency to jumble up letter sounds in phrases, such as saying 'cobbler club' for 'toddler club'.

• Forgetting the names of everyday objects.

• Struggling to find rhymes for words, like 'fog, log, dog'.

• Persistently struggling to get dressed properly.

• Confusing similar words, like 'lamp post' and 'lampshade'.

• Persistently putting shoes on the wrong feet.

• Tripping, falling and bumping into things.

• Apparently not listening or paying attention.

• Having difficulty with skills that need coordination (ball skills, hopping, skipping).

• Having difficulty clapping out a simple rhythm.

If your pre-schooler is showing some or all of these signs, it's a good idea to talk to your health visitor, GP or nursery teacher, who will be able to advise you on which route to take.

School-age signs

Dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ so is no measure of a child's intelligence. The BDA spokesperson says: 'Dyslexia occurs despite normal teaching and is independent of socio-economic background or intelligence. It is, however, more easily detected in those with average or above intelligence.'

The sorts of signs that can manifest once a child is into formal learning include reversing numbers ('25' for '52') and letters ('on' for 'no'); an inability to recall the order of letters in a word when spelling; and losing or misplacing books and schoolwork.

There are other indicators, too, that might become apparent both in and out of school:

• Dyslexic children might be distracted by minutiae such as the sound of a ticking clock, but be less aware of a teacher speaking.

• They might have total recall of music lyrics or the script of a favourite episode of a TV programme, but have difficulty remembering classmates' names; their own phone number and so on.

• They may have trouble judging time and confuse 'morning' with 'afternoon'.

• They often have a short attention span, particularly for written work.

• They can be very routine-driven and unwilling to accept change.

• They often have difficulty with sequencing, such as learning days of the week, months of the year, number order and so on.

• They may be quick thinkers, good at drawing and construction tasks.

You can find more signs, symptoms and support through the BDA at www.bdadyslexia.org.uk or by calling the National Helpline on 0845 251 9002.

Where to seek help

You should approach your child's teacher as soon as you notice any traits of dyslexia, and they should be able to advise you of what the next step is. If you don't get proper support from the teacher, ask to speak to the SENCO (special educational needs coordinator), a teacher who co-ordinates and implements the schools SEN policy.

Early indicators of dyslexia may be picked up during one of the routine pre-school development checks, and referrals will be made to a relevant health professional, such as a speech therapist to help with language development or an occupational therapist to help with coordination.

If your child has already showed signs of dyslexic-type difficulties and/or received support from relevant health professionals it is important that this information is passed on to the head teacher in advance, as late diagnosis and treatment mean your child will inevitably experience failure at a young age, without knowing why – and this in turn can result in behavioural problems.

Well-known dyslexics

Look how many successful people – and these are only a handful – are dyslexic!

Kirsty Alsopp – TV presenter

Damon Albarn – Singer / Song writer

Muhammad Ali – Former Boxer

Orlando Bloom – Actor

Darcey Bussell – Ballet dancer

Leonardo da Vinci – Artist

Keira Knightley – Actor

Mika – Singer

Jamie Oliver – Chef

Theo Paphitis – Entrepreneur

'My twin boys are both dyslexic'

'We realised Joe was dyslexic within three months of starting school at age 4 years 9 months,' says Karen Hoskins from North Devon, mum to twin boys Joseph and Ryan, 10. 'There's a family history, and Joe's symptoms were a carbon copy of his dad Keith, who's severely dyslexic.

'At the time we just assumed that Ryan had no problems as he seemed so much better than Joe.

'The school refused to acknowledge Joe's problem, so we moved the boys to a new school at age six-and-a-half, and the new teacher spotted Joe's dyslexia immediately and set to work helping as much as she could.

'The boys were split into separate classes for Year 3, and it became apparent to Ryan's teacher that he was also in need of help. An educational psychologist was called in to assess the boys, who confirmed that they were dyslexic, and a teaching assistant did some limited one to one work with them, but their problems were bad enough that we now have statements of Special Education Needs (SEN) for both of them, and it looks likely they'll need to go to an independent school with a CReStTeD* registered dyslexic unit.

'Although the school has been very helpful, since undergoing the statement assessment process we've had to fight the education system all the way. We struggle to do most of the homework, which is either inappropriate for the boys or they need so much help it takes up at least one day of every weekend, which is making family life stressful.

'Both Joe and Ryan are above average intelligence, though, and we hope that proper support and extra help at school and home should be enough to see them through.'

*The Council for the Registration of Schools Teaching Dyslexic pupils.

For more advice, contact the British Dyslexia Association on helpline 0845 251 9002 or log on to www.bdadyslexia.org.uk.