Ask Squiggles: Does Dyslexia Run in Families?
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
YokyWorks students know him as Mr. Squiggles. Now he's here to answer your burning questions about reading development!
I have a first-grade son who is curious, imaginative, artistic, amazing at building legos, loves puzzles, and has great comprehension for stories read or told to him. Yet, he is struggling to grasp phonics, does not want to “sound words out,” and has an extremely difficult time with spelling. In fact, his spelling seems inventive and usually his words do not contain vowels.
My son’s mother was officially diagnosed with dyslexia in college. She can read, but often reads extremely slowly and still has trouble with spelling. I heard from a colleague that dyslexia often runs in families. I did not struggle with learning to read, but will often re-read technical information to gain a complete understanding of what is being said. My son does not like to read out loud but seems to like books. He loves to listen to audio books and will often spend hours listening to books while he is building with legos. He will sometimes say school is “boring” or “too easy,” but cannot tell us exactly what is boring or too easy when we ask questions.
Does dyslexia run in families and is first grade too young to assess my son for it? His teacher tells us not to worry, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is amiss. Am I overthinking this?
Dear Lego Dad,
First, I want you to know that you are not alone in your concerns. I often get questions from parents about when it is appropriate to get their child assessed for signs of dyslexia, especially if they have a parent or relative who has been diagnosed with it. It’s true that dyslexia runs in families, but it is not guaranteed that your son will have dyslexia just because his mother does.
As stated by Understood, “About 40 percent of siblings of kids with dyslexia also have reading issues. And as many as 49 percent of their parents do, too.” While it’s clear to researchers that there is a hereditary component to dyslexia, further studies are needed to understand exactly what role genetics plays.
Because dyslexia is passed down in families through a combination of genetic and environmental factors, it’s hard to know for sure whether your son will experience the challenges associated with dyslexia by looking at his family history alone. As your son is struggling to grasp phonics, does not want to “sound words out,” and has an extremely difficult time with spelling, he is displaying some of the risk factors associated with dyslexia.
I would recommend getting your son’s level of auditory speech perception assessed to ensure he is developing the foundational skills necessary for reading. Auditory speech perception is critical for effectively sounding out unfamiliar words.
Without it, children like your son are left to rely on their high visual memories and large oral vocabularies to compensate. While these compensating skills work in the short term, as texts become more difficult your son will likely experience a disconnect between his high intelligence and his ability to comprehend what he reads.
I want to congratulate you on being the parent of such an amazing kid. Your son is clearly gifted in many ways and you are very lucky to be the father of a child who is so curious, creative, and intelligent. From what you’ve shared, your son has many of the gifts associated with dyslexic brains. An educational assessment will help you find the best approach to helping your son develop these critical literacy skills.