Warning Signs of Dyslexia


It’s important to keep in mind that if your child attends a Fairfax County Public School, the Development Reading Assessment (DRA) is used to measure reading progress. A child may be “reading” at grade level and still show many of these warning signs (read more about my son’s example). Many teachers are not familiar with dyslexia and have not received training in identifying students with this different brain wiring.

If a child has 3 or more of the following warning signs, learn more by visiting the website below.

  • Dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read)
  • Letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
  • Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading:
    – skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
    – ignores suffixes
    – can’t sound out unknown words
  • Terrible spelling
  • Often can’t remember sight words (they, were, does) or homonyms (their, they’re, and there)
  • Trouble with math
    – memorizing multiplication tables
    – memorizing a sequence of steps
    – directionality

Reprinted with prior permission from Susan Barton.

Schedule a free phone consultation with me to discuss your student’s situation.

Setting up for remote tutoring

I purchased a Logitech h390 USB headset from Amazon and find that it works well.

Make sure that you have Google Chrome, since Whizzimo is built specifically for Chrome.

The next step will be to download the free video conferencing software. Please visit Zoom and register (by filling out your email and clicking “Sign up, its free” button). Walk through the registration steps including the one where you start a test meeting. This step makes sure that the software is installed and working. If you have trouble setting it all up, I can have my software developer husband help you get it working before the first lesson. (He’s a real geek and loves this stuff… and he’s dyslexic, too.)

Finally, it’s also important that you have a fast Internet connection. Google provides an excellent speed test that gives you an informative, simple message at the end about your speed. If you find that your speed is slow, let me know and my husband can provide assistance with ideas to try for improvement.

Does Handwriting Instruction Still Matter?

One of the key attributes of the Barton Reading & Spelling System, and any reputable Orton-Gillingham program for dyslexia remediation, is that it simultaneously engages several of the five senses. Handwriting Without Tears uses a similar approach, for print and cursive instruction. Since many dyslexic students have poor handwriting and find writing by hand to be tedious, some parents may wonder, why bother with it at all?

While he was in preschool, my dyslexic son had virtually no interest in writing. This was a marked contrast to his older sister, who was highly motivated to write her name at age four while attending the same preschool. By the time he attended kindergarten, the issue seemed to be resolved and he could print clearly, although it was a laborious process that he wanted to avoid whenever possible. I also noticed that his use of upper and lowercase letters was inconsistent. He often forgot to capitalize the first word of the sentence and proper names, but would randomly use capitals when they weren’t needed.

Once his dyslexia was identified in 2013 before he started second grade, my focus was on remediating his difficulties with reading and spelling. This emphasis continued in third grade when he was homeschooled for the first time.

Starting in fourth grade (2015-16), I decided to teach him cursive with the HWT program, and to my surprise, he easily picked it up and even seemed to enjoy it! During his Barton lessons, he wanted to practice his cursive technique while spelling words on paper. And to help reinforce those spelling sight words, we often used the Wet-Dry Try technique. He would first write the word in chalk, saying each letter as he wrote it. Then, using a small square of damp sponge, he would erase each letter as he said it. Finally, using a small piece of paper towel, he would trace over the  wet “letters.”

The advantages of this multi-sensory technique came to light when he had to memorize a monologue about a fictitious boy who lived during the Middle Ages. Memorization is a difficult task for dyslexics so I helped my son apply multisensory strategies to the task. He wrote one line of the monologue three times each week in cursive. Once it was finished, he would read it out loud. By the time his performance day arrived, he had the whole monologue memorized and he accomplished this without struggle.

There is debate about whether or not cursive instruction matters anymore. My daughter received very little instruction at the end of third grade. It is thrown in briefly once Standards of Learning (SOL) testing is finished. It is not considered a priority in our public schools. Until I taught her the HWT method, she routinely printed and believed it was faster.

According to Suzanne Baruch Asheron, an occupational therapist and national presenter for HWT in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times, April 30, 2013,  “In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.”

Although experts disagree on whether cursive instruction matters, there is evidence that typing on a keyboard and writing by hand are not equal. The current lack of handwriting instruction in our public schools is concerning.  Researchers from France investigated the issue and what they discovered is compelling.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. They repeated the experiment on adults, teaching them Bengali or Tamil characters. The results were much the same as with the children.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory,” Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.” (Read more here.)

In fact, France has taken the opposite approach of the United States. In the early 2000s, the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive when students enter primary schools at age six. Drawing on the neurosciences, French education experts have recognized that handwriting instruction is part of a key step in cognitive development.

The priority for dyslexic students is always to first bring their reading and spelling skills up to grade level. Adding a multi-sensory handwriting program like HWT, may also provide unexpected benefits and is worth strong consideration.

Why I pulled my dyslexic son out of Fairfax County Public Schools

Testimony to FCPS Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities, given Wednesday May 13, 2015 at 7:30pm.

My name is Kimberly Downey and my narrative describes why I decided to remove my dyslexic son from the FCPS system at the end of 2nd grade and homeschool him.

I hired a dyslexia specialist, who is also a certified elementary /special education teacher with 16 years of experience, to screen Garrett for dyslexia in July 2013, after he completed first grade. I had serious concerns about his poor spelling and how reading exhausted him.

Although my husband and I met with our son’s teacher before he started 2nd grade, the results of Garrett’s private screening, which clearly showed weakness in phonological awareness, were ignored. Garrett was not doing poorly enough and because the DRA showed him supposedly reading at grade level, there was NOTHING that would be done. In fact, the principal told me that it was very unlikely that a committee hearing would be granted based on his grades and scores.

My son had many challenges in a traditional classroom and was pegged a behavior problem from kindergarten on. The teacher, who he had for 2 CONSECUTIVE years (first & second grade), and has a Masters degree in Reading, but no experience with recognizing the warning signs of dyslexia, didn’t believe there was an issue. When presented with the screening results, she simply shrugged her shoulders and then questioned the specialist’s credentials!

My request to pull him out of FLES, so that I could tutor him for 45 minutes in a multi-sensory, Orton-Gillingham influenced phonics program, and then have him return to class to finish his school day, was DENIED. There is much credible data that shows if a student struggles in his native language, learning to read and write in a foreign language is an exercise in futility.

I am now tutoring 2 students with the Barton Reading & Spelling system and will take the levels 1-3 certification exam in July, administered by Susan Barton. Recently, I checked the list of FCPS approved tutors to find out who else might be providing this type of instruction. Of 36 pages of names, only 2 individuals wrote in the comments field that they were trained in multisensory reading and spelling approaches.

Garrett can now read and accurately spell words such as obscure, diligence, and consequential. He will be 10 in July and I am certain, this WOULD NOT have been the case if I kept him in our neighborhood school.

Considering that the foundational research for multisensory structured language teaching was developed in the late 1930s and has been proven highly effective, it is shocking that the 10th largest system in the US, is woefully underserving the needs of 20 percent of its dyslexic student population.

Thank you.

ADDENDUM – email correspondence with Garrett’s teacher.


There are no official fall benchmarks.  I actually just DRAed a bunch of kids today.  Garrett did well.  He passed the 14.  16 is end of first grade benchmark.  He is really good at using his strategies.  He tries different ones which is awesome.  Where he struggles a little is with his fluency.  Sometimes it takes him  a while to decode new words, so that affects his fluency.  What is great is that he almost always gets the words through the strategies he tries.  I tried the level 16 with him and he could not pass the fluency portion due to the length it is taking him to decode.  He and I talked about this because he has a lot of great strategies.  I think it is just a matter of reading more.  He needs to be reading the books I send home and other books at his level and this will greatly improve his fluency!


As for the DRA…Mrs. ——, the reading teacher administered it.  Garrett passed the 20 with only 2 errors and gave a great retell.  He went on to pass the level 24.  The next level is 28 which is end of second grade benchmark, so he is well above that now.  He is really doing great in reading and writing!


And…G has been bringing Diary of a Whimpy Kid to school.  While he is doing awesome in reading, this book is not Just Right for him.  It is a DRA level 40.  He is a level 24/28.  So…if you could make sure he doesn’t bring it to school it will be one less battle for me!  He has started reading Magic Tree house, which I think he will really like!