Dyslexia has historically been considered a developmental reading disorder. But parents, teachers, and other children’s caregivers may be interested to know that new research suggests that assumption may be inaccurate.

According to a new report in Current Biology, dyslexia is not specifically a reading problem. This common learning disability appears to be instead a problem with visual attention.

The report in Current Biology describes a study conducted with preschool-aged children. Though the study was small, the results indicate that dyslexic children find it difficult to filter out unnecessary cues under several circumstances, not just when reading. The children studied were tested on reading and also how well they could name colors, remember a list of objects, and accomplish a visual attention test similar to a Where’s Waldo? activity. The children who were diagnosed as dyslexic found it hard to sift out unnecessary cues from their field of attention, whether they were attempting to read a book or interpret a picture.

To help children who have trouble reading because of dyslexia, the researchers propose that treatment might better focus on developing abilities to identify and focus on the relevant parts of a text or illustration rather than on phonics training.

Identifying the symptoms of dyslexia early may well help preschoolers improve the visual attention skills they need to be able to read. If parents, teachers, and other caregivers can help dyslexic preschoolers develop the ability to focus on the relevant parts of a story or picture, this skill will protect them from falling behind later.