Q: I think my 4-year-old son might have dyslexia; my dad had it. How can I be sure, and what should I do if he does?

— Sebrina W., Salinas, Calif.

A: Dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder, is an information-processing problem in the brain that makes it difficult to interpret language and symbols, such as letters. It does run in families. But it doesn't have to limit your child's future success and happiness. Whoopi Goldberg, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Dr. Toby Cosgrove (cardiac surgeon and CEO of Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic) are just a few high achievers who have struggled with the condition.

Not long ago, the conventional wisdom about testing a child for reading problems was to wait until second grade (age 8), because that's when reading skills get up to speed — or not — and when dyslexia could be diagnosed.

Things have changed. Studies show it's possible to identify children as young as 3 who are at risk for dyslexia, and the chance of a child succeeding is much greater if he or she receives early treatment!

Simple visual attention tasks that ask a child to pick out certain symbols and filter relevant from irrelevant information can indicate processing problems. And MRIs can help confirm a diagnosis by identifying differences in brain activity in regions that detect and discriminate between speech sounds, which seem to be precursors to reading problems.

What to look for: Before heading to the doctor or specialist to explore testing options, take time to note your child's behaviors. Then let your health care provider know if your child:

has problems getting dressed, like consistently buttoning up wrong or putting shoes on the wrong feet;

misstates the names of colors — saying green is yellow and blue is red;

confuses under/over and up/down;

has problems with games that other kids his age find easy to grasp;

enjoys hearing stories but isn't interested in printed letters or words.

If you decide that your child should be evaluated for dyslexia, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitle your child to a free evaluation to determine whether he qualifies for special support or even an individualized education program tailored especially for a learning-disabled student. Similar provisions exist in Canada.

Q: My 6-year-old's best friend always plays at our house; now I know why she does. I went into her home and discovered that it's overflowing with boxes, newspapers and bags full of purchases that have never been opened. What's going on, and what can I do?

— Anonymous

A: Homer and Langley Collyer were perhaps the first famous hoarders, discovered in New York City in the early 1900s. Today, TV shows trumpet the mental disorder as entertainment, but it is not. It's a potentially life-threatening problem, and demands intervention, especially when children are affected.

Fire, disease, stacked objects falling and mental distress all are ever-present dangers. Try contacting others in her family and see if they're aware of what's going on.

Hoarding is likely a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The parents may think they're saving things that they'll need later or that have a future value, or they may have emotional significance.

The girl and her family can talk with a mental-health provider, who may help change the parents' thinking about possessions, desensitize them to the loss, and help improve decision-making skills. It can take time, but progress can be made.

In the meantime, you may want to keep the kids playing at your house (you are really doing a good thing) and, if you think the child is in danger, perhaps contact local authorities, such as police, fire or public health and welfare agencies.

The sooner you can bring attention to the problem, the better. Your kid's friend and her parents will be much better off in the long run; they may even thank you.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.

© Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

Dist. by King Features Syndicate, Inc.