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Simply put, dyslexia is a brain difference that makes it difficult to learn to read, write and spell. Here is the official definition of dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association:
"Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge."
- Delayed speech and/or speech articulation problems
- Mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words (aminal for animal, bisghetti for spaghetti)
- Confuses left and right
- Late establishing a dominant hand
- Difficulty learning to tie shoes
- Trouble remembering letter names and sounds
- Trouble learning to count
- Can’t create words that rhyme
- Slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read (dysgraphia)
- Letter and/or number reversals past the end of first grade
- Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
- Skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
- Ignores suffixes (word endings)
- Can’t remember sight words or homonyms (there/their/they're)
- Terrible spelling
- Difficulty telling time on a clock with hands
- Trouble memorizing math facts
- Trouble memorizing a sequence of steps
- Directionally confused (left/right, up/down, etc.)
- When speaking, can't find the right words - common words and phrases come out wrong
- Dreads going to school
- Stomach aches, headaches or other physical complaints
- Frustration, depression and/or anxiety
In High School - the previous symptoms plus:
- Limited vocabulary
- Very poor written expression
- Large difference between verbal skills and written work
- Difficulty mastering a foreign language
- Difficulty reading printed music
- Poor grades in many classes
- May drop out of high school
- Slow reader
- May have to read a page 2 or 3 times to understand it
- Poor speller
- Difficulty putting thoughts into words
- Dreads writing memos, letters, emails, etc.
- Still has difficulty with right vs. left
- Often gets lost, even in a familiar city
- Sometimes confuses b and d, especially when tired or sick
While some people with dyslexia may get the direction of letters and numbers confused, they don't actually see them backwards. People with dyslexia typically have trouble with directionality. They get confused about left vs. right, up vs. down, b vs. d, etc. Some people with dyslexia have visual processing problems - such as eye tracking and convergence - but those problems are not a defining feature of dyslexia. Reversing letters and numbers when writing is considered developmentally normal through the end of first grade.
Dyslexia is caused by differences in how the brain processes language. These differences are believed to be hereditary. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011), if a person has dyslexia, approximately 40% of their parents, siblings and children will also have it. It is important to understand that dyslexia is not caused by lack of intelligence or lack of effort. New research (Gaab 2012, Gaab 2016) indicates that brain differences in people with a family history of dyslexia are present very early in life - before they begin school.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011), 80% of people with learning disabilities have dyslexia. The AAP states that dyslexia affects 5-20% of all people. The variance in prevalence statistics is due to the fact that dyslexia exists on a continuum (ranging from mild, moderate, severe and profound), and researchers may use different cutoffs for diagnosis.
About 5% of the school population nationwide has a learning disability in reading that qualifies them for special education. Many more people—perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Even though they may not qualify for special education, they still struggle with many aspects of academic learning.
No. Dyslexia is caused by differences in the brain, not by a lack of development or maturity - so symptoms do not go away just because a child grows up. Kids with dyslexia grow up to be adults with dyslexia. The good news is that people with dyslexia can learn to read, write and spell when appropriate interventions and support are provided. After working to overcome these challenges early in life, many people with dyslexia learn to appreciate their unique strengths.
Yes! Dyslexia occurs in people of all levels of intelligence. Many people are surprised to learn this - because as young children we associate learning to read with being smart. In fact, reading ability has nothing to do with intelligence. Some of the brightest and most creative minds have dyslexia - such as filmmaker Steven Spielberg, author Agatha Christie, actor Henry Winkler, and many more.
Teachers (including general education teachers, reading specialists and special education teachers) often receive no to very little training on dyslexia in their teacher preparation programs. As a result, many Oregon families whose children demonstrate characteristics of dyslexia are struggling to secure effective reading instruction for their children within public and private schools.
Studies show that individuals with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than do non-dyslexics. Check out this video:
Typically the signs of dyslexia are right beneath the surface. This graphic shows the hidden disability: Dyslexia.
Credit: Lexercise, creator of a free online dyslexia test.