What Is Dyslexia?

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What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability commonly characterized by reading struggles. People who have dyslexia find it difficult to connect the letters they see on the page with the sounds that the letters make. As such, they often have difficulty blending letter sounds to form words, and may have trouble with learning to read, spelling, and reading fluency.

However, there are other features of dyslexia aside from reading difficulty. Dyslexia can make it difficult for someone to speak about the same topic for a sustained period of time, understand and follow directions, and repeat words in the proper order. It can also make it challenging for someone to express ideas in an organized way.

People with dyslexia may struggle to understand, learn, and use new words. The symptoms of dyslexia can lead to trouble with building self-esteem as well as difficulty reading or speaking with confidence.

Importantly, people with dyslexia do not have below-average intelligence—it’s just that they have trouble with reading. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 20% of the population.

Most people are diagnosed with dyslexia as children; with early detection and proper support, most treatment can be effective. Still, dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability that requires management and support.

Signs of Dyslexia

Everybody experiences dyslexia a little differently, but the main signs of dyslexia have to do with difficulty processing letters and their sounds, sounding out words on the page, and reading with ease and fluidity. People with dyslexia may also have trouble with writing and speaking, or any kind of language processing.

The way dyslexia presents also varies according to how old you are. Let’s take a look at common dyslexia signs, by age group.

Preschool

  • Trouble learning the letters of the alphabet
  • Trouble remembering and recognizing rhymes, such as in nursery rhymes
  • Doesn’t recognize the letters in their name

Kindergarten and First Grade

  • Has trouble sounding out simple words like “sat” and “tap”
  • Has difficulty recognizing sight words
  • Struggles to connect letters with their sounds
  • May show resistance when reading time comes up at school

Second Grade Through High School

  • Has a lower than average reading level, despite having a normal intelligence level
  • Reads with difficulty and tries to avoid reading
  • Doesn’t feel comfortable reading out loud
  • Has trouble sounding out unfamiliar words

Adults

  • Can read, but with more effort than most people
  • Reading is a slow, tedious process
  • Doesn’t enjoy reading for pleasure

Diagnosis of Dyslexia

You can get diagnosed and treated for dyslexia at any time in life. However, the earlier you are diagnosed, the easier it may be to treat. Typically, children who are struggling with reading in elementary school are evaluated for dyslexia. Often, their parents or teachers notice symptoms that may indicate dyslexia.

Diagnosis of dyslexia is usually done by a licensed educational psychologist. There are no blood tests or medical evaluations needed to diagnose dyslexia. Instead, evaluative tests are used. These tests look at a person’s ability to decode words, read fluently, spell, and recognize words. Writing and speaking skills may also be evaluated.

Examples of tests used to diagnose dyslexia include:

  • Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS)
  • AIMSweb screening assessments
  • Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR)
  • Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI)

Causes of Dyslexia

Researchers aren’t sure what causes dyslexia. But many people who have dyslexia also have family members with it, and experts believe certain genes may be involved in the development of dyslexia. Studies have found that people with dyslexia have brain differences that may affect their ability to process letters, words, and language.

Treatment for Dyslexia

There is no medication that can treat dyslexia. Instead, people with dyslexia may benefit by working with a learning specialist who can offer them strategies for managing their condition.

Children who attend school will likely need to get an IEP (individualized educational plan) that will ensure they get the proper services in school. Parents will often have to work alongside school officials and school staff to get this plan in place.

Once your child has an IEP, your child will be entitled by law to receive special services at school. These may include extra time on exams and homework and instruction from a reading and dyslexia specialist. It’s important to be an advocate for your child’s needs and to work in coordination with your child’s school so that what is taught at school is also implemented and reinforced at home.

Coping With Dyslexia

Noticing that your child is struggling with reading can come as an emotional gut punch, and you might feel stressed about your child’s future if you find out that they have dyslexia.

Reminder

It’s important to keep in mind that having dyslexia doesn’t mean that your child lacks intelligence; it’s simply that their brain processes letters and decodes words with more difficulty than others.

Getting your child a diagnosis is an important first step: it means that they will now begin to get the help they need so reading is less of a struggle.

Supporting your child emotionally is just as important as getting them the services they need to manage their disability. Many children with dyslexia struggle with self-esteem issues. They may compare themselves to other children, and find it frustrating and humiliating that they can’t keep up with their peers.

Presenting your child with the idea that dyslexia is not their fault, and has no bearing on their intelligence or ability to succeed in life, can be empowering. It can also be helpful to build up your child’s confidence by finding other activities that they excel at, such as sports, art, or technology.

If you are just learning that you have dyslexia as an adult, you may feel many emotions at first, including guilt or shame. But the truth is that you have likely struggled all your life with reading, and may have thought you were simply not motivated enough to do better.

Understanding that your challenges were caused by a disability can be freeing and can put your academic struggles in perspective.

If you have further questions or concerns about dyslexia, or need extra support, please contact your healthcare provider, a learning specialist, or an educational psychologist who specializes in learning disabilities.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Signs of dyslexia.

  3. Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. What is Dyslexia?

  4. Nemours Children's Health. Understanding Dyslexia.

  5. Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Signs of Dyslexia.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Dyslexia.

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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.