What Is Dyslexia?

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Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, representing 80% to 90% of learning disabilities in children. As many as 1 in 5 children has dyslexia.

Dyslexia is neurologically-based and unrelated to intelligence. It affects the way the brain processes information, making it harder to read fluently and accurately.

People with dyslexia are often fast and creative thinkers and have strong reasoning skills.

Read on to learn more about what it means to live with dyslexia.

A young boy looks frustrated as he does his homework. His mother helps his sister with her homework in the background.

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Symptoms Of Dyslexia

Signs of dyslexia can appear in children as young as preschool.

Preschool

Symptoms of dyslexia in preschool include:

  • Difficulty learning/remembering alphabet letter names
  • Not recognizing rhyming patterns such as cat, bat, rat
  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes
  • Not recognizing the letters in their name
  • Mispronouncing familiar words
  • Persistently using “baby talk”
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Trouble learning left from right
  • Having a speech delay

Early School

In kindergarten and first grade, children with dyslexia may:

  • Make reading errors not connected to the sounds of the letters on the page (such as saying "kitten" when the written word is "cat" on an illustrated page)
  • Not understand that words "come apart"
  • Be unable to sound out words, including simple ones like dog, cat, sit
  • Not associate letters with their sounds, such as "buh" with the letter B
  • Complain about and avoid reading

Grade Two Through High School

School-age children with dyslexia may:

  • Be slow to learn reading skills
  • Appear not to have a strategy for reading new words
  • Have difficulty reading unfamiliar words, often guessing when they can't sound them out
  • Mix up the letters in a word, such as seeing "now" instead of "won," or "left" as "felt"
  • Find words may blend together, and spaces are lost
  • Read slowly and awkwardly
  • Find reading exhausting
  • Avoid reading out loud
  • Have difficulty remembering what they have read/find it easier to remember the same information when they hear it than when they read it
  • Have trouble taking notes or copying from the board
  • Find word problems in math difficult
  • Use vague language when speaking, such as “stuff” or “thing,” when they are unable to recall the specific word
  • Pause, hesitate, and/or use lots of “um’s” when speaking
  • Mix up words that sound alike when speaking, such as saying “tornado” when they mean “volcano,” or using “lotion” for “ocean”
  • Mispronounce long, unfamiliar, or complex words
  • Take longer to verbally respond to questions
  • Have spelling difficulties
  • Not finish tests or assignments on time, and struggle with multiple-choice tests
  • Sacrifice social life for studying
  • Have messy handwriting
  • Have trouble memorizing things like names, dates, lists, and phone numbers
  • Have great difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Have difficulty with directions (right, left, up, down) and reading maps
  • Struggle to learn telling time
  • Have trouble with multi-step directions
  • Have difficulty decoding logos and signs

Dyslexia Affects Children Emotionally Too

Children with dyslexia can become incredibly frustrated with their difficulties, which can affect their mood and ability to manage emotions.

They may also struggle with self-esteem, thinking there is something wrong with them or that they are not smart and capable. This is especially true for kids with dyslexia who are undiagnosed and don't know the reason behind their struggles.

Adulthood

Young adults and adults with dyslexia may:

  • Still require great effort to read and do so at a slow pace, including books, manuals, subtitles, and other materials
  • Rarely read for fun
  • Avoid reading out loud
  • Continue to struggle with speaking fluently, having trouble retrieving words ("tip of my tongue" moments)
  • Mispronounce names of people and places, stumble over parts of words, and avoid saying words they may have trouble with
  • Have trouble remembering the names of people and confusing names that sound alike
  • Respond slowly in conversations, and dislike being put on the spot
  • Have a spoken vocabulary that is smaller than their listening vocabulary
  • Have difficulty performing rote clerical tasks

Strengths Associated With People With Dyslexia

Dyslexia isn't all about difficulties. People with dyslexia often show strengths such as:

  • Great curiosity, imagination, and thinking skills
  • A great ability to figure things out, embrace new ideas, and understand new concepts
  • Maturity
  • A larger and more sophisticated understanding of vocabulary when listening than most kids their age
  • Enjoy and are good at solving puzzles and building models
  • Excellent comprehension of stories that are read or told to them
  • Excel in areas that don't depend on reading, such as math, computers, and visual arts
  • High capacity and desire to learn
  • Exceptional empathy and warmth
  • Talent at high-level conceptualization and coming up with original insights
  • Ability to think outside the box/see the big picture
  • Remarkably resilient and able to adapt

Causes of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is believed to be caused by neurobiological and genetic factors.

Dyslexia is hereditary. It's very common for a person with dyslexia to have close and/or extended family members who have it too.

About 40% of people who have a sibling with dyslexia also have reading difficulties. Up to 49% of parents of kids with dyslexia also have dyslexia.

Researchers have identified genes that are linked to reading and language processing difficulties. These genes can be passed down through families.

Anatomical and brain imagery studies also show differences in how the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions.

How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

The current recommendation is that children with dyslexia should be identified and start interventions by third grade in order to catch up in reading and comprehension skills. Several experts, including the International Dyslexia Association, believe screenings for children who may be at risk for reading difficulties such as dyslexia should begin in kindergarten.

Earlier identification and interventions could mean preventing children with dyslexia from falling behind, and the related self-esteem issues that come with it.

When a child is identified as having reading difficulties, an evaluation process takes place. The purpose of the evaluation is three-fold:

  • Diagnosis: Ruling out other common causes of reading difficulties and determining if the student fits the profile of dyslexia
  • Intervention planning: Helps parents and teachers see which specific skills need help and where instruction should begin
  • Documentation: Documenting the history of the child's learning disability helps determine eligibility for special services, including special education, and for obtaining accommodations on college entrance exams, in college, or the workplace

An evaluation for dyslexia may include:

  • A physical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out any medical causes for the difficulties
  • Standardized tests, administered by a school psychologist or learning specialist, that measure language, reading, spelling, and writing abilities
  • A test of thinking ability (IQ test), but not always
  • Further testing if there are other concerns such as focusing difficulties

Some researchers suggest an alternative approach to formal testing in which educators use a tiered system to monitor the progress of students.

Tier one involves "quality first" teaching in mainstream classes, often adapted for the children in the class who learn more slowly. Children who struggle in tier one participate in tier two, involving a small group or catch-up program. Children who continue to have difficulties in tier two move to tier three, which offers individualized intervention. Within this approach, children are offered support as soon as they show a need rather than waiting to fulfill diagnostic criteria.

A parent may also choose to have their child privately evaluated by a psychologist, reading specialist, speech and language therapist, neuropsychologist, educational evaluator, or school psychologist.

Is Dyslexia Related to Vision?

One misconception about dyslexia is that it is a vision problem. While a child with trouble reading may be evaluated for vision problems to determine if that is the cause of their difficulties, dyslexia is not related to vision.

How Is Dyslexia Treated?

Programs aimed at interventions for dyslexia typically include features such as:

  • Multi-sensory instruction in decoding skills
  • Repetition and review of skills
  • Intensity of intervention (more than being pulled out of class once a week for extra help)
  • Individual instruction or instruction in small groups
  • Sight word drills
  • Teaching comprehension strategies

Work with your child's teachers and other educational partners to find an appropriate reading program or other resources that can help them find a path to better learning.

Accommodations for Students With Dyslexia

Children with dyslexia are entitled to accommodation at school to help meet their needs. These may include:

  • Extra time on tests
  • A quiet workspace
  • The option to record lectures
  • The option to give verbal answers instead of written
  • Exemption from reading out loud in class
  • Listening to audiobooks as an alternative to reading
  • Using a computer or tablet instead of writing by hand
  • Exemption from learning foreign languages

What Is the Prognosis for Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, but with the right supports it can be managed well. People with dyslexia who receive the help they need can thrive.

Coping With Dyslexia

Helping your child feel good about themselves is very important, especially for a child with dyslexia who may be struggling. Encourage activities they enjoy and excel at such as sports, music, or any activity that makes them feel good.

As a parent or guardian, ways you can help your child with dyslexia include:

  • Read to and with your child: This helps develop vocabulary, comprehension, and interest.
  • Make time for silent reading: Encourage periods where your child reads alone to themselves. You can even make it a family affair where all of you take a break for some individual reading time.
  • Read it again: It may be the 20th time you have read this particular book, but reading books your child enjoys on repeat helps reinforce their understanding as they become familiar with the text.
  • Have fun: Reading is already frustrating for children with dyslexia without it being a task or a chore. Find ways to increase enjoyment such as creating a comfortable space for them to read, providing positive encouragement, and choosing reading materials and subjects your child enjoys.

Summary

Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes reading difficulties. People with dyslexia have trouble decoding words and processing information related to reading.

Early intervention for children with dyslexia can help with learning to read, adapting in school, and feeling self-confident.

With support, people with dyslexia can thrive.

A Word From Verywell

If your child is showing signs of difficulties related to reading, it's a good idea to have a chat with their healthcare provider or their educators. All children learn at different paces, and struggling with reading is not always something to worry about. However, looking into what may be causing their difficulties can mean that early interventions can be started. With proper support, kids with dyslexia can do well in school and thrive into adulthood.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health 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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