What is Dyslexia?

A Simple Definition

If you start researching the word dyslexia, you’ll find many definitions. Here’s a very basic definition we like.

“…dyslexia: a reading difficulty in a child or adult who otherwise has good intelligence, strong motivation and adequate schooling.” This comes from Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Basically, dyslexia is a difficulty in reading that’s unexpected for the person’s age, intelligence and education level.

Nothing that will make a botton turn, nothing that makes us fly, nothing that makes us hate you, Nothing contaguse, nothing realli bad, nothing horrifing..
Somthing that is frusterating for us, Somthing that afects us not you, Somthing that makes reading hard…
It Called Dyslexia,
not contaguse,
Not stupid,
Is hard,
Is kind,
Is smat………
—post from a Facebook dyslexia group

A Detailed Definition

Here is the very detailed definition adopted by the IDA (International Dyslexia Association) Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological 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.”

Dyslexia and Language-Based Learning Difficulty

Sometimes you might hear a subtle distinction between dyslexia and “language-based learning difficulty.” Some people might use the names interchangeably, and maybe it makes no difference what it’s called as long as the child is getting help. But if you really want to know…Dr. Shaywitz writes that the primary problem with developmental dyslexia is phonologic weakness. The reading problem stems from decoding individual words, and the child’s comprehension may be high. A language-based learning difficulty affects all aspects of language, including the sounds of words and their meanings. This includes difficulty with both decoding and comprehension.

There are also forms of dyslexia known as acquired dyslexia, which is caused by brain injury or stroke, and hyperlexia, in which a child has very poor reading comprehension but an early, very strong ability to decode words (sort of the opposite of developmental dyslexia).

Characteristics of Dyslexia

Here are some signs that may point to dyslexia if your child shows more than a few of these.

  • Strong thinking skills but very slow to progress in reading
  • Strong understanding of anything read aloud
  • Strong oral vocabulary
  • Family history of dyslexia
  • Delayed speaking
  • Pronounciation difficulties and “babytalk”
  • Can’t rhyme
  • Can’t come up with the right word (on the tip of my tongue)
  • Difficulty learning letter names and sounds
  • Can’t read or sound out small words: the, that, cat
  • Makes wild guesses about words
  • Relies heavily on context and guesses the word
  • Poor spelling
  • Poor handwriting
  • Trouble remembering phone numbers, names, etc.
  • Fear of reading aloud; slow, labored oral reading
  • Trouble with math word problems
  • Asks you to read the homework
  • Reading is exhausting

What Does Dyslexia Look Like?

Boys or girls. Even though boys are more likely to be identified as dyslexic, research says that dyslexia affects boys and girls equally. The boys are more likely to show their frustration in physical ways that get them noticed, whereas girls may sit quietly while their problems go unnoticed.

My mind was raining, my haert was raceing, my hands were shacking, all i could think of was how Enbaressed i was to stand and try to read it in front of the class, i knew this was a bad mistake!!!!,
your lonly and scared,
Lou lou
—post from a Facebook dyslexia group

Self Conscious. Kids with dyslexia are self-conscious about their difficulties. They may be terrified when asked to come to the board or read aloud. They are understandably frustrated and may suffer from low self esteem. Younger kids will protest or even hide when it’s reading time.

Smart and original. Kids with dyslexia are often strong conceptual thinkers. They’re big-picture people with outside-the-box ideas. They learn best through meaning rather than memorization. They excel in areas that aren’t dependent on reading, such as math and the arts. They do well in highly specialized careers such as law, medicine and architecture.

Dyslexia is Not

  • Seeing letters backwards
  • Reversing written letters like b and d; many non-dyslexic beginning writers also reverse letters
  • Being left-handed
  • Being clumsy or uncoordinated
  • Laziness

Identification & Teaching

I am proud of my dyslexia; I see it as my gift and not a challenge. My parents were told by my third grade teacher that I would never go to college, but now I am working on my second degree and have a GPA of 3.5. Had it not been for my parents telling me that I can do whatever I set my mind to I would not have done as much as I have. For parents of dyslexic children give them all your love and teach them to hold their head up even when the world pushes them down. I hope one day that everyone with dyslexia will look at it not as a learning disability but as a gift that helps me see the world around you differently than most other people ever get to.
—post from a Facebook dyslexia group

Dyslexics Can Become Good Readers!

Don’t let dyslexia hold you back! Kids can overcome the challenges of dyslexia and have great careers in demanding fields such as medicine, law, engineering, and many, many others. These creative kids might just grow up to be award-winning actors, inventors and artists like these other famous dyslexics…

Effective Reading Instruction

There are scientifically based, proven methods to successfully teach reading to kids with dyslexia. They can become accurate, fluent readers if they receive early, effective intervention. There are several successful, well-know reading programs for dyslexics. They include the structured, systematic, multi-sensory programs such as Orton-Gillingham, Wilson Reading System and Linda-Mood Bell. Your teacher may already be using reading tools in the classroom that are based on one of these multi-sensory teaching methods, or you may find a tutor who is specially trained to teach these methods.

Timeframe for Remediation

The optimum “window” for remediating dyslexia is up to age ten when the brain is still being wired. The earlier it starts, the quicker she will be able to catch up. Older kids and adults can also learn to read or improve their reading ability, but it just takes longer. Without remediation, the gap in reading ability will continue to widen over the years as the dyslexic reader progresses slowly and her classmates progress rapidly.

… how do they get 7 -8 a good age to be diagnosed because my mom picked up alot when i was in kinder i was 5 the teacher told her no that i would be fine and if my moms instinc didnt tell her get her tested i dont know what would have been of me because i was diagnosed 5 going to 6 and i was 8 still no writing and no reading and was getting proper help So this kindA conserns me …
—post from a Facebook dyslexia group

Often, kids with dyslexia are not identified until they’re several years into school, when they begin to show signs of struggle. These smart, creative kids “fall through the cracks” and go unidentified because they develop excellent compensatory skills—like memorizing a reading passage—to compensate for (or hide) their weaknesses. The teacher might not even know the child can barely read.

These kids may hit the wall around second or third grade (7 to 8 years old) when there’s a shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” The reading burden becomes too heavy for the children’s skills. They can no longer rely on memorization. They have to know how to decode words. These kids are working at a disadvantage since the problem gets detected so late. It will take them much longer to catch up than the child who is identified early.

It’s Never Too Early

Early identification and preventive education are very important. The earlier the child begins to work on overcoming dyslexia, the faster he will learn. Kids can be tested and identified as early as three years old, and certainly can be identified in kindergarten. If you suspect something is not quite right, don’t put it off. Follow your hunch. Learn the signs of dyslexia and find out about assessment and testing.

Do People Outgrow Dyslexia?

No. They learn to overcome it. Studies have proven it’s not a result of a developmental lag. The right kind of teaching can greatly increase the ability to read and do well in school, especially if begun at a young age. But if not addressed, the dyslexic reader will never catch up, and the reading struggle will continue throughout adulthood.

The Science of Dyslexia

There is visible scientific evidence of dyslexia. Functional MRI (fMRI) images have documented that dyslexic individuals process information in a different area of the brain (the parieto-temporal and frontal pathways) than do skilled readers (occipito-temporal pathway). It has been likened to driving; good readers use an automatic transmission that allows them to read quickly and easily, word by word, while dyslexic readers use a different part of the brain to manually piece together sounds and letters to form words. There is also visible proof that dyslexic readers can overcome their challenges; fMRI images taken after successful remediation show that the brain has “rewired” itself to read with the appropriate part of the brain.

Famous People with Dyslexia

Some very famous, talented and successful people are said to have (or had) dyslexia.

  • Inventors Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Leonardo da Vinci
  • Sir Issac Newton
  • Finance guru Charles Schwab
  • Nobel Prize winner Carol Greider
  • Cartoonists Scott Adams (Dilbert) and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants)
  • Many actors including Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Whoopie Goldberg, Kiera Knightley, Liv Tyler, Billy Bob Thornton, Robin Williams and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler
  • Singers Cher, John Lennon and Britney Spears
  • Photographer Ansel Adams
  • Artists Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh and Auguste Rodin
  • George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy
  • Walt Disney
  • General George Patton
  • Steven Spielberg