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No matter how you started on the path to learning more about dyslexia, we are all walking together. By promoting structured literacy through research, education, and advocacy, we hope we can answer some questions for you along the way.

What is Dyslexia?

The formal definition of dyslexia is:

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 the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

What does that mean exactly?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability characterized by a cluster of symptoms that impact specific language skills, particularly reading. Dyslexic learners often struggle to identify the individual speech sounds within words and understand how letters represent these sounds. This difficulty with phonemic awareness and letter-sound correspondence is a primary factor in their reading challenges. They may experience difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment. In its more severe forms, dyslexia will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, and/or extra support services.

What does Dyslexia look like?

Some of the common signs of dyslexia in children…

(Note that few dyslexics exhibit all the potential signs.)

  • has creative ideas but struggles to put them into writing
  • able to read, but it is labored, and it takes a long time
  • has great difficulty sounding out new/unknown words
  • works so hard to study for a spelling test, but cannot retain the words the following week
  • is behind grade level in reading and/or spelling
  • takes a very long time to handwrite, even when copying
  • dreads going to school
  • has difficulty speaking when trying to find the right words; says “thingies” or “whatever-you-call-it”
  • struggled to create rhymes
  • confuses left and right
  • took a long time to learn to tie shoes or can’t yet
  • has one or both parents who struggled in school
  • cannot memorize simple things like addresses, phone numbers, and basic math facts

If several of the above sound familiar…they may be signs of dyslexia. Take the steps to learn more!

Characteristics of Dyslexia Change Over Time

Preschool Years

  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes, such as “Jack and Jill”
  • Difficulty learning (and remembering) the names of letters in the alphabet
  • Seems unable to recognize letters in his/her own name
  • Mispronounces familiar words; persistent “baby talk”
  • Doesn’t recognize rhyming patterns like catbatrat
  • A family history of reading and/or spelling difficulties (dyslexia often runs in families)

© Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, p. 122

Elementary School Years

  • Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page—will say “puppy” instead of the written word “dog” on an illustrated page with a picture of a dog
  • Does not understand that words come apart
  • Complains about how hard reading is; “disappears” when it is time to read
  • A history of reading problems in parents or siblings
  • Cannot sound out even simple words like catmapnap
  • Does not associate letters with sounds, such as the letter b with the “b” sound

© Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, pp. 122 – 123

Middle School Years

As elementary grades progress through middle school, students with dyslexia typically read at a slower rate than their peers and have trouble reading multi-syllable words and words with affixes. Spelling and writing weaknesses likely persist, as well as difficulty with independent reading comprehension.

  • Very slow in acquiring reading skills. Reading is slow and awkward
  • Trouble reading unfamiliar words, often making wild guesses because he cannot sound out the word
  • Doesn’t seem to have a strategy for reading new words
  • Avoids reading out loud

High School Years

High school students with dyslexia may continue to have word-level reading inaccuracies and typically continue to read at a slow rate. Spelling, writing, and reading comprehension difficulties may persist.

Key Facts About Dyslexia

  • Dyslexia is very common; up to 20% of people have symptoms of dyslexia.
  • Dyslexia affects males and females nearly equally, as well as people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
  • An unexpected struggle learning to read and write is the hallmark of dyslexia.
  • Dyslexia is not caused by laziness, inattention, poor vision, low intelligence, or social/emotional problems.
  • Dyslexia is commonly referred to as a “hidden disability.”  Dyslexia is often not diagnosed/identified, which may amplify emotions of anxiety, frustration, poor self-image, and depression.
  • Dyslexia runs in families, so having a parent or sibling with dyslexia increases the probability that you will also have dyslexia.
  • Specialized remedial teaching in basic skills can be effective at all ages.`
  • ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactive disorder) may be present, but it does not cause dyslexia.
  • Some people with dyslexia may be eligible for accommodations in school, exams, college, professional schools, and work.
  • For some people, their dyslexia is identified early in their lives, but for others, their dyslexia goes unidentified.


Common Myths

  • It is a myth that individuals with dyslexia read or see “backward”;  dyslexia is not a vision problem.
  • The difficulty with reading and spelling is not because they are not trying hard enough.
  • Dyslexia is not a disease, and therefore there is no cure.
  • Dyslexics do not have a lower level of intelligence.

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