Dyslexia (dis-LEK-see-uh) is a type of learning disability. A child with a learning
disability has trouble processing words or numbers. There are several kinds of learning
disabilities — dyslexia is the term used when people have trouble learning to
read, even though they're smart enough and want to learn.
What Causes Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is not a disease. It's a condition someone is born with, and it often
runs in families. People with dyslexia are not stupid or lazy. Most have average or
above-average intelligence, and they work very hard to overcome their learning problems.
Research has shown that dyslexia happens because of the way the brain processes
information. Pictures of the brain show that when people with dyslexia read, they
use different parts of the brain than people without dyslexia. These pictures also
show that the brains of people with dyslexia don't work efficiently during reading.
So that's why reading seems like such slow, hard work.
What Happens in Dyslexia?
Most kids begin learning to read by learning how speech sounds make up words (phonemic
awareness) and then connecting those sounds to alphabet letters (phonics).
Then they learn how to blend those sounds into words and, eventually, they can recognize
words they've seen many times before.
Reading is a little like riding a bike: it requires doing many things at once with
precise timing. With practice, typical readers gradually learn to read words automatically
so they can focus their mental energy on comprehending and remembering what they've
Kids with dyslexia, though, have trouble with phonemic awareness and phonics. So
reading doesn't become automatic and stays slow and labored. When a child struggles
with these beginning steps in reading, comprehension is bound to suffer and frustration
is likely to follow.
A common assumption about dyslexia is that letters or words appear reversed —
that "was" appears like "saw." This type of problem can be a part of dyslexia, but
reversals are very common among kids up until first or second grade, not just kids
with dyslexia. The major problem for kids with dyslexia is in phonemic awareness,
phonics, and rapid word recognition.
What Are the Signs of Dyslexia?
In preschool and elementary school kids, some signs of dyslexia include difficulty
learning to talk
pronouncing longer words
learning the alphabet sequence, days of the week, colors, shapes, and numbers
learning letter names and sounds
learning to read and write his or her name
learning to identify syllables (cow–boy in cowboy) and speech sounds (phonemes:
b-a-t in bat) in words
sounding out simple words
reading and spelling words with the correct letter sequence ("top" rather than
handwriting and fine-motor coordination
Older kids, teenagers, and adults might have these same signs of dyslexia and probably
read and spell far below grade level
avoid reading and writing
work slowly on reading and writing assignments and tests
struggle with learning a foreign language
How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?
Dyslexia is usually diagnosed during elementary school. In some cases, it doesn't
become apparent until a child is older and is expected to read and comprehend longer
and more complex material. Continuing problems with advanced reading, spelling, and
learning a foreign language may be signs that a bright teenager has dyslexia.
Dyslexia can only be formally diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by a
reading specialist or psychologist, either at school or in the community. Pediatricians
often know the signs of dyslexia and can guide families to proper help.
Delays in identifying kids with dyslexia can create a bigger reading problem and
a drop in self-esteem.
So it's important to recognize symptoms early in elementary school and begin specialized
reading instruction right away.
How Is Dyslexia Managed?
Fortunately, with the proper assistance and help, most kids with dyslexia are able
to learn to read and develop strategies that allow them to stay in the regular classroom.
They usually work with a specially trained teacher, tutor, or reading specialist
to learn how to read, spell, and manage the condition. Your child's teacher, psychologist,
or pediatrician may recommend an academic therapist — also called an education
therapist or an academic language therapist — who is trained to work with kids
In the United States, federal laws entitle kids with reading and other language-based
learning differences — collectively known as "specific learning disabilities"
— to special help in public schools, such as specialized instruction,
extra time for tests or homework, or help with taking notes. States vary in how these
laws are implemented. Parents should discuss these laws and accommodations with school
What Else Should I Know?
Kids with dyslexia may feel that they're not as smart as their peers because it's
difficult to keep up. As they move through elementary school, problems can get worse
as reading becomes more important to learning.
Kids who have difficulty often avoid reading because it's hard or stressful. So
they miss out on valuable reading practice and fall farther behind their classmates.
It's important to support your child's efforts by encouraging and assisting in
reading at home. Also try to give your child opportunities to build confidence and
have success in other areas, such as sports, hobbies, art, and drama. Artists, athletes,
scientists, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and statesmen all have been able to achieve
great things despite trouble with reading.
If you think your child might have dyslexia, talk with your doctor, your child's
teacher, or a reading specialist. The sooner a reading problem is found, the sooner
your child can get the proper help.