Dyslexia is a type of learning
disability in which a child has difficulty learning to read and
understand written language. Even kids with average or above-average
intelligence, plenty of motivation, and ample opportunities to read can have
dyslexia. Because kids with dyslexia have trouble making the basic connection
between letters and their sounds, they often also have difficulty with spelling,
writing, and speaking.
Estimates are that up to 20% of all
people in the United States have a reading disability and that 85% of those
people have dyslexia. It's not clear what causes dyslexia, which can vary
widely in terms of severity, but some research shows that it is inherited.
With the proper instruction and
assistance, a child with dyslexia can learn to read, thrive in school, and
succeed in the workforce. But it's important for the child to be diagnosed as
early as possible and to promptly get any needed support and assistance.
A common assumption about dyslexia
is that letters or words appear reversed; i.e., "was" appears like
"saw." This type of problem can be a part of dyslexia, but reversals
are very common among all children up until first grade, not just kids with
When most kids are learning to read,
they use typical "decoding" skills: They learn to recognize letters
on sight and learn the sound that each letter makes. Then they begin to figure
out what the letters look and sound like when they are put together to form
words. They then put that together with learning and remembering the words and
their meanings and how they fit into a sentence.
A child with dyslexia typically has
trouble making the connection between the sound and the letter that makes that
sound and difficulty blending those sounds to form words. If it takes too long
to sound out the word, then the child has a hard time reading through sentences
and understanding them. A child with dyslexia may forget the word and its
meaning in the larger context of the sentence or paragraph.
In some cases of dyslexia, a child
struggles with distinguishing between certain sounds, such as "P" and
"B," or has difficulty identifying the correct order of letters.
Research now shows that dyslexia
occurs because of the way that the brain is formed and how it processes the
information it receives. People with dyslexia process information in a
different part of the brain than people without dyslexia do.
The specific reason why some people
process information this way is unknown, though genetics may play a role.
Dyslexia is usually diagnosed during
elementary school. In some cases, the dyslexia doesn't become apparent until
the child is older and attempting to learn grammar and syntax and to read
longer and more complex material.
Many children with dyslexia are not
properly identified for several years. This creates a bigger reading problem
and a drop in self-esteem. For these reasons, it is important to recognize
dyslexia symptoms early in elementary school, and begin appropriate reading
instruction right away.
In preschool and elementary school
children, some signs of dyslexia include difficulty with:
- Learning to talk
- Pronouncing longer words
- Learning the alphabet, days of the weeks, colors,
shapes, and numbers
- Learning to read and write his or her name
- Learning the connection between letters and sounds
- Decoding simple words
- Using "b" and "d" accurately
- Reading and spelling words with the correct letter
sequence - for example, "top" versus "pot"
- Handwriting and fine-motor coordination
In older children, teenagers, and
adults, these same signs of dyslexia may still be present. In addition, they
- Read and spell far below grade level
- Avoid reading and writing
- Work slowly on reading and writing assignments and
- Struggle with learning a foreign language
Dyslexia runs in families. If a
parent has a history of reading struggles, each of his or her children has a
strong chance of having a reading challenge as well. Children who struggle with
learning to talk as preschoolers also are at higher risk for dyslexia. The
presence of either or both of these factors should prompt close monitoring of a
child's reading progress, and assessment as soon as a
problem becomes evident.
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. It is important to
make sure that the person who evaluates your child has training and experience
Negative Effects of Dyslexia
A child with dyslexia who watches peers reading and making progress may feel "stupid"
because it's difficult to keep up. As children move through elementary grades,
problems in school can get worse as reading becomes more important to learning.
Kids who have difficulty often avoid
reading because it's hard or stressful. As a result, they end up missing out on
valuable reading practice and falling farther behind their peers. And the self-esteem
of a child struggling in the classroom may take a beating.
Fortunately, with the proper
assistance and help, most children with dyslexia are able to learn to read and
develop strategies that allow them to stay in the regular classroom.
A child with dyslexia usually works
with a specially-trained teacher, tutor, or reading specialist to learn how to
read and spell, and strategies to deal with 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 children with dyslexia.
In the United States, under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, a child with dyslexia is legally entitled to
special help in public schools to accommodate the dyslexia, such as extra time
for tests or homework or help with taking notes.
Even with appropriate intervention,
a child with dyslexia may find school a struggle. It's important for you 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.
Dyslexia doesn't have to be an
impediment to success. If your child has dyslexia, it doesn't mean that you or
your child's teachers should lower your expectations for the child. Artists,
athletes, scientists, and statesmen all have been able to achieve great things
despite their trouble with reading.
If you suspect that your child may
have dyslexia, talk with your child's doctor or teacher or a reading
specialist. The sooner you address a reading problem, the sooner your child can
get the help that he or she needs.
Updated and reviewed by: Laura Bailet PhD
Date reviewed: April 2006
Publication Release: July 26, 2007