What is Dyslexia?

Very literally, the word “dyslexia” means difficulty with words. It is made up of two Greek roots; dys which means “difficulty”, and lex which means “words.

A person with dyslexia has difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling, and sometimes oral expression but is often bright and capable in other areas, has had parental support, good academic instruction, and does not have hearing or vision problems.

Research has found that 5-10% of the population is dyslexic. There are significant things that are consistent for most people with dyslexia; however, an individual’s struggles can look different from person to person. Dyslexia can be seen in a range from mild to severe, can co-exist with other disabilities, and be affected is the person’s unique strengths and/or difficulties.

Some dyslexic students actually seem to read quite well, but a look at their spelling shows what they really understand about letters and sounds, how words are put together, and their decoding of unknown multi-syllable words. Sometimes a child will seem to be learning to read very well in the early grades because they rely heavily on picture clues and their own background knowledge. However most children with dyslexia “hit a wall” in their reading development because of their underlying struggles with sounds, letters, and their ability to decode unknown words.

Research indicates that dyslexia doesn’t have any relationship to intelligence but is a neurological condition caused by different wiring in the brain. While there isn’t any cure for dyslexia, an individual with dyslexia can learn and is often gifted in some other area. In fact, many well-known celebrities have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Countless individuals with dyslexia actually credit their success to the different way that their brain is wired. Among the dyslexia success stories are Thomas Edison (inventor), Anne Bancroft (polar explorer), Henry Winkler (actor, producer, and author), and Joe Whitt, Jr. (NFL coach with the Green Bay Packers).

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity posts a great collection of dyslexia success stories. You may enjoy reading their stories.

The international Dyslexia Association adopted this official definition in 2002:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological 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.

Characteristics of Dyslexia

Preschool Years

In the preschool years you may notice:

  • Delayed speech development
  • Difficulty pronouncing words and mixing up sounds and syllables in multi-syllable words
  • Confusion between the names of letters and numbers
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Confusion with directionality words such as right/left, over/under, and before/after
Kindergarten and First Grade

In the Kindergarten and 1st grade years you may also notice:

  • Difficulty remembering the names of letters and being able to recall them quickly
  • Difficulty recalling the sounds that the letters represent
  • Trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet
  • Difficulties with handwriting tasks and learning how to make each letter correctly
  • Difficulty learning to decode words by letter sounds and recognizing whole words
  • Difficulty spelling the sounds of a word in a plausible way that can be recognized by the reader
  • Difficulty learning to read and spell common sight words
  • When speaking, has difficulty finding the correct word and will often call objects by a more general term
Later Elementary

In later elementary grades you may notice all of the symptoms listed above plus:

  • Letter and number reversals that continue past the end of 1st grade
  • Handwriting that is difficulty to read
  • Difficulty learning cursive
  • Reading that is slow, choppy, and inaccurate
  • These specific types of reading inaccuracies
    • Guessing at a word based on shape or context
    • Skipping or misreading prepositions (at, to, of)
    • Ignoring suffixes
    • can’t sound out unknown words
  • Poor spelling
    • Speech sounds are omitted or added to a word
    • Wrong letter spellings are used for sounds in the word
    • Persistent errors with spelling frequently used sight words
  • Difficulty telling time with a clock with hands
  • Difficulties with math
    • Memorizing multiplication tables
    • Memorizing the sequence of steps in multi-step problems
    • Directionality difficulties
  • Difficulty with organization
    • Extremely messy bedroom, backpack, and desk
Middle School and High School

At the middle school and high school you may see any of the symptoms from earlier years plus:

  • Limited vocabulary
  • Poor written expression and a noticeable discrepancy between their verbal skills and their written compositions
  • Difficulty in mastering a foreign language
  • Difficulty reading printed music

An adult with dyslexia may have had any of the symptoms listed above in their educational past and may still:

  • Read slowly
  • Need to read a page two or three times to understand it
  • Avoid projects that require extensive reading
  • Spell terribly and still have errors in their spelling after using spell check
  • Have difficulty pronouncing uncommon multi-syllable words when reading
  • Have difficulties putting thoughts onto paper and avoids writing whenever possible
  • Still have difficulty remembering their right from their left
  • Often get lost, even in a familiar city
  • Continue to confuse b and d, especially when tired or sick

3 Common Dyslexia Myths

Dyslexia is where they see things backwards.

Dyslexics do not see things backwards or upside down, however, they are often confused between letters such as b and d, p and q, and m and w,  n and u. This is actually the result of auditory confusions and processing difficulties and because they do not fully understand or remember the sounds that each letter makes.

My child can read so it can’t be dyslexia.

Someone with dyslexia can read – some may actually read very well – but many of them will read only up to a point and then “hit the wall” by 3rd grade. Actually a better way to identify someone with dyslexia is by their spelling. Their spelling shows what they really understand about letters and sounds and how words work.

Dyslexia is so rare. It can’t be that

Dyslexia is not rare! More than 30 years of reading research tells us that up to 20% of the population has dyslexia. That’s 1 in every 5! But of that amount, there is a large range of level of severity. Dyslexia occurs along a continuum from mild, to moderate, to severe, to profound. Some people only have dyslexia; others have co-existing disabilities along with their dyslexia. For example, close to half those diagnosed with dyslexia also have ADD/ADHD.

What should I do to help my child?

When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, usually both special teaching and classroom accommodations are recommended.

When a child struggles with reading, it is important to insure that they are getting the right kind of help. Specialized teaching/tutoring is often required.  This tutoring is most effective when it is one-on-one instruction and is delivered by a teacher with who understands the dyslexic student and has training and experience to effectively guide the student’s learning.

Reading researchers tell us that the best time to address a student’s difficulties is during kindergarten and first grade but there is also research to back up the claim that almost all individuals with dyslexia, no matter their age, can learn to read. Focused and appropriate instruction is extremely important for all students, but for older students the specialized tutoring may need to be more intensive and require a longer time-frame for the child’s reading skill to reaches their grade level.

A parent may find the help they are looking for in their child’s school, but unfortunately in many school settings, teachers are not knowledgeable about dyslexia or know the correct methods to help these students. They may consider students with dyslexia to be lazy, stupid, or trouble makers. Therefore, many parents find that seeking out individualized reading instruction by a trained professional is their best option. The teacher/tutor’s methods need to be based on a systematic and explicit understanding of sounds, letters, and structure of the English language. This reading instruction goes by a variety of names including Orton Gillingham, Sturctured Literacy, Simultaneous Multisensory, Explicit Phonics, and others.

Darlene Larson is a qualified dyslexia specialist whose tutoring and consultation services may be able to help your child. Contact her for a free consultation today.

Accommodations are also important for the dyslexic student. Accommodations do not change what is being taught, but they will provide slight changes in how the student receives the information, learns to master new skills, or shows their understanding of the material that is being learned. Some common accommodations that may be recommended for a dyslexic student are Text-to-Speech (audio text), extra time on tests or having the tests read orally, accepting dictated homework or teaching the student to use technology tools such as Speech-to-Text, grading on content instead of spelling or penmanship, etc.

Darlene Larson can guide you and your child in how to use specific accommodations and in helping you determine the kinds of assistance that will be the most beneficial for you child. Contact her for a free consultation today to find out more.

Thinking homeschooling was going to be a great adventure to share with our children, I excitedly began our educational journey with our oldest son. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be an easy task as I observed our son becoming highly stressed and tearful as he struggled to grasp even the most basic reading concepts. Finally, toward the end of his second grade year, Darlene Larson was referred to us and we couldn’t be more thankful for the blessing she has been.
Our son’s dyslexia was profound and he proved to be the most severely dyslexic student Mrs. Larson had encountered. When tutoring began our son was unable, as a second grader, to fluently read words as basic as C-A-T. Using various strategies ranging from the Barton system to homemade learning games, and with her knowledge and gentle encouragement, Mrs. Larson tenderly guided our son to a place we never dreamed was possible. We were told by professionals that our goal should be to get him functional in society and to a place where he was advanced enough to use technology to assist him. With Mrs. Larson’s direction and to our great excitement, he now reads for pleasure and at grade level!


Resources for more information about Dyslexia

You will want to visit these sources for a much more thorough look at dyslexia and how to help your child.

Website Sources

Bright Solutions for Dyslexia is founded by Susan Barton. This site offers a number of free video presentations about dyslexia and a wealth of other information for parents, including a monthly newsletter, about how to help a child who has dyslexia. Susan Barton is also the creator of the Barton Reading and Spelling System, an Orton Gillingham influenced tutoring program for dyslexic students of all ages.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) offers a vast amount of information about dyslexia and provides support to parents, teachers, tutors, and professionals in all aspects of dyslexia. Their yearly conference is a valuable event where you can learn more about dyslexia, meet other parents and dyslexia professionals at all levels, and find out about dyslexia resources that may be useful for your child.
Joining IDA also automatically gives you membership in a state or regional dyslexia organization so you can connect and network with other people in your area of the country. Most states sponsor yearly conferences and offer courses to help you in your search for more information about dyslexia and resources to help your child.

Learning Ally is one of the major sources for audio text, which can be extremely beneficial for many dyslexic individuals. Learning Ally is also a great source for dyslexia information and offers a variety of webinars to help parents support their children and stay abreast of current information.

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity focuses on research and is a leading source of advocacy and information to help those with dyslexia.

Book Sources

While there are many books written about dyslexia, these two will help you get started in your quest for more information.

Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Moats, L. C., & Dakin, K. E. (2008). Basic facts about dyslexia and other reading problems. Baltimore: The International Dyslexia Association.