What exactly is dyslexia?

Symptoms of dyslexia include a difficulty with reading and writing. See brain pictures.
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Most people think that dyslexia causes a person to see words or sentences backwards, or that it causes a person to confuse the letter 'b' with the letter 'd.' This is just one form of dyslexia, known as strephosymbolia.

Dyslexi­a, also known as developmental reading disorder, affects a person's ability to comprehend either oral or written language and sometimes both. In other words, it is a general, language-related learning disorder. Tasks and activities many of us take for granted, such as writing out a grocery list, reading the newspaper or listening to a book on tape, could be problematic for someone with dyslexia. Recent studies suggest that something like 15 percent to 20 percent of the population has some type of reading disability, and of those people, about 85 percent have a form of dyslexia.[Ref]



­ Although diseases of the brain can cause dyslexia and other learning disorders such as dyscalculia and dysgraphia (see sidebar), medical research indicates that, for most people, these are the result of a malfunction (not a disease) within the brain. Brain-imaging studies have shown that the brains of dyslexics develop and function differently than those of people who are not dyslexic. Furthermore, dyslexia can be inherited. In many instances, it is discovered that either one or both of a dyslexic child's parents suffer from this learning disorder as well.

Learn about the symptoms of dyslexia on the next page.


Dyslexia Symptoms

Dyslexia affects a wide range of people. It can manifest itself in many ways from person to person. Some common signs to look for in younger children are:

  • May have difficulty pronouncing words
  • May not be able to make the connection between letters and sounds
  • May have difficulty learning the alphabet, numbers, or other important sequential lists such as the days of the week
  • May have difficulty in telling time

Older, middle-school-aged children can exhibit some of the following symptoms:


  • May have difficulty with spelling, often misspelling the same word in several different ways
  • May reverse number and letter sequences or transpose math symbols
  • May dislike or avoid reading aloud
  • May have difficulty writing
  • May be reading at a level much lower than his or her actual grade level
  • May have difficulty remembering

It is not uncommon for dyslexia to be diagnosed in high school or college students or even in adults. Some signs to look for at these ages are:

  • May have difficulty with time management
  • May have trouble spelling words correctly
  • May rely on oral language skills more than on writing or may avoid writing altogether
  • May not be able to comprehend abstract concepts
  • May have difficulty answering open-ended questions on tests or in interviews
  • May have trouble with planning and organization skills
  • May have difficulty summarizing or outlining thoughts

Individuals may show signs of any of these or a number of other possible symptoms. Just because someone exhibits a few of these, however, does not mean that they have dyslexia. A person must undergo a series of tests before proper diagnosis can occur. A qualified educational consultant, therapist or other specialist will administer a battery of tests that might assess spelling, math, drawing, sequencing, visual acuity and scanning ability and overall intelligence.

One common sentiment that many children with dyslexia report is a feeling of inadequacy -- feeling "dumb." It is important to note that people who are quite intelligent can be dyslexic. In fact, many people who have dyslexia excel in areas that do not require good language skills. There are a number of notable people in the fields of science, entertainment, sports and politics who are dyslexic (see sidebar).

Learning disorders such as dyslexia are considered life-long disorders, meaning that they never go away. One treatment that has seen a good amount of success relies on a structured, multi-sensory approach to teaching. Studies suggest that the learning process for dyslexics is enhanced when auditory, visual and tactile senses can be combined in one learning experience. This approach, developed by combining the methods of Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton with those of Anna Gillingham, has been used for more than 50 years. Early detection and intervention is preferred so that young dyslexics can learn to compensate for their disability by the time they reach adulthood. However, that does not mean that older dyslexics cannot benefit from other forms of training. No matter what age, if you suspect that you may have a learning disorder, and it is impeding your school or work performance, it's a good idea to get tested.

For more articles on related topics, check out the links on the next page.