About dyslexia

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurologically-based condition that affects word-level reading accuracy, reading fluency,  and spelling.  It is often described as an unexpected difficulty in learning to read.

The formal definition of dyslexia by the International Dyslexia Association is:

“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.”

Dyslexia varies in severity and the impact depends on the effectiveness of reading instruction and/or remediation.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

Click here for a list of common signs of dyslexia at different ages.

Some individuals with dyslexia learn early reading and spelling tasks, especially with excellent instruction. But later they may have serious difficulties when more complex language skills are required to read and write more difficult text.

What causes dyslexia?

Brain imagery studies have shown that dyslexia is neurologically based. These studies have shown that people with dyslexia have not developed the neural network in the brain that is typical of successful readers.

A key problem for many people with dyslexia is difficulty with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds.  Other people have difficulty in rapidly identifying letters and words, making it very difficult to read fluently.

Check out this interesting interview with Guinevere Eden, a neuroscientist, talking about reading and the brain.

Is dyslexia related to intelligence or motivation?

Dyslexia is NOT related to intelligence or lack of desire to learn.

Is dyslexia a common learning disability?

Dyslexia is the most common type of learning disability.

Reading ability is on a continuum so estimates of the prevalence of dyslexia depend on what criteria are used.  However, it is estimated that between 5-20% of the population struggle to read due to dyslexia.

Is dyslexia hereditary?

Dyslexia runs in families. Parents with dyslexia are very likely to have children with dyslexia.

Is dyslexia the same as 'specific learning disorder'?

In psycho-educational assessments, psychologists often use the term ‘specific learning disorder‘ or ‘specific learning disorder with impairment in reading’  which is characterized as “one where people have difficulties with word reading accuracy, reading rate or fluency and reading comprehension” (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), 5th Edition ,2013,  The American Psychiatric Association).

The DSM-V stipulates that “dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities".

Hence, dyslexia is an equivalent term for the same condition of difficulty with word-level reading and spelling.

What are the emotional consequences of dyslexia?

Dyslexia can seriously affect a person’s confidence and self-image. Students with dyslexia often feel “dumb”, embarrassed, and less capable academically than they actually are. Students with dyslexia may become very discouraged with school and are at risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The academic and emotional outcomes associated with dyslexia by Dr. Nadine Gaab.

Can dyslexia be 'cured'?

Dyslexia is a life-long condition that people don’t ‘out-grow’. However, effective 'structured literacy' instruction can help people with dyslexia learn to read accurately and fluently.  Research studies have shown that structured literacy intervention results in the development of a neural network in the brain that is more typical of successful readers. As well, supporting your child at home and at school will help your child build on their strengths and be successful in life.

Are there any associated learning issues?

Some people with dyslexia have other issues that can affect their learning (eg. attention, memory) and hence, academic success.  These must be considered when providing intervention programs and supporting children with dyslexia.  Here are some examples:

Other learning disabilities

Attention and memory issues

    • ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) affects attention, impulsiveness and/or hyperactivity. Approximately 30% of people with dyslexia also have ADHD.
    • Working memory is memory used for temporarily storing and managing information. Poor working memory can make it difficult to retain letter/sounds while trying to decode an unfamiliar word or to remember the words in a long, complicated sentence.
    • Executive function skills enable us to carry out instructions in a logical way and organize our thoughts and actions. Challenges in these skills can add to the difficulties experienced by someone with dyslexia.