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What is Dyslexia, Really?

Posted October 13, 2022 in Articles

What is Dyslexia, Really?

What do these famous folks all have in common?

They are among the millions of dyslexic individuals whose unique way of thinking positively impacted our world.

The list of celebrities, athletes, business titans, well-known scientists, and creative leaders who identify as dyslexic seems to be ever expanding. LinkedIn recently added dyslexic thinking to their lineup of valuable professional skills. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month and the strengths of the dyslexic mind are being discussed everywhere from The New York Times to NPR to TikTok. But what is dyslexia, really?

Neuro-biological in origin and often hereditary, dyslexia is most simply defined as unexpected struggles with reading and spelling. Functional MRI technology shows dyslexic individuals process language in a different area of their brain, weakening their ability to connect speech sounds with letters and words.

Schools and private psychologists identify dyslexia, also referred to as a specific learning disability or reading disorder, when a student’s reading skills don’t align with their level of intelligence and they exhibit a pattern of weakness with the phonological component of language. Even though understanding is becoming increasingly widespread, many children are still not properly diagnosed.

According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, dyslexia affects 20% of the population, which means every classroom in every school has dyslexic learners sitting at its desks. Yet, stigma and misconceptions persist.

There is no correlation between dyslexia and low intelligence or low motivation. A hardworking student with a high IQ can still face reading struggles. Simply seeing letters and words backward is another popular myth— dyslexia is based in the brain, not the eyes.

While dyslexia isn’t something a person outgrows, the brain is malleable. Parents and educators who notice the common signs, which can vary in presence and severity, should be proactive. With early identification and a heavy dose of specialized instruction, dyslexic students not only learn to read, but read well!

Common Signs of Dyslexia

Ages 2-4

  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Uses general terms to describe specific objects and/or adds new vocabulary slowly
  • Trouble with the alphabet and letter sounds
  • Difficulty recalling song lyrics, days of the week, colors, numbers, or shapes
  • Struggles to write their name
  • Problems following multi-step directions
  • Slow development of fine motor skills
  • Retells events out of order

Ages 5-8

  • Loves to listen to stories, but avoids reading on their own
  • Difficulty learning letters and recalling their sounds
  • Substitutes words when reading, and often relies on accompanying pictures
  • Difficulty separating or blending sounds, as well as identifying words that rhyme
  • Frequent errors including reversing, inverting, and substituting letters/words
  • Confuses sight words: at, to, said, and, the, etc.
  • Pencil grip is awkward, fist-like, or tight
  • Poor fine motor skills and coordination

Ages 9-12

  • Reading is laborious with long pauses and repetitions
  • Reverses letter sequences: soiled for solid, left for felt
  • Skips over words when reading out loud
  • Difficulty sounding out new words
  • Trouble describing what they read or answering questions about it
  • Slow to discern prefixes, suffixes, and root words
  • Struggles with spelling; spells the same word differently on a single page
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Difficulty with planning and time management

Ages 13+

  • Reads slowly and/or robotically; doesn’t pause appropriately for punctuation
  • Reads word-by-word rather than grouping words/phrases together smoothly
  • Trouble summarizing what they’ve read or answering questions about it
  • Often spells the same word differently within the same body of writing
  • Procrastinates reading/writing tasks
  • Finds school exhausting
  • Many missing or incomplete assignments
  • May not have difficulty in math, but struggles with word problems
  • Trouble learning a foreign language

Lawrence School’s Schafer Center for Learning Differences offers 60-minute reading screenings for kids in grades K–3. This free community service helps parents understand if their child would benefit from more intensive literacy instruction.


What is Dyslexia, Really?

Sculpting letters and words out of modeling clay is one of many multisensory activities used to teach students to read at Lawrence School. Learn about our Orton-Gillingham based curriculum here.

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