Dyslexia FAQ

Dyslexia Basics

Welcome! If you have questions about dyslexia, you are in the right place. On this page, we will address many common questions about dyslexia, as well as about what to expect if your child is being evaluated or diagnosed for reading problems. Please contact us if you have questions that aren’t answered here.

What is dyslexia?

The following definition of dyslexia was adopted by the International Dyslexia Association 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.”

Dyslexia can present in readers as slow or inaccurate reading. But students can also avoid or refuse to read, read well but spell poorly, or have incomplete or messy writing.

Which learning disorder is characterized by unusual difficulty with reading?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that impacts fluent reading, accurate spelling, and language acquisition.

Dyslexia impacts 20% of the population and is the most common learning disability. But it’s not the only reason students struggle with reading. Not all students who struggle to read are dyslexic. Some students haven’t had sufficient instruction. According to Dr. Nancy Young’s Ladder of Reading, about half of students need code-based, explicit instruction to become proficient readers. Of those, a smaller group will require intensive instruction with frequent repetition. This group includes many students with dyslexia.

Since high-quality reading instruction is a huge part of remediating dyslexia, exploring the instruction students have had is a big part of deciding if a dyslexia diagnosis fits them. We have to know what has been tried to pinpoint the problems the student is having.

What causes dyslexia?

According to the IDA, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin.” Differences in the brain (neuro) and body (biology) are the causes of dyslexia symptoms. Using fMRI scans, scientists have seen different patterns in brain activity between dyslexic and non-dyslexic readers.

But what causes those differences? We’re not sure yet. Some people just have these dyslexic patterns going on in their brains from a very young age. Dyslexia exists in smart people, in people with educated parents, and in people who were read to plenty as children.

While we don’t know exactly what causes dyslexia, we do know what to do about it.

What are some signs of dyslexia in older students?

According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, older learners with dyslexia may be observed:

  • guessing unknown words or having difficulty solving unknown words
  • avoiding reading out loud
  • forgetting, confusing or mispronouncing words when speaking
  • struggling to remember information: lists, phone numbers, names
  • spelling poorly
  • writing messily
  • struggling in school overall
Is dyslexia a vision problem?

No.

Individuals with dyslexia usually have normal vision. Dyslexia is a language-based difference. It impacts how people process the sounds of spoken words and connect those sounds to written letters.

Vision problems can certainly co-exist with dyslexia. It is important for all students to have a thorough vision examination to rule out vision-related problems. Vision problems can cause symptoms like inaccurate reading, headaches, eye strain, and fatigue.

Some practitioners identify subtypes of dyslexia, but these are not supported by scientific evidence at this time. For more information about visual or dyseidetic dyslexia, click here.

What are some good books about dyslexia?

Check out some of my favorite books about dyslexia here on my resources page.

Diagnosing Dyslexia

I can not think of any other condition as common as dyslexia that is so frequently misunderstood. Dyslexia was first discovered when a German doctor named Adolph Kussmaul first identified the condition. He called it “word-blindness.” It has been recognized that some people have unexpected difficulties decoding and spelling words.

The process of diagnosing dyslexia is relatively straightforward. While many parents get the runaround from schools and even doctors when they first seek diagnosis for their children, dyslexia can be diagnosed by schools, or by many professionals, including educational psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and some highly qualified learning specialists.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Students are assessed for dyslexia through a comprehensive evaluation process. A dyslexia evaluation should include a thorough developmental history and educational history of the student, a family history, and formal assessments in phonological processing, oral vocabulary, reading, spelling, and writing.

Schools may start the RtI (Response to Intervention) or MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) for students who are struggling to read. This can include additional assessment, instruction (small group or individual), and data collection (progress monitoring). This process can be a good way to support students quickly when a school notices they are not meeting benchmarks, but it is often not enough for students with dyslexia.

And the RtI process should never be used to delay an evaluation or avoid providing a comprehensive evaluation if a student has a suspected educational disability.

Who diagnoses dyslexia?

According to the IDA, evaluators for dyslexia may have a professional background in education, speech and language, psychology (including school psychology) or neuropsychology. They should be qualified to give and interpret standardized tests within their professional domain.

There is a misconception that a medical doctor is the only one who can diagnose dyslexia. In fact, most medical doctors do not have the tools or professional expertise to recognize dyslexia in their patients.

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

Yes, schools can and should identify and diagnose dyslexia in their students, based on a thorough special education evaluation. It is a common misconception that schools aren’t allowed to diagnose, or that dyslexia cannot be in a student’s IEP.

The US Department of Education made it clear that schools have a responsibility to diagnose dyslexia in their 2015, “Dear Colleague Letter,” which specifically names dyslexia under the category “specific learning disability” and instructs districts that they must evaluate a student “to determine whether that child meets the criteria for specific learning disability or any of the other disabilities listed” in the law.

Massachusetts law further addresses this in MA GL part 1 Title XII Chapter 71B Sec 3: “the school committee of every city, town or school district shall identify the school age children residing therein who have a disability, as defined in section 2, diagnose and evaluate the needs of such children.” [Emphasis added]

Can dyslexia be cured?

Dyslexia cannot be cured. Once someone has received a dyslexia diagnosis, it is theirs for life. But the reading and writing difficulties caused by dyslexia can be greatly improved! Early intervention makes a huge difference. Students who get appropriate, intensive, early literacy instruction often go on to thrive in challenging academic programs and earn advanced degrees.

Older struggling readers can still make enormous, life-changing progress in their reading and writing skills when they get good instruction. However, the older a student is when they begin structured literacy intervention, the longer it will take to improve their reading.

What happens after dyslexia diagnosis?

Getting a diagnosis of dyslexia can be a relief. It can also be overwhelming. If your child has been struggling for years for unknown reasons, it can be satisfying to finally get the answers. But what should you do next?

One of the most powerful ways to make sure kids with dyslexia become competent readers, writers, and spellers, is to make sure they get systematic, explicit instruction in reading and writing. Some kids are lucky enough to have Orton-Gillingham certified teachers right in their schools, while other rely on outside tutoring. If you are looking for a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor for your child, find out about our tutoring services here.