Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that impairs a person’s ability to read and write. The exact reason dyslexia happens is unclear, though there may be a genetic link.
Dyslexia involves the ways that the brain processes graphic symbols and the sounds of words. It commonly affects word recognition, spelling, and the ability to match letters to sounds.
While it is a neurological condition, dyslexia has no relation to intelligence.
Dyslexia is common. Some experts believe that 5–10% of people have it, while some others estimate that the prevalence is 17%.
Receiving a diagnosis, guidance, and support from an early age can help reduce the impact of the condition.
This article will take a close look at dyslexia’s causes, symptoms, and management in children and adults.
Dyslexia affects the way that the brain processes written materials, making it more difficult to recognize, spell, and decode words.
The effects of dyslexia vary from person to person. People with the condition generally have trouble reading quickly and reading without making mistakes. They may also have trouble understanding what they read.
Dyslexia is a neurological issue, and it can run in families. It is not the result of poor teaching, instruction, or upbringing.
While it can be challenging, almost everyone with dyslexia can learn to read if they receive the right instruction.
Throughout early 2018, 33 legislative bills relating to dyslexia were introduced in the United States. This reflects the fact that government organizations are recognizing the need for early intervention to support children with dyslexia.
People with dyslexia are most likely to receive a diagnosis as children or young adults.
Adults who receive this diagnosis have usually had the condition their whole lives. However, a person can acquire dyslexia because of a brain injury.
If a parent, guardian, or teacher suspects that a young person has dyslexia, they should ask about a professional evaluation. The school may be able to help. An early diagnosis is more likely to lead to effective management.
Receiving a dyslexia diagnosis may open the door to more support for the child or adolescent. They may become eligible for special education services, support programs, and services in colleges and universities.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, diagnostic evaluations often cover the following areas:
- background information, including family history and early development
- oral language skills
- word recognition
- fluency skills
- reading comprehension
- vocabulary knowledge
- decoding, or the ability to read new words using letter-sound knowledge
- phonological processing, or how the brain processes the sounds of words
During the assessment, the examiner will aim to rule out other conditions that can have similar symptoms. Examples include vision problems, hearing impairment, a lack of instruction, and social and economic factors.
People can show symptoms of dyslexia at any age, but they tend to appear during childhood.
Dyslexia can cause challenges that involve:
Reaching development milestones
Children with dyslexia may learn to crawl, walk, talk, and ride a bicycle later than their peers.
Learning to speak
A child with dyslexia may take longer to learn to speak. They may also mispronounce words, find rhyming challenging, and appear not to distinguish between different word sounds.
Learning to read
This difficulty can present as early as in preschool. A child may find it difficult to match letters to sounds, and they may have trouble recognizing the sounds in words.
Dyslexia symptoms can also arise when young people start learning more complex skills. For example, the condition can cause difficulty with:
- reading comprehension
- reading fluency
- sentence structure
- in-depth writing
Caregivers and teachers may notice that a child is reluctant to read — they may avoid situations that require it.
Learning to write
On paper, a person with dyslexia may reverse numbers and letters without realizing it.
Also, some children with dyslexia do not follow expected patterns of learning progression. For example, they may learn to spell a word and completely forget the next day.
If a word has more than two syllables, processing the sounds can become much more challenging. For example, in the word “unfortunately,” a person with dyslexia may be able to process the sounds “un” and “ly,” but not those in between.
Sets of data
Children with dyslexia may take longer to learn the letters of the alphabet and how to pronounce them. They may also have trouble remembering the days of the week, months of the year, colors, and some arithmetic tables.
A person with dyslexia may be less coordinated than their peers. For example, catching a ball may be difficult, and they may confuse left and right.
Reduced hand-eye coordination can also be a symptom of other, similar neurological conditions, including dyspraxia.
People with dyslexia often find it hard to concentrate. This may be because, after a few minutes of struggling to read or write, they feel mentally exhausted.
Also, compared with the general population, a higher number of children with dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to some estimates, 30% of those with dyslexia also have ADHD, compared with 3–5% of the general school population experiencing both conditions.
The sequence of ideas
A person with dyslexia may express ideas in a sequence that, to their peers, seems illogical or unconnected.
People with dyslexia are more likely to develop autoimmune conditions, such as seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema.
There is no cure for dyslexia, but a range of approaches can help make daily tasks much easier.
Dyslexia affects each person differently, and most people find ways to accommodate their learning differences and thrive.
Receiving a diagnosis and support early in life can have long-term benefits. Managing dyslexia in children may involve:
- An evaluation of individual needs: This helps teachers develop a targeted program for the child.
- Adapted learning tools: Children with dyslexia may benefit from learning tools that tap into their senses, such as touch, vision, and hearing.
- Guidance and support: Counseling can help minimize any effects on self-esteem. Other forms of support may involve, for example, granting extra time on exams.
- Ongoing evaluation: Adults with dyslexia may benefit from help with developing evolving coping strategies and identifying areas in which they would benefit from more support.
It can also help to adapt any working or learning space. Find some homework station ideas here.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity offers tips for studying with dyslexia. They include:
- employing time management strategies such as breaking up projects into smaller pieces and drafting an outline before starting a task
- using tools such as flash cards and text-to-voice technology
- organizing notes visually, using highlighters or a color-coding system
- working in a quiet, clear space — with earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if necessary — and keeping distractions to a minimum
Researchers are unsure why some people develop dyslexia.
There appears to be a genetic link, because dyslexia runs in families. Some
While the vast majority of people with dyslexia have it from birth, it is possible to acquire it, usually due to a brain injury or stroke.
A person’s native language can influence their experience of the condition. It may, for example, be easier for a person with mild-to-moderate dyslexia to learn a language with clear connections between the written form and its sounds and with consistent grammar rules — such as Italian or Spanish.
Languages with words that have unclear connections between the written forms and their sounds — such as “cough” and “dough” in English — can be more challenging for a person with dyslexia.
The symptoms of dyslexia change with age. Below, learn how the condition presents at different stages of life.
Before children enter school, they may show:
- delayed speech and vocabulary development
- difficulties in forming and choosing words, for example, by mixing up words with similar sounds
- problems retaining information, such as numbers, the alphabet, and the names of colors
When children are school-aged, they may:
- have a low reading level for their age group
- have difficulties processing information and remembering sequences
- have trouble processing the sounds of unfamiliar words
- take longer with reading and writing
- avoid tasks that involve reading
Teens and adults may:
- have difficulty reading aloud
- take longer to read and write
- have trouble with spelling
- mispronounce words
- have trouble recalling words for particular objects or topics
- have difficulties learning another language, memorizing text, and doing math
- find it hard to summarize a story
Read more about dyslexia symptoms by age and dyslexia in adults here.
There are currently no official diagnostic “types” of dyslexia, though researchers are looking into the groups of symptoms that some people experience.
Overall, identifying an individual’s specific challenges can help them get the right support. Some people experience:
- Phonological dyslexia: Also known as dysphonetic or auditory dyslexia, this involves having difficulty breaking down words into smaller units, making it hard to match sounds with their written form.
- Surface dyslexia:Also called dyseidetic or visual dyslexia, this involves having trouble recognizing words by sight, making words hard to learn and remember.
- Rapid naming deficit: This involves having trouble naming a letter or number when the person sees it.
- Double deficit dyslexia: This involves having difficulty isolating the sounds to name letters and numbers.
Sometimes people also refer to “directional dyslexia,” meaning that they have difficulty telling left from right. This is a common feature of the condition.
If a person has difficulty with numbers and math, specifically, the medical term for this dyscalculia. It sometimes occurs with dyslexia or independently.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that creates challenges to reading and writing.
Though there is no cure for dyslexia, many approaches and tools can help facilitate everyday activities.
Everyone with dyslexia experiences the condition differently, but with the right support, people with the condition can excel like people without it. Read some personal success stories from The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity here.