FAQs About Dyslexia

Get quick answers to seven common questions that parents ask about dyslexia, including causes and assessment.

How many people have dyslexia?

We do not really know how many people have dyslexia. Since there has not been a generally accepted definition until recently, estimates have varied widely. The National Institutes of Health have estimated that 15% of the population may have dyslexia. In Tennessee, we estimate that at least 100,000 students in K-12 classes have dyslexia.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a consequence of the way a person's brain is organized. Learning to read requires making the association between printed symbols and spoken words and spoken sounds. These associations must become firmly fixed in memory for reading to be fluent. People with dyslexia have great difficulty establishing these associations. The exact cause of the difference in the brain is not known, but recent research and new technology make it possible to identify some of the differences in the brains of people with dyslexia. Also, dyslexia often appears in families across generations. Currently, the search for the genetic basis of dyslexia is underway in various locations around the world.

Will colored lenses help a person with dyslexia read better?

There is no solid research evidence that using colored lenses will improve reading for individuals with dyslexia. For people with dyslexia to learn to read, they must receive many hours of careful, systematic instruction in the sound system of the language. Any other treatments which may be recommended and attempted should not replace direct instruction in reading and writing.

How do I know if my child has dyslexia?

If your child has had difficulty learning to read words and spell, she might have dyslexia. Young children with dyslexia typically have difficulty learning the alphabet, rhyming, and dividing words into their sounds. Many parents of students with dyslexia describe their children as bright and eager learners until they encounter instruction in reading. At such time, they often become frustrated. Sometimes these children are able to memorize enough words to appear as if they are reading. When the number of words they must memorize becomes overwhelming (about third grade), the difficulty with reading becomes apparent. Simply stated, if your child has unusual difficulty pronouncing the words when he/she reads and spelling the words he/she writes (compared to others of the same age), you should consider an assessment for dyslexia.

How can I have my child assessed for dyslexia?

If you think your child may have dyslexia, contact your school principal and explain your concern. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA Reauthorization 2004) and Public Law 94-142, the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1978, parents have the right to request an evaluation from the school, if a disability is suspected. Generally, schools provide a basic evaluation, and are required by state law to conduct testing to determine if a student struggles with reading due to characteristics of dyslexia. Should you wish to pursue the diagnosis privately, you should seek a qualified evaluator. If you decide to use a private evaluator, ask if this individual is familiar with diagnosing dyslexia and which areas she will be testing. An evaluation for dyslexia may include measures of word recognition, word attack (sounding out words), spelling, reading comprehension, phonological processing and written expression. In addition, a comprehensive evaluation should include assessment of receptive language skills (i.e., listening comprehension) which affect learning to read and write and must be included to help identify potential cause of any identified area of underachievement in reading comprehension.

Can a person have dyslexia and have an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Yes. Research indicates that individuals with dyslexia also can have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which includes the predominately inattentive subtype, the predominately hyperactive-subtype, and the combined subtype.

Can dyslexia be cured?

No. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. However, with appropriate remediation, individuals with dyslexia can learn to read and write. With good instruction, dyslexia becomes much less debilitating. Many students with dyslexia attend college and become successful in positions which require considerable reading and writing. Without this instruction, many people with dyslexia will suffer from frustration, decreased self-esteem, and difficulty maintaining employment commensurate with their ability.

Dyslexia overview

This overview of dyslexia is presented by Dr. Tim Odegard, Professor of Psychology at the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University.

Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia (2020)

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"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." — May Ellen Chase