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Dyslexia: Beyond the Myth

This article describes the most common characterists of dyslexia and other learning disorders, and what you can do if you suspect your child has a problem.

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As many as one in five students have dyslexia. Undiagnosed or without special instruction, dyslexia can lead to frustration, school failure, and low self-esteem. The common myths about dyslexia are that dyslexics read backwards and reverse words and letters. While these characteristics may be part of the problem with some individuals, they are NOT the most common or most important attributes.

Dyslexia is not a disease! The word dyslexia comes from the Greek language and means poor language. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading, writing, spelling and/or math although they have the ability and have had opportunities to learn. Individuals with dyslexia can learn; they just learn in a different way. Often these individuals, who have talented and productive minds, are said to have a language learning difference.

Does my child have dyslexia?

Individuals with dyslexia usually have some of the following characteristics.

Difficulty with oral language

  • Late in learning to talk
  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Difficulty acquiring vocabulary or using age appropriate grammar
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Confusion with before/after, right/left, and so on
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes, or songs
  • Difficulty understanding concepts and relationships

Difficulty with reading

  • Difficulty learning to read
  • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words or counting syllables in words (Phonological Awareness)
  • Difficulty with hearing and manipulating sounds in words (Phonemic Awareness)
  • Difficulty distinguishing different sounds in words (Auditory Discrimination)
  • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters
  • Difficulty remembering names and/or the order of letters when reading
  • Reverses letters or the order of letters when reading
  • Misreads or omits common little words
  • “Stumbles” through longer words
  • Poor reading comprehension during oral or silent reading
  • Slow, laborious oral reading

Difficulty with written language

  • Difficulty putting ideas on paper
  • Many spelling mistakes
  • May do well on weekly spelling tests, but there are many spelling mistakes in daily work
  • Difficulty in proofreading

Does my child have other related learning disorders?

The following are characteristics of related learning disorders.

Everyone probably can check one or two of these characteristics. That does not mean that everyone has dyslexia. A person with dyslexia usually has several of these characteristics, which persist over time and interfere with his or her learning. If your child is having difficulties, learning to read and you have noted several of these characteristics in your child, he or she may need to be evaluated for dyslexia and/or a related disorder.

Difficulty with handwriting (Dysgraphia)

  • Unsure of right or left handedness
  • Poor or slow handwriting
  • Messy and unorganized papers
  • Difficulty copying
  • Poor fine motor skills

Difficulty with math (Dyscalculia)

  • Difficulty counting accurately
  • May reverse numbers
  • Difficulty memorizing math facts
  • Difficulty copying math problems and organizing written work
  • Many calculation errors
  • Difficulty retaining math vocabulary and/or concepts

Difficulty with attention (ADD/ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

  • Inattention
  • Attention varies
  • Distractibility
  • Impulsively
  • Over-activity

Difficulty with motor skills (Dyspraxia)

  • Difficulty planning and coordinating body movements
  • Difficulty coordinating muscles to produce sounds

Difficulty with organization

  • Loses papers
  • Poor sense of time
  • Forgets homework
  • Messy desk
  • Overwhelmed by too much
  • Works slowly
  • Things are “out of sight out of mind”

Other characteristics

  • Difficulty naming colors, objects, and letters (rapid naming)
  • Memory problems
  • Needs to see or hear concepts many times in order to learn them
  • Distracted by visual stimuli
  • Downward trend in achievement test scores or school performance
  • Work in school is inconsistent
  • Teacher says, “If only she would try harder,” or “He’s lazy.”
  • Relatives may have similar problems

What kind of instruction does my child need?

Dyslexia and other related learning disorders cannot be “cured.” Proper instruction promotes reading success and alleviates many difficulties associated with the disorders. Instruction for individuals with learning differences should be:

  • Explicit – directly teaches skills for reading, spelling, and writing
  • Systematic and cumulative – has a definite, logical sequence of concept introduction
  • Structured – has step-by-step procedures for introducing, reviewing, and practicing concepts
  • Multisensory – engages the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic channels simultaneously or in rapid succession

Individual educational evaluations

Under IDEA (federal special education law), a full and free individual educational evaluation may be requested from the public school district or public charter school at no cost to parents, if there is a suspicion of a disability and need for special education services. You should write to the director of special education in your school district with copies to your child’s teacher and the principal of your child’s school to request an educational evaluation.

Check with your state educational agency, school administrators, regional education service center, or state education agency for any rules that are specific to your state. For more detailed information, see (opens in a new window).

Several different tests are used to make a diagnosis. The testing should include the following:

Testing of intelligence to determine:

  • your child’s overall learning ability

Testing of reading to determine:

  • word reading skills
  • reading vocabulary
  • reading comprehension – oral and silent
  • phonological processing skills (awareness of speech sounds)
  • rapid, automatic naming skills

Testing of writing to determine:

  • understanding of sentence and paragraph structure
  • level of mechanics – spelling, grammar, handwriting
  • measure of content/ideas

Testing of oral language to determine:

  • auditory processing and comprehension
  • expressive language skills
  • linguistic awareness skills

Testing of math to determine:

  • basic computation skills
  • basic concept understanding
  • reasoning skills and application of skills
Suzanne Carreker is director of teacher development at the Neuhaus Education Center (, which assisted us in acquiring this artice.

Reprinted with permission from the newsletter of the Houston Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, (
For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.