Dyslexia is a term that many people recognize as a type of a reading disability. However, too often educators, parents and even some students and professionals understand dyslexia to be the result of difficulties with letter or word reversals, such as, confusing the letter b with d, or the letter p with q.

When explained that letter or word reversals are not typical hallmark characteristics of dyslexia, they are often shocked and further confused. So what is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a specific reading disorder that is characterized by inaccurate word recognition, decoding and spelling. It is generally caused by neurological and hereditary factors, and is not due to poor reading instruction, low intelligence or sheer laziness. More precisely, it is a language processing deficit. It is not a visual processing deficit. Dyslexia can also affect one’s ability to spell, read and write and can impact on reading comprehension. Often, there are other family members who have dyslexia.

Earlier explanations and understanding of dyslexia has given rise to the confusion that persists today. Originally, in the 1920s, professionals understood dyslexia to be the result of deficits in the visual system, thus causing reversals of letters or words. However, more recent research has confirmed that dyslexia is mainly a deficit in the processing of phonemes, the smallest meaningful sound elements of language and not due to weaknesses in the visual processing of information. Thus, children with dyslexia will typically have difficulties in naming letters and not with the copying of letters.

Dyslexia affects people in many ways and in different ways. Not all people who are dyslexic are unable to read. Those who are quite severe may have extensive difficulty in sounding out the words and will struggle with reading the words, while others may read well enough but will need more time to read and to ensure their understanding.

Some of the early signs of dyslexia include difficulty recognizing letters, difficulty learning letter sound connections, difficulty pronouncing words clearly, difficulty with word blending or difficulty with rhyming activities. Unfortunately, these difficulties may persist despite receiving intensive instruction and remediation.

Poor self esteem and self confidence are often by-products of having learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Without having the necessary support, most individuals who suffer with dyslexia are often quite frustrated with learning and with school in general. Although these individuals may have strengths in many other areas, they are often described as reluctant readers. Since the reading process requires an extensive amount of effort, the motivation and desire to read is typically diminished or nonexistent.

Fortunately with today’s technology advancing at such a rapid pace, there are a number of assistive technology tools that are available and will further help to support individuals who struggle with reading. These technologies include digitalized readers (e.g. Kobo, Kindle) audible books, and a number of apps and software. Some apps that could assist in developing and improving phonological skills include the following: ABC phonics, First Words Deluxe, Word Magic, Reading Magic, Starfall ABC, Earobics; Sound Literacy and Read, Write and Type (Talking Fingers). K12 Timed Reading Practice is an app that addresses reading fluency and comprehension for students from kindergarten to grade 4. Toy Story read along (app), The Three Pandas (app), Clicker Books (app), tumble books (online, app), Read Me Stories 30 Book Library (app), Audio books (app) and Audible.com (online) are suggested audible book resources available either for free or at a nominal fee.

If dyslexia is suspected, it is important to consult a trained professional who can evaluate and determine if in fact dyslexia is present. Having dyslexia does not mean continued school failure and low level job opportunities. Just look at the number of successful people who are known to have dyslexia. Some of these famous people include John F. Kennedy (president of the United States of America), Steven Spielberg (film director and screen producer) Cher (singer), Jay Leno (comedian, talk show host), Thomas Edison (American inventor and businessman), Ted Turner (American media mogul who founded CNN), Albert Einstein (physicist), and Alexander Graham Bell (scientist, inventor and engineer) to name a few. The key to success is early identification, early intervention and much needed accommodations.