What Dyslexia Is
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that makes it difficult for people to read. It's the most common learning issue, although it's not clear what percentage of kids have it. Some experts believe the number is between 5 and 10 percent. Others say as many as 17 percent of people show signs of reading issues. The reason for the wide range is that experts may define dyslexia in different ways.
Dyslexia is mainly a problem with reading accurately and fluently. Kids with dyslexia may have trouble answering questions about something they've read. But when it's read to them, they may have no difficulty at all.
Dyslexia can create difficulty with other skills, however. These include:
- Reading comprehension
People sometimes believe dyslexia is a visual issue. They think of it as kids reversing letters or writing backwards. But dyslexia is not a problem with vision or with seeing letters in the wrong direction.
It's important to know that while dyslexia impacts learning, it's not a problem of intelligence. Kids with this issue are just as smart as their peers. Many people have struggled with dyslexia and gone on to have successful careers. That includes a long list of actors,entrepreneurs and elected officials.
If your child has dyslexia, she won't outgrow it. But there are supports, teaching approaches and strategies to help her overcome her challenges.
Dyslexia Signs and Symptoms
Dyslexia impacts people in varying degrees, so symptoms may differ from one child to another. Generally, symptoms show up as problems with accuracy and fluency in reading and spelling. But in some kids, dyslexia can impact writing, math and language, too.
A key sign of dyslexia in kids is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds and then use that skill to read words accurately and fluently.
One reason kids have difficulty decoding is that they often struggle with a more basic language skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognize individual sounds in words. Trouble with this skill can show up as early as preschool.
In some kids, dyslexia isn't picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These may include grammar, reading comprehension, reading fluency, sentence structure and more in-depth writing. One potential sign of dyslexia is when kids avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. Kids may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they've mastered the basics of reading. Signs of dyslexia can look different at different ages. Here are some examples of signs of dyslexia:
- Forgets things, seems "daydreamy" or confused and appears to not be listening
- Finds it hard to concentrate and jumps quickly from one activity to another
- Gets bored with an activity unless it's very enjoyable
- Struggles to get organized and finish tasks
- Has difficulty learning new things and following directions
- Is smart but doesn't understand or "get" things you expect him to or that his peers grasp easily
- Has trouble taking away the middle sound from a word or blending several sounds to make a word
- Often can't recognize common sight words
- Quickly forgets how to spell many of the words she studies
- Gets tripped up by word problems in math
- Makes many spelling errors
- Frequently has to re-read sentences and passages
- Reads at a lower academic level than how she speaks
- Often skips over small words when reading aloud
- Doesn't read at the expected grade level
- Strongly prefers multiple-choice questions over fill-in-the-blank or short answer.
Dyslexia doesn't just affect learning. It can impact everyday skills and activities, as well. These include social interaction, memory and dealing with stress.
Causes of Dyslexia
Researchers haven't yet pinpointed exactly what causes dyslexia. But they do know that genes and brain differences play a role. Here are some of the possible causes of dyslexia:
- Genes and heredity:
Dyslexia often runs in families. About 40 percent of siblings of kids with dyslexia have the same reading issues. As many as 49 percent of parents of kids with dyslexia have it, too. Scientists have also found a number of genes linked to issues with reading and processing language.
- Brain anatomy and activity:
Brain imaging studies have shown brain differences between people with and without dyslexia. These differences occur in areas of the brain involved with key reading skills. Those skills are knowing how sounds are represented in words, and recognizing what written words look like.
The brain can change, however. (This concept is known as neuroplasticity.) Studies show brain activity in people with dyslexia changes after they get proper tutoring. And scientists are learning more all the time.