WHAT DYSLEXIA IS NOT, AND WHAT IT IS

            Dyslexia is a hard subject. There’s a lot people don’t know about it. And there’s a lot that people think they know, but is wrong. In this post, we’re going to talk about:

  • What dyslexia isn’t 
  • What dyslexia is
  • How dyslexia affects people

WHAT DYSLEXIA ISN’T

            There are so many misunderstandings about dyslexia, let’s start with what dyslexia isn’t.

  • Dyslexia is more than just flipping your “b”s and “d”s. Everybody flips letters when they are learning to read.

“It caused more problems as a young kid, because the simple process of perceiving words on a piece of paper was hard for me. Many people think dyslexic people see things backwards. They don’t see things backwards.”— Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist

  • Having dyslexia from how smart you are. In fact, many people who have dyslexia are brilliant.
  • Dyslexia is not a comprehension problem. You usually understand what written words mean once you sound them out.
  • Having dyslexia doesn’t mean that you are lazy. If you are dyslexic, you’ve probably worked harder than most people, just to keep up with everybody else.          
  • Nor is dyslexia a problem with your eyes. It’s a difference in your brain wiring.
  • Having dyslexia doesn’t mean that you are crazy. Dyslexia doesn’t cause you to act or feel differently, you just have trouble reading.
  • Dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. You just have a different learning style.

“…I remember having a tutor come down and take me out of class and bring me to a different room. It certainly felt like I wasn’t as good as the other kids.”

— Carolyn Greider, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine for research on how cells age.

SO WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?

            This is a tricky question. Experts don’t agree on exactly what dyslexia is, so there are a lot of different definitions.

Here is a common definition of dyslexia:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

International Dyslexia Association (IDA)

In other words:

Dyslexia is a learning disability that you have because your brain is wired differently.

You may have trouble recognizing words, or sounding them out and spelling them.

These problems are separate from how smart you are, or how well your teacher teaches you.

Either of these difficulties may change your understanding of what you read, and slow down how fast you learn new words.

            Because researchers don’t agree on what dyslexia is, they don’t agree on how many people are dyslexic. The most common numbers given are that 10-20% of all people are dyslexic. That means that out of ten kids in your class, one or two of you are struggling to decode or remember words.

WHAT SCIENTISTS AGREE ON

   Here is what scientists agree on:

  • Dyslexia is a learning difference.
  • Dyslexia makes it hard for your brain to learn that groups of written letters represent sounds of different words.
  • Dyslexia often makes it hard to remember the right word when speaking, or spell the right word when writing.

And here is what scientists are beginning to understand:      

  • Dyslexia gives people profound insights and amazing creativity.

HOW DYSLEXIA AFFECTS PEOPLE

            Part of the confusion about dyslexia is because there are a lot of places for reading to go wrong. That means dyslexia affects people in many different ways. Some people have trouble recalling the right word. Many need more time to sound out and spell words. Others have lots of trouble reading, and stumble over words when they have to read out loud. All these people can be considered dyslexic.

“I am, myself, a very poor visualizer and find that I can seldom call to mind even a single letter of the alphabet in purely retinal terms. I must trace the letter by running my mental eye over its contour in order that the image of it shall leave any distinctness at all.”

— William James, professor of Philosophy, Anatomy and Physiology at Harvard, 1873-1907; often called “the Father of American Psychology.”

WHAT DYSLEXIA LOOKS LIKE                                                

            Dyslexia has been called “word blindness” because some dyslexic people just don’t see the words.

            For many other people with dyslexia, the problem looks like the letters float on the page. The phrase “I have dyslexia” might look like “I hayx dsliae”.

            Some dyslexics have entire words float around on the page: They might read the sentence as “I have this.”

            Confused? Their eyes scan ahead and pick up the word from this sentence. That’s what dyslexia looks like for my son.

Illustration of shapes of words, floating words or letters, missing words.

            My daughter is a landscape reader. She only sees the shapes of the words. For people like her, “I have dyslexia” looks like:

Landscape readers’ brains plug in any letters of the right height. They might write the sentence as “L bena hjehiaxe”.

            Landscape readers have even more trouble when they have to read a word in ALL CAPS because everything is the same size.

            But these floating letters are just a symptom of the fact that your brain has trouble making sense of written words.

“The biggest problem with dyslexic kids is not the perceptual problem, it is their perception of themselves. That was my biggest problem.” — Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist.

References Used

Armstrong, Thomas. 2003. “Coming to Grips with the Musculature of Words.” In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102280/chapters/Coming-to-Grips-with-the-Musculature-of-Words.aspx

Caitlyn Jenner, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/caitlynjen362259.html

Crockett, Kathy. “Carol Greider, Scientist, Nobel Prize Winner.” The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://dyslexia.yale.edu/story/carol-greider-ph-d/.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Fisher, Jennifer Engel, and Janet Price. 2012. Take Control of Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties: The Ultimate Guide for Kids. Waco, Tex: Prufrock Press.

The International Dyslexia Association. 2001. “Promoting Literacy through Research,

Education and Advocacy.” The International Dyslexia Association. November 12, 2001. http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 1996. “Dyslexia.” Scientific American, 1996:98-104.

———. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

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