What is Dyslexia?

The term “Dyslexia” has been in the news as more states pass state-wide dyslexia laws, thanks to the grassroot efforts of parents and professionals seeking proven, appropriate interventions for their children and other learners struggling with dyslexia. So what is dyslexia? A popular belief is that the primary indicator of dyslexia is reversing letters. But dyslexia is much more than that. It is a language-based learning disability that leads to difficulty interpreting the phonological components of our language.

The definition of dyslexia, as adopted by the International Dyslexia Association:

( awareness“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.”               Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002

A person with dyslexia has difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling, and sometimes oral expression. Dyslexic individuals are very often bright, very capable in other areas, creative, and go on to accomplish amazing things as adults. Dyslexia is NOT uncommon! The International Dyslexia Association states that current research shows that dyslexia affects 20% of the U.S. population. That’s 1 in every 5 people! Dyslexia is one of the most common causes of reading difficulties in elementary school children, but many do not get the explicit reading help they need. 

Because phonological skills underlie learning to read and spell, phonological awareness (awareness of sound structure of words) is one of the first areas to assess and remediate. There may very well be deficits in rapid letter and word recall, which will affect quickly identifying words and reading fluently. This in turn can affect reading comprehension and writing. Some dyslexic children will seem to be learning to read well in the early grades because they rely heavily on picture cues and their own background knowledge. But a look at their spelling will show their struggles with letters and sounds, and how words are put together. They will “hit a wall”  in their reading development because of their underlying struggles with sounds, letters, and decoding unknown words. A common myth is that people with dyslexia cannot read, or cannot be taught to read much beyond the third grade level. This is NOT true! Individuals with dyslexia can become confident, successful readers with the right multi-sensory, Orton Gillingham based instructional techniques (systematic, explicit, diagnostic) and interventions that target the underlying language processes.

The International Dyslexia Association offers a wealth of information and resources on their website, including Dyslexia At a Glance, Do I Have Dyslexia?, Fact Sheets, and Success Stories, plus so much more for families and professionals alike. 

So what can you do as a parent to help your child? First, seek out the right kind of help. You may find the help you need in your child’s school, but unfortunately, many teachers are not trained in the specialized methods needed, or are unable to provide the intensity or one-on-one instruction that is most effective. Specialized teaching/tutoring is often required, and is most effective when it is one-on-one instruction with a professional who understands the dyslexic student, and has the explicit training and experience to guide your child in their learning to become confident and successful readers and writers. I’d love to show you how online tutoring using proven, intensive, multisensory techniques that target these challenges may just be the perfect fit for your child. Click on the link below for a free, 30-minute online tutoring session for your child to see if online tutoring and intensive interventions may be a good fit. If you have more questions, and are seeking more information, just click on the link below. You are not alone on this journey as you seek the best help for your child!

Resources and Links

What is Dyslexia? blog gives a general overview of what dyslexia is, common difficulties experienced by dyslexics, and the specific type of interventions that are proven effective.

Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parent-led grassroots movements across the country concerned with the limited access to educational interventions for dyslexia within the public education system. This network aims to raise dyslexia awareness, empower families to support their children and inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, remediate and support students with dyslexia.

     *Decoding Dyslexia – AK

     *Decoding Dyslexia – WA

     *Decoding Dyslexia – OR

     *Decoding Dyslexia – CA

     *Decoding Dyslexia – TX

     *Decoding Dyslexia – IL

     *Decoding Dyslexia – MN

     *Decoding Dyslexia – NY

     *Decoding Dyslexia – VA

     *Decoding Dyslexia – MA

     * go to Facebook, type in Decoding Dyslexia – (your state’s abbreviation) to find your state page!

Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan offers help, resources, and current research information on dyslexia. Their goal is to help individuals with dyslexia, as well as parents, employers, and professionals of all kinds who work with, and advocate for those with dyslexia.

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity focuses on research, and is a leading source of advocacy and information on dyslexia and the most current information to help those with dyslexia.

Learning Ally is a major source for audio text, which can be extremely helpful for many dyslexic individuals, especially as they move into the higher grades and adults. It’s also a great source for dyslexia information, complete with webinars to help parents support their children.

Understanding Dyslexia  is a good starting point for a general understanding of what dyslexia is, signs and symptoms by age groups, and how you can help your child.


What is Dyslexia? by Kelli Sandman-Hurley explains while visually demonstrating just what a person with dyslexia is experiencing as they try to read.

What I Wish Teachers Knew About Dyslexia by the Dyslexia Buddy Network gives dyslexic kids a voice to share their unique gifts and experiences.

The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind  is a TEDx talk by advocate and educator Dean Bragonier. He shares how the unique dyslexic mindset works, and how the dyselexic’s mind is a powerful tool. A mind-opening watch!


Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, codirector of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention. Clear, practical, science-based information and advice for successful results!

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis outlines a unique and revolutionary program developed by Ron Davis, who was functionally illiterate until age 38.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally-Hunt, is an uplifting tale of how one spunky middle school girl with dyslexia, with the help of an inspirational teacher, overcomes her struggles to read. Grade Level: 5-6.