What Is Dyslexia?

dys = difficulty; lexia = words

Why is learning to read so hard for people with dyslexia? What’s going on in their brains?

The research into dyslexia is ongoing, and the recent introduction of fMRI technology has added to our understanding of this condition. Good readers use highly-connected neural pathways between many parts of the brain. The brains of dyslexic readers do not activate the same vigorous pathways, and these people must get intense training to re-wire their brains to perform basic reading functions. An excellent source of information about the differences in brain activity during learning can be found in Overcoming Dylsexia by Sally Shaywitz, MD.

“Dyslexia, also known as a reading disorder, is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence.”  –Wikipedia

What is it like to have dyslexia?

The English language uses twenty-six letters to create sounds, words, sentences, and entire books.

Sounds easy, right?

The twenty-six letters also come in the form of capital letters. That’s fifty-two symbols. Many of the letters are similar, such as “p” and “q” or “b” and “d.” The twenty-six basic letters are combined in different combination to produce forty-four unique sounds used to speak English. (If you know another language, you may use additional sounds that English does not use.)

It’s not easy!

Many of the sounds heard in spoken English can be represented by more than one letter. For example, the sound we associate with the letter “f” can also be seen in print as “ff” or “ph” or “gh” depending on the word. Many words are considered “sight words” because they do not follow the usual rules for pronunciation and spelling.

Literacy includes decoding (reading) and encoding (writing). As these skills develop, a reader needs to achieve fluency and comprehension. Learning to speak and understand oral language is a basic human skill, but reading and writing are not. Some people learn easily, and some need extra help to achieve literacy.

The dyslexic brain does not always correctly translate the images that are seen with the eyes. Many dyslexics report that the same text sometimes appears differently to them from one day to the next.

Below is a representation of  text as seen by some dyslexic readers (click to see it in action):

Here is the definition of dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association:

“Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies. Research indicates that dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence.”

The difficulties presented by dyslexia can be helped through specific, direct instruction in readingThe most respected method was pioneered by neurologist Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator Anna Gillingham in the 1930s.

“Individuals with dyslexia are neither more nor less intelligent than the general population.”

Today, the Orton-Gillingham approach is used in many reading programs as an effective way to teach literacy.