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Understanding Dyslexia

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Although dyslexia is often believed to occur due to a vision disorder, it is actually a language-based learning disability that is caused by neurological processing differences. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability among children in the US, and is made up of a collection of symptoms such as challenges with reading, writing, spelling, and word pronunciation. Individuals with dyslexia can also have trouble with spoken word and find it difficult to express their thoughts accurately and comprehend what others tell them. Those with dyslexia struggle connecting letters or a collection of letters to the sounds they make, due to different processing in the brain. Challenges at this step makes it much more difficult for those with dyslexia to complete the other steps needed for reading, writing, and speaking. Dyslexia most commonly presents throughout childhood and into adulthood through difficulty with reading, however, it is important to note that most people with dyslexia have average or above average intelligence, as dyslexia is not tied to IQ.

The Massachusetts Dyslexia Guidelines created by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education defines dyslexia as:

“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.”

Although dyslexia cannot be cured, intervention can provide systematic instruction to allow those with dyslexia to read and write successfully, increasing their self-esteem, allowing them to thrive in school, work and home.

Dyslexia can present differently at different stages of development. If you suspect that a family member, friend, student, or that you yourself may have dyslexia here are some typical signs at different ages to look out for:

Preschool Age:

  • Difficulties learning nursery rhymes: ex. “Humpty Dumpty”.

  • Struggles to learn and remember the letters in the alphabet.

  • Does not pick up on simple rhyming patterns such as, “bug” and “hug”.

Ages 5-7:

  • Does not associate letters with the sounds they make. For example does not connect the letter “d” with the sound /d/.

  • Expresses challenges with reading. May not want to read because it is difficult.

  • Unable to identify or break down words into their individual sounds.

Ages 8-18:

  • Reading:

    • Slow in developing reading skills.

    • Guesses at new words inaccurately due to inability to sound words out.

    • Does not enjoy reading out loud and will try to avoid this.

  • Speaking:

    • Trouble with word finding. May use vague language to compensate.

    • Pauses or uses “ums” frequently when speaking.

    • Mispronunciation of difficult or unfamiliar words.

  • At School:

    • Difficulty remembering names and dates.

    • Unable to complete work or tests quickly.

    • Poor handwriting and spelling.

    • Low self-esteem.


  • Reading:

    • A childhood history of challenges with reading or spelling.

    • Although reading skills may have developed, reading may still be effortful and slow.

    • Worries about reading aloud.

  • Speaking:

    • Often pronounces names and places incorrectly.

    • May struggle with word retrieval.

    • Difficulties remembering, dates, names, and places.


International Dyslexia Association (no date). Dyslexia Basics. Available from

The Yale Center For Dyslexia & Creativity (no date). Signs of Dyslexia. Available from

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2020). Massachusetts Dyslexia Guidelines. Available from


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