‘Yes, dyslexia does exist – let’s put that argument to rest’

We need to move beyond debating the existence of dyslexia and instead focus on best practice for teaching dyslexic students, argues psychologist Christopher Rossiter

“Dyslexia does not exist.”

I hear this statement far too often. As with much relating to special educational needs and disability, dyslexia has been questioned and debated no end. And the arguments are often binary.

Does it exist?  Is it a helpful term in the classroom? Are all dyslexics the same?

As a psychologist, I am frustrated that the debate has not progressed to something more useful and I want to unpick why this is.

Does dyslexia exist?

Let’s tackle this first. The clinical diagnostic criteria for dyslexia are well established. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) is the authoritative guide to diagnosing disorders for psychologists. The document, originally published in 1952 and now in its fifth edition, contains hundreds of entries that cover all manner of disorders from depression to neurodevelopmental, such as dyslexia. The DSM is used for clinical purposes and is well established by research evidence.

So why do people think it doesn’t exist?

It could be a problem of definition/understanding beyond the realms of academia.

Academics, including Professor Joe Elliot, of Durham University, have questioned the definitions of dyslexia and called for a change of name to “reading disability”. I think he is right to pursue a better definition of persistent difficulties with reading because discrepancies in the current definition give weight to the idea that dyslexia does not exist.

However, Elliot doesn’t question the existence of reading problems and has said that they clearly have biological bases and cannot be ascribed merely to inefficient classroom practice.

The understanding of dyslexia and its characteristics within education – whatever name we apply to it – must be challenged, tested and modified, but the existence of it cannot denied. Dyslexia is recognised in public policy and legislation; for example, in the SEND Code of Practice and the Equality Act 2010. Dyslexia’s existence is enshrined in clinical and administrative codes, which bestow rights and responsibilities on children, their families and schools.

Clearly, some think that this isn’t enough, that somehow dyslexia and the “industry” that goes with it have infiltrated these codes to explain away children, who somehow ought to be doing better, and absolve ourselves of any responsibility.

This is not happening.

Let’s put it to rest: yes, dyslexia does exist.

What causes dyslexia?

The DSM makes it clear that dyslexia, under the umbrella term Specific Learning Disorder, is most likely caused by an interaction between genetic and environmental factors, which affect the brain’s ability to perceive and process verbal and nonverbal information efficiently and accurately.

How does dyslexia manifest?

The key indicators of dyslexia are word retrieval difficulties; poor phonemic awareness; difficulties with word reading, especially under time constraints; and poor spelling.

There are multiple working definitions of dyslexia, such as that proposed in the Rose Review (2009), which emphasises phonological awareness, verbal memory and speed of processing. These attempt to bridge the gap between what is needed for diagnosis and what is practical to know in relation to school support.

There are clearly discrepancies between the two, which I believe muddies the waters and creates room for debates as to whether dyslexia exists or not and what, if any, impact this has on children and schools.

What does this mean for teachers?

A diagnosis of dyslexia is insufficient in understanding what to do in the classroom. It may not help a teacher understand the precise needs of a child with dyslexia. So do not roll out a universal dyslexia intervention. Rather, adopt a graduated approach (of assess, plan, do, review) unpicking what works, what doesn’t and where additional support –  from a Sendco or other professional – might be needed. Such an approach benefits all children struggling with reading, writing, speaking and listening, and we can go beyond this debate and to a more nuanced discussion about how best to support them.

Dyslexic learners, like those with other forms of SEND, have common difficulties, although these will not necessarily be at the same level of severity, occur at the same time or be expressed in the same way.

It is undoubtedly the case that there are some very prominent examples of highly successful adults with dyslexia. However, the idea that dyslexia bestows advantages, over and above those we have as individuals, is of concern. For every success story, where a dyslexic person has beaten the odds, there are many who find that dyslexia means that school life for them is hard and frustrating, with a knock-on effect to their self-esteem.




This Is Your Brain On Dyslexia

Credit: Lou Anna/Pixabay

It’s a safe bet that dyslexics and non-dyslexics have different patterns of brain activity while reading. The real questions are, how do these patterns differ and do the differences shed any light on the possible causes of dyslexia. Researchers from Boston University, the MGH Institute of Health Professions and MIT used fMRI to address these questions and found results that were both unexpected and informative. Their work was reported on Dec. 21, 2016 in the journal Neuron.

Dyslexia is typically viewed as a reading impairment but dyslexics generally evidence reduced levels of performance on other tasks as well. For example, dyslexics do not usually hear speech in noisy environments as well as non-dyslexics. Findings like this suggest that impairments in sensory perception in general, as opposed to the sensory processes that are directly involved in reading, may contribute to dyslexia.

Perceptual adaptation

Have you ever started a conversation with someone who speaks with an unfamiliar accent and found you had difficulty understanding what they were saying? What often happens in situations like this is that the listener quickly adapts to the unfamiliar speech sounds and understanding noticeably improves after just a few sentences. The process is called perceptual adaptation.

Credit: Wikipedia

The researchers used fMRI to examine the neurophysiological correlates of perceptual adaptation in dyslexics and non-dyslexics. The areas of the brain that are active when people listen to someone talking are easily identified using fMRI. Activity in some of these areas is high when the voice is new to the listener but it quickly declines as perceptual adaptation takes place. The activity declines because the brain has become more efficient at processing the sound of the voice. The decline in brain activity that accompanies perceptual adaptation is called neural adaptation.

To examine neural adaptation in dyslexia, the researchers asked dyslexics and non-dyslexics to perform a simple task in which they heard a word which they matched to a picture. The dyslexics and non-dyslexics were each divided into two groups; one group heard each word spoken by the same voice while the other heard each word spoken by a different voice. Neural adaptation should take place when the words were spoken by the same voice. When a different voice said each word, neural adaptation should not occur.

This is just what happened with the non-dyslexics; neural adaptation occurred when all the words were spoken by the same voice. When the dyslexics heard the same voice saying all the words, neural adaptation occurred but it was substantially reduced. The dyslexics did not learn as much from hearing the same voice repeatedly and as a result did not process information about the sound of the voice as efficiently as the non-dyslexics.

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Expanding beyond the sound of a voice

At first glance, research that focuses on the sound of a voice may not seem to have much to do with dyslexia which is supposed to be about reading. However, there is a solid body of prior research that indicates that the reading impairments seen in dyslexia are strongly associated with impairments in the ability to process spoken speech.

Nevertheless, the researchers wanted to know if dyslexic’s reduced level of neural adaptation when words are spoken is also present when words are read. They asked new groups of dyslexics and non-dyslexics to read blocks of words that were either made up of the same word repeated over and over or different words. The results with the written words were the same as with spoken words: neural adaptation occurred when the same word was repeated for the non-dyslexics but was markedly reduced for the dyslexics.

The results thus far indicate that dyslexia involves reduced neural adaptation to both written and spoken forms of language. Is this reduction confined to language, or does dyslexia involve impaired adaptation to other types of perceptual information as well?

The investigators examined this question by repeating the blocks-of-words study with experiments that used pictures of objects or faces. The areas of the brain involved in processing objects, faces and words are different but the pattern of results was the same. Adaptation to repeated presentations of the same object or face was strong among the non-dyslexics and weak among the dyslexics.

The results of all these studies taken together indicate that dyslexia is not just about reading. It involves a reduction in neural adaptation to a variety of perceptual stimuli. People with dyslexia do not learn as much from repeated experience with spoken words, written words, pictures of objects or pictures of faces. This indicates they process these different types of perceptual information less efficiently than non-dyslexics.

Credit: 422737/Pixabay

Credit: 422737/Pixabay

Questions that remain

The results of this research raise several questions. For one, if dyslexia involves a system-wide reduction in neural adaptation to perceptual stimuli, why does it only show up in reading? Why don’t dyslexics have the same difficulties speaking or recognizing faces and objects?

The investigators’ answer to this question is that language and vision are fundamentally important for humans. The human brain has evolved over a very long period of time to overcome deficits in these two areas in multiple ways. The same is not true for reading which is a relatively recent development in human history. Some of the neural substrates that support reading are not as robust as the substrates that underlie vision and language which makes the ability to read more fragile and more susceptible to disruption. This is a plausible hypothesis that awaits empirical support.

A more important question from the viewpoint of those with dyslexia is what causes the widespread reduction in neural adaptation to perceptual stimuli observed in these studies? If the reduction is system-wide, does it have a system-wide cause? If that cause can be identified, can it be counteracted for those who are dyslexic or who are prone to dyslexia? Stay tuned as we await the results of further research.



“Am I Cheating?” Why I Felt Ashamed to Use Dyslexia Tutor

Student writing

Feeling “dumb” is an all-too-common experience for students with learning and attention issues. So much so that when we do get a good grade on something, we might feel like we don’t really deserve it.

That was the case with me. When I started doing well in school, after years of tutoring and using accommodations, I developed feelings of guilt and self-doubt. It seemed like success and learning issues were like oil and water…they didn’t mix.

As a child with dyslexia, I struggled just to decode simple words and tackle basic math. I only did well through support and accommodations.

By middle school, I was learning to navigate school with increasing success. I was winning more battles against the long nights of homework. My war against tests was ending with more victories than defeats!

But to my surprise, this success came with shame and doubt instead of pride.

I have a distinct and painful memory of a research paper in middle school. I worked on it every single day over my winter break. I was so proud of this paper. When I got an A on it, I knew I’d earned it.

However, my teacher thought my work was “suspicious.” I think she couldn’t believe that I was capable of this caliber of writing, when in class my handwritten work was riddled with spelling errors.

So she asked my mother and me to explain how I’d managed to write the paper. I guess she wanted to determine whether the A was really mine to have.

We met with my teacher and explained that throughout the writing process, I was the one in the driver’s seat. I thought of the words, I wrote them, I “typed” them through dictation, and I edited them. I crafted and organized all my arguments.

Yes, I had help from my mother and tutor, and I used assistive technology like dictation software, spell-check and audiobooks. But nothing was done for me. I honestly and authentically completed every part of the paper.

I was also able to fully show my intellect and understanding of the subject. But if I hadn’t been able to write using these supports, the paragraphs would have been disjointed. My thoughts wouldn’t have been as coherent on paper as they were in my head.

Feeling Like a Cheater

I already knew that I would never be able to write like other kids. But at least I’d found a way to do it that worked for me. I felt like I’d done something right, thoroughly and with pride.

So when my teacher questioned how I wrote the paper, it made me feel ashamed—like I was a cheater. I was crushed. Nothing my mother said could lift my spirits or erase my feelings of self-doubt and shame.

This wasn’t the last time I felt this way. Over the years, hurtful comments from peers contributed to this feeling:

“I don’t understand why you got a better grade than me—aren’t you dyslexic?”

“I wish I could get extra time on tests. Why do you get extra time when you already have good grades?”

When I heard comments like this, I questioned myself. Am I getting too much help? Am I cheating when I use all these accommodations?

In fact, ever since that first experience with the teacher, I was troubled by self-doubt every time I wrote a paper—including my master’s dissertation at the University of Cambridge.

I’d think, Is this my work? Do I deserve to turn this in? Is this grade really a reflection of my abilities?

Over time, my writing process has become more streamlined, and I’ve needed less support. But still, any help I get triggers that little voice in my head.

This is a problem.

Less Shame, More Understanding

No person with a learning or attention issue should feel ashamed of finding a way to succeed that works for her. Doing something in a different way is not cheating; it’s innovative and resourceful. And aren’t those the skills we’re supposed to be learning anyway?

Since entering the workforce, it seems that my writing process is more “normal” than what was expected in school. No one writes alone or without spell-check in real life.

I don’t blame that teacher or other students. It isn’t their fault. Based on what I’ve seen, many people think there’s only one way to write. Until we appreciate and respect all kinds of minds, we’ll continue to make those who learn differently feel inadequate and question what they’re able to achieve.

If you have a child with learning or attention issues who’s starting to do well in school with support, do everything you can to help them understand that their success is theirs to enjoy. It’s not the parents’. It’s not the tutor’s. The success doesn’t belong to their calculator, word processor or other assistive technology.

Tell your child: Behind that army of support, it is you who won the battle. Celebrate that and don’t let anyone take it away from you.



Surprising facts; Can dyslexia inspire me to success?

A brilliant mind?

Stressed Math Student

Bad at maths? Scientists say you may actually have a disability

Bad at maths? Scientists say you may actually have a disability

Consider yourself fairly intelligent yet struggle with basic maths when paying for your coffee? Ever worked on a till and felt the sheer panic of it crashing and you having to work out the change yourself?

You may be interested to hear that scientists have developed a theory that those who struggle with arithmetic may actually have a maths disability that’s similar to dyslexia.

The article, conducted by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center and Stanford University, suggests that people who are bad at maths may struggle to process numbers in the same part of the brain where dyslexic people struggle to process words.

It stems from abnormalities in areas of the brain that support procedural memory – the memory system used for skills that don’t require conscious thought, such as walking, talking and riding a bike.

When you first learn a new skill – like maths or driving – you use your declarative memory (the part of your memory that can is consciously stored and recalled) but once you’ve practised it enough, it becomes automatised in your procedural memory, where you don’t have to think about it when you’re doing it.

‘For some children with math disability, procedural memory may not be working well, so math skills are not automatised,’ explains lead author Tanya M. Evans, PhD student at Stanford University.

Given that the development of math skills involves their automatisation, it makes sense that the dysfunction of procedural memory could lead to math disability,’ says senior researcher Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown.

‘In fact, aspects of math that tend to be automatised, such as arithmetic, are problematic in children with math disability. Moreover, since these children often also have dyslexia or developmental language disorder, the disorders may share causal mechanisms.’



Finding Peace in the Battle Over Dyslexia

Finding Peace in the Battle Over Dyslexia

As a child in the 1960s, Dr. Carol Greider struggled in school. Reading and spelling did not come naturally to her. Even when she was moved into remedial classes, she routinely earned “D’s” and “F’s” in English and performed poorly on standardized tests.

She admits that her difficulties often made her feel stupid. But Carol Greider is decidedly not stupid.

Greider is dyslexic and endured a childhood marked by academic insecurity. Like so many bright minds, Greider learned differently, though quite well according to the evidence before us today. To wit, she has at least one more Nobel Prize than most people you know.

In 2009, the molecular biologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University won the international honor in the field of Medicine for discovering telomerase, an enzyme that plays a major part in aging and disease. The day she made her discovery, Christmas of 1984, she was so ecstatic that she went home, blasted Bruce Springsteen’s “Born the the USA” and danced around her living room. Not only is Dr. Greider smart, but that’s one molecular biologist I want to party with.

In spite of her dyslexia, Greider has succeeded marvelously. In fact, Greider might even argue that the condition played a direct role in her career path. She found that she learned better in a laboratory setting, that this type of problem-solving was more compatible with her intellectual style. Ironically, Greider was able to make this discovery in the absence of a diagnosis.

Obviously, Dr. Greider’s experience isn’t uniform. But then, very little about dyslexia is uniform. And this fact has driven a sometimes fierce and emotional public debate.

There are those who would argue that the diagnosis of dyslexia is at once highly subjective, short on scientific rigor, and applied with inaccurate frequency. There are others who would argue that standard definitions of dyslexia don’t go far enough to encapsulate its inherent challenges and that countless young students must face their learning disability without the benefit of knowing what to call it. And there are yet others who have been rescued from lives of academic despair by their diagnoses and the resulting intervention.

So is a diagnosis of dyslexia a stigma that promotes low expectations? Is it an opportunity for positive intervention? Well, the wholly unsatisfying answer to both of these questions is, it depends. It depends on whether or not the diagnosis is an appropriate one, which scholars have come increasingly to suggest is not such a sure thing. It also depends on the nature of the intervention, which also may or may not be appropriate on a case by case basis.

And then there are cases like Greider’s. In spite of her academic struggles, Greider clearly found a strategy that worked for her and consequently excelled in ways most of us can only dream of. And she did it without intervention. This begs the question, would a diagnosis have helped mitigate her struggles or would it have disrupted the strategies that ultimately led her to a miraculous and award-winning medical discovery?

We simply don’t know, and that uncertainty drives the debate presently before us. Dyslexia may be commonplace but our understanding of it is far from complete.

Dyslexia has, for decades, held the appearance of a widespread and well-understood learning disability. But some scholars argue that dyslexia is not as widespread as the numbers would have us believe. And as the current public debate over the subject demonstrates, neither is dyslexia as well-understood as the frequency of its diagnosis might imply.

Over time, its definition has been parsed, divided and deconstructed. Today, the International Dyslexia Association’s (IDA) definition is generally the most recognized. The IDA says dyslexia is distinguished 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.”

Seems simple enough. Dyslexia presents in learners who have difficulty decoding the written word while otherwise learning and comprehending as well as any other student. On the surface, dyslexia doesn’t seem like that controversial an issue. From the outside looking in, it’s a term you’ve heard so frequently that there is a tendency to simply accept its legitimacy. To be certain, dyslexia is real. And the public discourse on the subject has been complicated by those who might claim otherwise. This does not, however, mean that every diagnosis is entirely accurate.

This is where the controversy comes into play. What are the implications for those who have been improperly diagnosed? And how does the public debate over the subject threaten or enhance opportunity for those yet to be diagnosed?

According to the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society (JINS), dyslexia is present in 6-17% of students. This troublingly unspecific range is based upon the varying diagnostic criteria used in any number of educational contexts. All of this is further obfuscated by the fact that there are is no single and readily apparent neurological or neuroanatomical cause for dyslexia. Though any number of studies have posited loose associations between dyslexia and certain neurological features, none has produced a compellingly empirical revelation. Diagnosis remains a modestly-informed crapshoot at best.

What makes this gamble especially troubling is the fact that dyslexia, according to the JINS, “can be prevented in many children with early intervention.” While the condition varies in its severity and is likely inherited, the Journal goes on to note that environmental factors will play a significant part in how the individual evolves and how the individual afflicted ultimately learns how to learn, for lack of better phrasing.

Environmental Factors
The knowledge that environmental factors can mitigate or exacerbate the symptoms of dyslexia is either proof that it is highly treatable or, as some would argue, evidence that dyslexia is a myth propagated by a narrow-minded educational establishment.

Late author and educator Samuel L. Blumenfeld would argue the latter of these points, going so far as to suggest that a diagnosis of dyslexia is a self-fulfilling prophecy that harms more than it helps.

He explains that so much of what educators understand (or neglect to understand) about dyslexia can be traced to a particular learning methodology innovated in 1936. It was in this year, said Blumenfeld, that professor E.W. Dolch created a list of the roughly 90 words that he regarded as those used most frequently in the English language. The premise of this learning instrument was that children who successfully sight-memorized these words would have a leg-up in learning to read.

As Blumenfeld explains, this strategy of literacy training predicted one’s reading potential based entirely upon one’s “holistic reflex.” For some learners, this was a fine measure. For others, it simply felt unnatural to sight-memorize words and translate them into specific sounds. The result, said Blumenfeld, was the increased tendency to diagnose those who learned differently as learning disabled. In a sense, Blumenfeld would suggest, the idea of dyslexia was essentially reverse-engineered based on a preferred strategy of literacy instruction.

Indeed, in spite of the not-entirely-accurate cliche that dyslexic learners perceive things backwards, one could readily argue that learning to read words without first learning to sound out letters and syllables is itself backwards. As Blumenfeld explains, dyslexic learners tend to learn through “phonetic reflex”—by sounding words out—as opposed to holistically.

Blumenfeld even went so far as to characterize a diagnosis of dyslexia (and its resultant educational pigeonholing) as “academic child abuse.” Blumenfeld’s assertion is inflammatory to be sure but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth examining with some objectivity.

Blumenfeld recognized that the symptoms that lead to a dyslexia diagnosis implicate altered brain patterns but he also pointed out that these altered brain patterns may be reinforced by incompatible learning strategies. The manner in which schools approach dyslexia intervention, said Blumenfeld, all but assures the persistence of these altered patterns.

Schools, in his opinion, produce environmental factors that threaten the progress of allegedly dyslexic learners. And insofar as schools often struggle to produce meaningfully individualized interventions, he may have a point.

As a text entitled Defending and Parenting Children Who Learn Differently notes, a child with dyslexia “must have a customized remediation program developed specifically for his or her individual set of symptoms.”

This is at odds with reality in most school settings. To the point, while dyslexia is classified by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act as a “specific learning disability,” it is not among the 14 distinct learning conditions listed on “the Individual Education Program (IEP) form that must be completed for every special education student.”

While dyslexia is lumped in with other disabilities in the federal Guidelines for Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities, it is not specifically addressed in its own section. This leaves states, districts and, of course, educators, with little to go on other than the catch-all reading interventions designed for students with learning disabilities of highly variant nature and severity.

This underscores Blumenfeld’s point, not so much that that dyslexia is a myth, but that every child with a learning challenge learns differently. As a result, warns Blumenfeld, a dyslexia diagnosis inherently lends itself to formulaic intervention, of trying to force a square peg into a round hole, as it were. In his view, it also suggests the presence of a disability in a context where neurodiversity might be a more accurate and less stigmatizing explanation of learning difference.

A Cloudy Diagnosis

While Blumenfeld’s hostility toward dyslexia may be alarming to those who have seen ample evidence of its very real and very impactful existence, his skepticism is not without basis.

Proof of dyslexia’s nebulous diagnostic outlook can be found in the constant flux surrounding its definition and criteria. A 2001 essay on “The Evolution of Research on Dyslexia” notes that it is probably most accurate to consider dyslexia a syndrome as opposed to “a qualitative disease.”

This is because such a wide range of symptoms may or may not indicate its presence. This, in and of itself, hints at the complexity and nuance which are required (but often lacking) in our clinical and educational approach to dyslexia.

The first recorded usage of the term traces to 1872, when German physician R. Berlin applied it to a patient who—as a consequence of a brain lesion—had lost the ability to read. The next several years saw a flurry of references to a condition wherein a patient demonstrated impaired reading abilities but no other apparent neurological or cognitive impediments. It was during this time that the phrase “word blindness” also became a commonplace descriptor.

Over the next 150 years, this definition proved as mutable and varied as the human brain itself, with discussion on dyslexia’s nature, origins, and symptoms only growing more complex in the duration. In addition to the mutability of its definition over time, dyslexia remains even today subject to problematic variation. A text by Elliott and Grigorenko entitled The Dyslexia Debate reports that the wide array of symptoms associated with and potentially indicative of dyslexia include “difficulties in phonological awareness, poor short-term (or, working) verbal memory, poor ordering and sequencing, weak spelling, clumsiness, a poor sense of rhythm, difficulty with rapid information processing, poor concentration in consent hand preference, impaired verbal fluency, poor phonic skills, frequent letter reversals, poor capacity for mental calculation, difficulties with speech and language, low self-image, and anxiety when being asked to read aloud. Critics of such lists note that none of the symptoms is necessary or sufficient for a diagnosis.”

As Elliott and Grigorenko argue, the variance and inconsistency of diagnostic features are simply too great to trust every diagnosis at face value. And if Blumenfeld is to be believed, we are using these less-than-trustworthy diagnoses to predict, mold (and possibly impede) the learning potential of countless students



Everything you thought you knew about dyslexia

There are still so many misconceptions

I didn’t know I had dyslexia until I was 17. It had never previously been flagged up to me until my Politics teacher suggested that I went to learning support to be tested. Once I had taken the test it turned out that I was well in the spectrum, I was allowed to have 25 per cent extra time in all exams and there was even talk of having a scribe.

To me this all seemed quite baffling, I knew I was a slow reader but I had never really thought that far into it. But it appeared that I was actually coming across a lot smarter in person than I ever could do on paper. To be perfectly honest my first response was to be pissed off. I went through my GCSEs without any of this extra help that I was entitled to, I will never know how well I could have done with this extra guidance but I was relieved because now I knew I could do my A Levels with a lot less stress.

Personally I haven’t had a particularly bad experience when it comes to dyslexia, but I know there are plenty of others out there that do. My mum for example, or even Steven Spielberg, who wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic until the age of 60. He was teased at school and passed off by teachers as simply ‘lazy’.


So what is it? According to Google it can be defined as follows: ‘a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.’

Nowadays, it would be nice to assume we live in a world where people can be accepting. Despite the amount of research that has been done and the awareness that has now been raised there are still people out there struggling with bullying or low expectations from teachers due to having diagnosed or undiagnosed dyslexia. There are plenty of misconceptions out there on the condition.

Dyslexia is rare or non-existent

This is not the case. Dyslexia isn’t just an excuse for people to have extra time in exams. It does exist – in fact there’s been over 30 years worth of research which has gone into learning about the disability. About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, making it a very common learning disability. It is estimated that roughly 40 million American adults are dyslexic yet only two million of them are aware of it.

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People with dyslexia are stupid

The issue was and still can be that people who hear someone is dyslexic naturally assume they’re a bit stupid. This really isn’t the case. The idea stemmed incorrectly from an older generation that didn’t understand the learning disability and its effects on children and adults at the time.

My mum fell victim to this as she took her GCSEs, she was made to think she was unintelligent and was forced to leave the school. Yet I and so many others with dyslexia were able to get into their first choice of university, I also enjoy reading and writing even if it may take me longer than the average person.

What is very saddening is that the term ‘dyslexic’ still does have a lot of negative connotations, despite the opinion being completely outdated, there are still schools with teachers that can assume you aren’t as capable as the other students. A teacher or a school still labelling a child as lazy through a lack of understanding is not OK.

When you tell a child they will not achieve high grades they won’t try to, it becomes sort of a self fulfilling prophecy where they are dumbed down by others to the point where they believe it themselves, they put themselves down so much they will internalise these thoughts which will inevitably become part of their self-concept.

People with dyslexia always struggle with spelling

People can have many different forms of dyslexia, mine stemmed from an encoding/decoding problem whereas a lot of people do and can struggle with spelling. When further tests were done so I could apply for my DSA (Disabled Students Allowance) it was found that although for my age my reading ability was in the lowest one per cent of the country, my vocabulary was in the highest per cent. This and the fact I never had any problems with spelling shows that spelling sometimes doesn’t have a part to play. It was also the main reason I wasn’t tested for dyslexia sooner. Dyslexia can show itself in many different ways.

If you think you could have dyslexia, it is worth seeking advice as soon as you can. There is an overwhelming amount of support your university can offer you, for example I’m now able to have access to software that will read my writing out to me and also write it down when I am unable to do so myself. Crucially, you’re not alone, and you’re not stupid – so you shouldn’t be embarrassed.



Dyslexia may not exist, warn academics

Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning

 The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia
                       The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia

Millions of children may have been wrongly diagnosed as dyslexic after academics found the condition probably does not exist.

Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning.

They claim resources are being wasted by putting youngsters through diagnostic tests and say the umbrella term is used too readily for children who often display vastly different reading problems.

In the book The Dyslexia Debate, Professor Julian Elliott, a former teacher of children with learning difficulties, said more focus should be put on helping children to read, rather than finding a label for their difficulty.

The author, a professor of education at Durham University, said: “Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis.

“In every country, and in every language, a significant proportion of children struggle to master the skill of reading and some will continue to find it difficult throughout their childhood and into adulthood.

“Typically, we search for a diagnostic label when we encounter problems because we believe that this will point to the best form of treatment.

“It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the parents and teachers of children with reading difficulties believe that if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic, clear ways to help them will result.

“Research in this field clearly demonstrates that this is a grave misunderstanding.”

The authors found that symptoms in one person leading to a diagnosis of dyslexia are often absent in another person similarly diagnosed. Therefore a typical education invention for one pupil may not help another who has also been diagnosed with dyslexia.

While the researchers do not question the existence of the real, sometimes complex, problems some people have with reading, they are critical of the term “dyslexia” because it is too imprecise.

They suggest the key task for professionals is to spot reading difficulties early in any child and intervene as quickly as possible rather than search for a questionable diagnosis.

Children are diagnosed with dyslexia for a range of reasons including those whose difficulty in reading is unexpected, those who show a discrepancy between reading and listening comprehension or pupils who do not make meaningful progress in reading even when provided with high-quality support.

The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia.

Dr Gay Keegan, District Senior Educational Psychologist for Hampshire County Council, said: “As an applied educational psychologist I do not find the term ‘dyslexia’ helpful since there appears to be no unifying identifying characteristics, prognosis or response to interventions which all people with ‘dyslexia’ share.

“So, rather than considering a single entity, I find it helpful to consider different reasons for reading difficulties, using a functional analysis rather than looking for a label.

“My approach involves assessing what the child can do and what they find difficult, assessing and enhancing their learning opportunities and measuring their response to well-delivered, evidenced-based interventions over time.”

However charities have challenged their assessment claiming that the term is important and should not be dropped.

Dr John Rack, head of research, development and policy, for Dyslexia Action insisted the term retained a scientific and educational value.

He said: “We don’t buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle.

“And for very many, those reasons fall into a consistent and recognisable pattern that it is helpful to call dyslexia.

“Helpful for individuals because it makes sense out of past struggles and helpful for teachers who can plan the way they teach to overcome or find ways around the particular blocks that are there.



Test for Dyslexia: 37 Common Traits


Dyslexic children and adults can become avid and enthusiastic readers when given learning tools that fit their creative learning style.

  • Appears bright, highly intelligent, and articulate but unable to read, write, or spell at grade level.
  • Labelled lazy, dumb, careless, immature, “not trying hard enough,” or “behavior problem.”
  • Isn’t “behind enough” or “bad enough” to be helped in the school setting.
  • High in IQ, yet may not test well academically; tests well orally, but not written.
  • Feels dumb; has poor self-esteem; hides or covers up weaknesses with ingenious compensatory strategies; easily frustrated and emotional about school reading or testing.
  • Talented in art, drama, music, sports, mechanics, story-telling, sales, business, designing, building, or engineering.
  • Seems to “Zone out” or daydream often; gets lost easily or loses track of time.
  • Difficulty sustaining attention; seems “hyper” or “daydreamer.”
  • Learns best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, and visual aids.

Vision, Reading, and Spelling

  • Complains of dizziness, headaches or stomach aches while reading.
  • Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences, or verbal explanations.
  • Reading or writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words.
  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing, or copying.
  • Seems to have difficulty with vision, yet eye exams don’t reveal a problem.
  • Extremely keen sighted and observant, or lacks depth perception and peripheral vision.
  • Reads and rereads with little comprehension.
  • Spells phonetically and inconsistently.

Hearing and Speech

  • Has extended hearing; hears things not said or apparent to others; easily distracted by sounds.
  • Difficulty putting thoughts into words; speaks in halting phrases; leaves sentences incomplete; stutters under stress; mispronounces long words, or transposes phrases, words, and syllables when speaking.

Writing and Motor Skills

  • Trouble with writing or copying; pencil grip is unusual; handwriting varies or is illegible.
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated, poor at ball or team sports; difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills and tasks; prone to motion-sickness.
  • Can be ambidextrous, and often confuses left/right, over/under.

Math and Time Management

  • Has difficulty telling time, managing time, learning sequenced information or tasks, or being on time.
  • Computing math shows dependence on finger counting and other tricks; knows answers, but can’t do it on paper.
  • Can count, but has difficulty counting objects and dealing with money.
  • Can do arithmetic, but fails word problems; cannot grasp algebra or higher math.

Memory and Cognition

  • Excellent long-term memory for experiences, locations, and faces.
  • Poor memory for sequences, facts and information that has not been experienced.
  • Thinks primarily with images and feeling, not sounds or words (little internal dialogue).

Behavior, Health, Development and Personality

  • Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly.
  • Can be class clown, trouble-maker, or too quiet.
  • Had unusually early or late developmental stages (talking, crawling, walking, tying shoes).
  • Prone to ear infections; sensitive to foods, additives, and chemical products.
  • Can be an extra deep or light sleeper; bedwetting beyond appropriate age.
  • Unusually high or low tolerance for pain.
  • Strong sense of justice; emotionally sensitive; strives for perfection.
  • Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, emotional stress, or poor health.



23 Things Parents of Children With Dyslexia Want Others to Know

Somewhere between 5 to 17 percent of school-age children in the U.S. are affected by dyslexia, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. For dyslexic kids, reading, writing and spelling can be some of the most challenging activities — and ones they’re required to do nearly every day.

Despite dyslexia’s relative prevalence, misconceptions still surround it; and parents, as their children’s advocates, often find themselves struggling to make others understand what their kids need.

So The Mighty teamed up with Learning Ally, a nonprofit that provides support and technology for students with learning and visual disabilities, to ask the parents what they wish others could understand about their child’s experience with dyslexia.

This is what they had to say: 

1. “It doesn’t just affect school. It takes a toll on their social life too.” — Robin Anderson Reed

"It doesn't just affect school. It takes a toll on their social life too." -- Robin Anderson Reed

2. “Accommodations provide access and help to level the playing field.” — Kathy Stratton

3. “Would you deny a child that can’t walk a wheelchair? Deny a child that can’t see properly glasses? Then why on earth do we deny those with dyslexia what they need in the classroom? Put ‘glasses’ on these kids and they will soar! Not every person learns the same way.” — Sheila Ridgley Riche

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4. “The shame that accompanies dyslexia can be paralyzing. There is anxiety that ensues as a result of never quite knowing when dyslexia will rear its ugly head.” — Cali Nichols

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5. “Print and handwriting should not limit a person from participating in anything they want. Accommodations matter.” — Jennifer Fitzer

6. “If a child is dyslexic it doesn’t mean the parent didn’t read to them enough or try hard enough.” — Marilyn Montrose

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7. “[It takes so] much time, patience and hard work for children to get through school.” — Jeannie Klotz VanMatre

8. “While there are challenges to being dyslexic, there are also enormous strengths.” — Lisa Maska

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9. “There is no ‘cure’ for dyslexia.” — Tracy Schlaepfer O’Day

10. “There is nothing wrong with a dyslexic individual; what’s broken is the rigid system we stick them into that is not willing to teach them in the ways they learn best!” — Sheri Smith

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11. “I want the world to know my kids are strong. They struggle bravely and fight hard. They never give up, even when their environment is tearing at them every step of the way. Without the struggle, the joys wouldn’t be so euphoric. When my kids laugh, when they celebrate, it is all heart.” — Phoebe N Burt Beacham

12. “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that it’s not a true disability.” — Jenifer Kasten

7 copy13. “I want people to care about children with dyslexia and to quit pretending they know what it is. Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder and presents differently in each person. Understand the child as well as the characteristics.” — Sue Sullivan Grzybowski

14. “It’s humiliating for a child or an adult to not be able to read. How a teacher handles this situation will carry through an entire lifetime. The refusal to help and then applying labels or characterization (“lazy,” “doesn’t work hard”) is simply cruel and destructive. People who are dyslexic and encouraged to be their best tend to be incredibly creative, as they have to figure out how to forge forward.” — Claudia Crowley-Miller

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15. “It isn’t the same for everyone, even for different kids in the same house. But that doesn’t make the situation any less real. We, as parents, have to fight the school system just to get the basics.” — Jennifer Newton

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16. “I wish people understood that dyslexia does not just affect school. Dyslexia causes social anxiety because of our misappropriated view of intelligence. My son told me he hates walking into a room and ‘knowing he is the dumbest person there.’ He bases this on the belief that reading and spelling determine intelligence. My son is so much more than a misspelled word, a multiplication fact he can’t memorize or a story that’s hard to comprehend. He is a fantastic runner, photographer, wrestler, soccer player and can code without formal training. He loves to help people and is great with younger children. We need to redefine the word intelligence for our dyslexic kids.” — Barb Barker

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17. “It’s not ‘one size fits all.’ Don’t put the person in a box. Dyslexia is as unique as the human finger print.” — Susan Burns


18. “Very few people seem to understand that it can be really hard work to just be at school every day. Just being present enough to sit still, to write your name on the papers, to eat for only 30 minutes and to behave can be exhausting in itself! Add to that the difficulty of reading, following directions and extreme written/typed processing issues and it is utterly exhausting for my son to be at school. I greatly admire how he has learned to cope but it makes me sad that so much of his time is really difficult work.” — Shannon Pedigo Efteland

19. “The only academic bragging right that kids have in the early grades is reading. If reading isn’t your gift you’ve lost (in this system) before you even get started.” — Heather McAdams Phillips

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20. “Every time we learn something, be it song lyrics, dance steps, how to cook, etc., it can be a different (and perhaps slower) process for a dyslexic.” — Elizabeth Isabella

21. “It is so heartbreaking to see him work so hard to do what most of his peers can do so easily — read and write. I know how amazing, bright and creative he is… If only he could truly see how incredibly brave he really is to keep fighting this battle of learning to read and write in school.” — Lisa Workman

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22. “Half the battle (or more!) with any learning difference is the social and emotional side of it — feeling stupid or lazy, feeling alone, feeling frustrated or angry, trying your hardest but still coming up short. Yes, the actual difficulties with learning and attention affect us a lot, but the negative messages we receive from ourselves and others can have an even more staggering effect on us.” — Kristen Anderson DeBeer

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23. “If you are judging someone based on written spelling and grammar, you could be missing out on an amazing person.” — Julya RJ

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