Dyslexia A Very Real Reading Disability

Dyslexia: Making Reading Hard for Students with this Disability

By Emily Young

He reads saw for was.
He says a b is a d.
He skips, omits, or adds words when he reads outloud.
She writes 41 for 14.
What’s the difference between 1 2 3 and 123, anyways?
What’s the difference between act and cat?
What’s the difference between + and X?
What’s the difference between OIL and 710?
(Sally Smith, No Easy Answers, p. 1, 46)

Have you seen children like this? Dyslexia is a type of reading disability that causes students to have the confusion illustrated in the above example, where there is a difficulty with the written language, particularly in reading and spelling. Anywhere between 5%-17% of school children may have some form of dyslexia. Students with dyslexia might interchange letters within the words when reading or spelling, confuse letters such as b, d, p, and q, and have difficulty grasping sound-letter associations in words. While there is scientific proof for dyslexia's neurological roots, many people still believe that dyslexia is a myth because it only affects the student's reading ability and not the rest of their learning capabilities or intelligence. This page is meant to dispel the misconception that dyslexia is an imaginary disability and present the characteristics, biological proof, and instructional methods that have worked to circumvent the disability.


Characteristics of students with dyslexia that teachers should look for include:

  • Normal intelligence ranges
  • Normal articulation and communication but with reading, writing, and spelling levels below average.
  • May perform low on written-language tests but exceed when verbal tests are administered.
  • Potentially poor academic achievement due to struggles with reading and writing.
  • Potentially labeled as lazy, dumb, careless, immature, or as having a behavioral problem. These students, whose disability only affects their reading, might also be labeled as “not behind enough” to receive additional help.
  • May have poor self-esteem
  • May be easily frustrated and emotional about school reading or testing.
  • Might try to hide their reading weaknesses with ingenious compensatory "strategies".
  • Might learn best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, presentations, and visual aids.
  • Can show talents in other areas such as art, drama, music, sports, mechanics, story-telling, sales, business, designing, building, or engineering.
  • Have related problems with paying attention in a school setting.

Biological Causes of Dyslexia

There are many different theories about what causes dyslexia, but the commonly accepted theory among the medical community is the cerebral theory, where dyslexia has a neurological basis. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, it has been found that people with dyslexia have a deficit in parts of the left hemisphere of the brain involved in reading. In particular, doctors have noticed that the language center in a dyslexic brain showed microscopic differences from non-dyslexic brains, and these differences affect the typical six-layer structure of the cortex. These differences affect connectivity and functionality of the brain in critical areas related to auditory processing and visual processing, which seems consistent with the hypothesis that dyslexia stems from a phonological awareness deficit. In additional research, it has been reported from CAT scan studies that the brains of dyslexic children were “symmetrical,” unlike the asymmetrical brains of non-dyslexic readers who had larger left hemispheres.


There is no cure for dyslexia, but these students are capable of learning the same content and obtaining the same knowledge as non-dyslexics, they simply have to undergo a different means to the same end. Dyslexic students may need extra tutoring outside of school in order to compensate with their reading disability. As well, phonological awareness training can help dyslexic students improve their reading decoding skills. Using multi-sensory and multiple-intelligence instructional strategies in the classroom, such as visuals, read alouds, and hands-on experiences can help transfer knowledge to dyslexic students and circumvent the disability. For example, Tom Cruise, an actor who speaks openly about his struggles with dyslexia, has his lines tape-recorded for him so that he may listen and learn them – he cannot understand or remember them if they are written in script form. Teachers can use technology such as tape recordings or computer visual graphics to aid children with dyslexia in the classroom.


University of California, Irvine (2006). The Disability Handbook: Fact Sheet. Retrieved on July 29, 2007, from http://www.disability.uci.edu/disability_handbook/famous_people.htm.

Wikipedia (2007). Dyslexia. Retrieved on July 29, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia.