Dyslexia is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it difficult for individuals to read, spell, write, and learn. It is a life-long condition that can be effectively managed with special education programs. The first step to treating dyslexia is identifying its signs and symptoms and seeking professional help.
- What Is Dyslexia?
- Understanding Dyslexia
- What Are The Different Types Of Dyslexia?
- What Are The Symptoms Of Dyslexia?
- What Causes Dyslexia?
- Dyslexia Across Ages
- How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?
- How To Diagnose Dyslexia With Tests
- What Is The Treatment For Dyslexia?
- How Can You Help Someone With Dyslexia?
- Dyslexia At A Glance
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning disorder in which a person has difficulty in reading, identifying speech sounds, and recognizing letters, symbols, etc. The word “dyslexia” is derived from two Greek words: “dys” meaning inadequate or lack of and “lexicon” meaning word. According to a 2012 study 1, “Dyslexia thus means problems learning how to read words and deal with language in print.”
However, recent research has moved beyond seeing dyslexia as a simple reading disorder and attributed it to be a neurodevelopmental condition 2 in the brain that causes “difficulty in literacy acquisition, cognitive processes and discrepancies in educational outcomes.” Today, it is considered one of the many neuropsychological and neurobiological disorders 3 in the spectrum of learning disabilities (LDs) that affect a person’s ability to read, learn, or speak fluently. It is also distinguished from mental illnesses and reading difficulties caused by vision or hearing problems or by poor teaching methods or inadequate learning opportunities.
Studies 4 show that people with dyslexia have damaged and disoriented 5 visual analysis systems and suffer from major changes in the brain’s structures and functions related to learning and language processing. Because of this, they often have difficulty in reading, writing, learning new things, or speaking. They often do not recognize or are confused 4 by letters, symbols, signs, words, or sounds. They face difficulties in processing grammar and spellings or understanding how semantics or phonetics work in sentence structures.
Writings appear blurry to them, because of which they often misread words, write them wrongly, or change their meanings. Dyslexic people also face problems related to attention deficiency, hyperactivity, and touch. It is also commonly thought that dyslexic people have low or below average intelligence, but research 6 shows that they have average or above average intelligence and are often blessed with skills like critical thinking, problem solving, etc.
Dyslexia is usually a life-long condition, with genetic roots 7 or it can be induced by age 8 or physical injuries 9 to the brain. The early signs of dyslexia often occur in childhood, especially in the pre-schooling years, but because of its wide bevy of symptoms in younger population groups like children who cannot properly convey the difficulties they face, dyslexia goes undiagnosed and untreated. Even if it is diagnosed in later years or adulthood, treatment may not have as effective outcomes as early treatment.
There is no established set of causes of dyslexia and research is still underway to properly understand the disorder. However, experts agree on the negative long-term impact of dyslexia, especially given that it cannot be completely cured.
The poor learning abilities caused by dyslexia interfere with the dyslexic person’s quality of life, often leading to social and professional problems. They find it difficult to perform publicly and often suffer from a fear of schools, or activities related to learning. Dyslexia is also linked to high rates of depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and suicide. To prevent these complexities in later life, it is recommended that dyslexia should be diagnosed at the earliest opportunity 10 and addressed with effective education programs, teaching methods, and support groups.
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What Are The Different Types Of Dyslexia?
The symptoms and causes of dyslexia are too wide-ranging 11 and heterogeneous and, in most cases, it is seen that if “relevant stimuli for a certain type of dyslexia are not detected during diagnosis”, that dyslexia is easily dismissed. Because of this, experts have grouped together several common types of dyslexia—based on the symptoms and causes—to increase the effectiveness of treatment. Some of these types are mentioned below –
1. Based On Causes
Based on causes, dyslexia can be categorized into the following types:
1. Developmental dyslexia
Developmental dyslexia is a genetic neuronal development present from birth that “impacts selectively on the ability to learn to read, leaving oral and non-verbal reasoning powers intact”. This dyslexia is more prevalent in left-handed males 12 and usually diminishes with age. It can be easily addressed by “remediation programmes tailored to each child’s particular, individual, pattern of needs”.
Developmental dyslexia can be categorized into the following types:
A. Primary dyslexia
If a person’s parents are dyslexic, his/her dyslexia is directly inherited 13. This is called primary dyslexia.
B. Secondary dyslexia
Secondary dyslexia is caused by problems in brain development during the early stages of pregnancy. This can happen in children whose parents have no history of dyslexia.
C. Peripheral dyslexia
A person suffering from this type of dyslexia usually has a damaged visual analysis system. Peripheral dyslexia can be divided into three subtypes:
- Neglect dyslexia
- Attentional dyslexia
- Letter-by-letter reading dyslexia
D. Central dyslexia
One 2012 study says that, in people with central dyslexia, “processes beyond the visual analysis system are damaged, resulting in difficulties in comprehension and/or pronunciation of written words”. Central dyslexia is of different types, such as:
- Non-semantic reading
- Surface dyslexia
- Phonological dyslexia
- Deep dyslexia
2. Acquired Dyslexia/Alexia
A person, who could previously read, sometimes ‘acquires’ dyslexia if a brain injury, stroke, progressive illness, dementia, or a traumatic experience impacts the brain areas associated with learning and processing languages. This is also known as alexia.
2. Based On Symptoms
Dyslexia is a disorder with selective deficits that affect our reading abilities or language processing skills. While alexia is only dyslexia with a known cause and, sometimes, definite manifestations, developmental dyslexias are quite a different matter. In it, the selective deficits and their symptoms are varied, because of which experts find it convenient to categorize it into the following types:
1. Letter position dyslexia
In this type of dyslexia, people can identify letters correctly, but they fail to understand the order of the letters 14 within a given word. They perform well when it comes to speech production, but they are poor performers 15 in writing tasks.
For instance, they will read the word “dairy” as “diary”.
2. Attentional dyslexia
In this type of dyslexia, people tend to misplace 16 the different letters in a given word, even though they can correctly identify and keep the original relative position of letters within the word.
For instance, they will read “lion’s den” as “dion’s len”.
3. Letter identity dyslexia
People with this type of dyslexia fail to identify letters 17 and create abstract identity of letters from their visual form, as “they cannot name a letter, identify a written letter according to its name or sound, or match letters in different cases.”
For instance, they will find it difficult to read words like “ASAP” or “The Oxford Wine Company”.
4. Neglect dyslexia
People with neglect dyslexia fail to read a side of a word 18, typically the left side of a word. They substitute or add letters in words they cannot fully read, and end up changing the meaning of a word.
For instance, for them, the word “rice” becomes “lice” or “mice”.
5. Visual dyslexia
In people with visual dyslexia, the brain doesn’t get the complete picture 19 of what their eyes see, because of which they find it difficult to identify letters. They mostly replace letters within words or within sentences.
For instance, a written page will appear blurry and out of focus to them, making the words incomprehensible.
6. Surface dyslexia
People with surface dyslexia cannot recognize 20 similar words.
For instance, people with this dyslexia will fail to understand the difference between “witch”, “which”, and “wich”.
7. Phonological dyslexia
People with this dyslexia often find it difficult to speak and/or pronounce words correctly.
8. Vowel letter dyslexia
People with this dyslexia often “omit, substitute, transpose, and add vowel letters” in a given word 23.
For example, they process the word “cat” as “coat” or “cot”.
9. Deep dyslexia
People with deep dyslexia often process words 24 with semantic, morphological, and visual errors.
For instance, for them, the word “smiles” becomes “smiling”.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dyslexia?
The symptoms of dyslexia are often varied across the dyslexic spectrum. But people afflicted with it often show the following dyslexia signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty in reading
- Difficulty in learning new words
- Difficulty in recognizing letters or symbols
- Difficulty in rhyming words
- Difficulty in processing grammar, spellings, or sentence structures
- Lack of semantic or phonological awareness while processing languages
- Misreading words and changing their meanings
- Delayed speech development
- Attention deficiency
What Causes Dyslexia?
Research is still underway when it comes to understanding the actual causes of dyslexia. Sometimes, it is viewed as a neurological disorder; at other times, it is a reading, learning, or a visual disorder. However, decades of scholarly research and medical practice has established that dyslexia is caused by an interaction of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
1. Genetic factors
Like other neurodevelopmental disorders, dyslexia is heritable and/or induced during pregnancy, with life-long conditions and early onset. Research attributes the heritable causes of dyslexia to:
- A family history of dyslexia
- A family history of other learning/neurodevelopmental disorders
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Physical injury to the fetus during pregnancy
- Exposure to nicotine, drugs, alcohol during pregnancy
- Exposure to infections that alter fetal brain development during pregnancy
2. Biological Factors
One 2022 study 25 says that people with both developmental dyslexia and alexia share a damaged visual analysis system and major changes in the brain’s structures and functions related to learning, such as:
- Cerebral cortex
- Reduced gray matter
- Frontal and temporal regions
3. Environmental Factors
According to a 2009 study 26, “Factors related to poverty and the family’s orientation to literacy represent risk factors for dyslexia.” Not only dyslexic children, but also children who find it difficult to learn can develop dyslexia-like signs in environments that are hostile to learning. Studies 27 further link the causes of dyslexia to:
- The impact of language on poverty
- Insufficient learning opportunities
- Poor literacy-related activities
- Insufficient teaching methods
Dyslexia Across Ages
Dyslexia is usually present from birth and the early signs of dyslexia occur in childhood and at pre-schooling years when children usually start learning. In younger years, dyslexia causes common learning problems. But if this is unaddressed, dyslexia grows on to have a more severe impact on people in adulthood, interfering with their social and professional abilities and their quality of life.
1. Dyslexia In Children
According to a 2022 study, developmental dyslexia and its different types are the most common type of dyslexia in children, making them “have a difficult time learning to decode words”. A 2012 study shows that about 10–16% of children across the world have some form of dyslexia and are in need of special education programs.
The signs of dyslexia in kids usually involve slow learning, impaired speech development, and problems related to recognizing letters, signs, numbers, symbols, etc. Dyslexic children often suffer from a fear of learning and schools, low self-esteem, and a fear of being punished or criticized for mistakes related to learning. They are also the ones with poor school performance, bullying experiences, and poor social adjustment. Another 2010 study 28 shows that 40% to 60% of dyslexic children have psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, social phobia, suicidal thoughts, etc.
Studies also show that the early signs of dyslexia are often coexisting with other learning disorders, such as:
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD 29 )
- Developmental language disorders
- Somatic dysfunction 30
- Dysgraphia 31
- Auditory processing disorder
- Developmental coordination disorder 32
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2. Dyslexia In Adults
In adults, dyslexia can be genetic or acquired and the disorder negatively impacts their social life, professional reputation, mental health, and their quality of life.
Apart from the most common markers of dyslexia—reading and writing problems—dyslexic adults suffer from memory problems, clumsiness, and poor social and organizational skills. They also suffer from low self-esteem and face difficulties in public speaking or reading or in mere tasks like writing a report, making a planner, etc. One 2014 study 33 found that signs of dyslexia in adults often involve cognitive deficits like poor short-term memory, poor hand-eye coordination, depressive moods, attention problems, etc.
How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?
The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) both recognize dyslexia as a “brain-based difficulty in reading” and have laid down the criteria for its diagnosis. These psychiatric manuals also recommend the differential diagnosis of dyslexia from the core symptoms of similar disorders, because of which how dyslexia is diagnosed takes into consideration factors 34 like:
- Isolated reading disorder
- Isolated spelling disorder
- Vision impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Psychiatric disorders (ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc.)
- Children’s cognitive disabilities (like poor memory, speech difficulties, learning disabilities, etc.)
- Chronic diseases (like diabetes mellitus, etc.)
- Negative psychosocial factors (like school history, bullying, poor social life, etc.)
- Negative psychosocial environments (like dysfunctional families, inadequate schooling facilities, etc.)
- Toxin exposure (like lead poisoning, etc.)
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How To Diagnose Dyslexia With Tests
A large number of diagnostic tests for dyslexia is available, and one 2012 study recommends that such tests can be performed by “teachers, specialists, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and others who may be involved in care and development of the affected child.”
Dyslexia is often screened by:
- Physical examination (like MRI scans, blood tests, etc.) that look for visual, hearing, or other physical disabilities in dyslexic people
- Intelligence tests (like IG tests, language tests, reading tests, etc.)
- Clinical screening tools (like Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children [WISC-IV], Minnesota Mechanical Assembly Test, Stanford Intelligence Test, etc.)
What Is The Treatment For Dyslexia?
In spite of being a common and life-long condition, there is no prescribed treatment process for dyslexia. But its early and timely diagnosis, coupled with “remediation programs tailored to each [person’s] particular, individual, pattern of needs”, can help dyslexic people manage their learning disabilities. One 2010 study sums up the two parts of dyslexia treatment:
- Treatment of core problems with reading and spelling
- Treatment of any concurrent psychological disorders
According to a 2012 study, early interventions of dyslexia often focus on vocabulary, comprehension, and necessary skills such as phonics. As dyslexic people progress through their age and education, “the [later] intervention will move to improve understanding of word meanings, improved comprehension, more challenging reading, and strategies to excel.”
These interventions are often carried out—via child support programs, special learning centers, reading programs, group education systems, etc. using strategies such as:
- Individualized education programmes 35
- Multisensory teaching methods 36
- Assisted learning techniques 37, like text-to-speech educational devices, audio books, etc.
- Use of different methods 38, such as word games, paired reading, cued spelling, and peer tutoring
- Class-wide approaches 39, such as policy framework and whole school screening
- Counseling 40, art therapy 41, and intensive training programs 42 with “dyslexia therapists”
Recent research 43 has tried to incorporate medication use in dyslexia treatment for severe cases. For instance, they have tried to treat dyslexic people with drug treatment for ADHD 44 and movement disorders 45. But, these experimental treatments have not yielded successful results 46.
How Can You Help Someone With Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a life-long neurodevelopmental condition, accompanied by learning difficulties, speech disorder, and other cognitive disorders. Dyslexia treatment is also a complex, lengthy, and expensive process—because of which people associated with dyslexic children and adults should educate themselves about the disorder, its causes, and its treatment.
To help someone with dyslexia, consider the following suggestions:
- Look out for the signs and symptoms of dyslexia
- Help the person get screened for dyslexia with diagnostic tests
- Research the available education programs and support groups for dyslexia in your locality and enroll them in such programs
- Encourage them to read more, limit their screen time, and their socialization efforts
- Communicate with them openly and supportively
- Check on their progress and encourage them in their day-to-day learning activities
- Support them in their attempts to overcome learning difficulties with patience, kindness, love, and empathy
Dyslexia is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it difficult for individuals to read, write, and learn. It also impacts their social, economic, and professional outcomes in life. Living with dyslexia can be difficult, but if it is diagnosed early on and supported with the right education programs—individuals with dyslexia can lead a healthy and normal life.
Dyslexia At A Glance
- Dyslexia is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that causes learning disorders.
- It is caused by a number of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
- The symptoms of dyslexia are poor reading and learning abilities, slow speech, attention problems, etc.
- Dyslexic people are often prone to low self-esteem, depressive and anxiety disorders, and social anxiety.
- Dyslexia is a life-long condition that cannot be cured.
- It can be easily managed by special learning and support programs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Who are some famous people with dyslexia?
Steve Jobs, Tom Cruise, Hans Christian Anderson, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Abraham Lincoln, Salma Hayek, and Keira Knightley are some of the most famous people with dyslexia.
2. Is dyslexia a mental illness?
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that causes common learning problems. It is currently not considered as a mental illness, though 30 years ago, it was treated by psychiatric processes.
3. Are Dyslexics highly intelligent?
Most people with dyslexia are average or above-average intelligent. They are also very innovative thinkers and capable problem solvers.
4. Can dyslexia be cured?
Dyslexia is a life-long problem and there is no cure for the underlying brain and neurological abnormalities that cause it. However, with the right teaching programs and methods and other forms of treatment, it can be easily managed.
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