What Is Dyslexia?

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Dyslexia is a learning disability in which people have trouble with specific language skills, particularly reading. Someone with this disability also usually experiences difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.


Dyslexia is a language processing disorder, so it can affect all forms of language, including spoken and written. Here are just some of the characteristics associated with the condition.

Oral Language

  • Difficulty acquiring vocabulary or using age-appropriate grammar
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet and rhyming
  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Learning to talk late
  • Trouble following directions


  • Difficulty remembering names and shapes of letters, or naming letters rapidly
  • Difficulty with oral or silent reading
  • Omits or misreads little words
  • Persistent confusion with b, d, p, q (beyond first grade)
  • Slow reading rate
  • “Stumbles” through longer words
  • Trouble with reversals and order of letters

Written Language

  • Difficulty organizing written language into sentences and paragraphs
  • Difficulty proofreading
  • Handwriting struggles
  • Mirror writing (writing letters, words, or even entire sentences backwards)
  • Trouble learning to spell (people may do well on weekly spelling tests, but have many mistakes in daily work) 
  • Trouble copying
  • Trouble putting ideas on paper
  • Uncertainty with concepts of right or left

People can show symptoms of this condition at any age, but they tend to appear during childhood.

If your child has one or two of these signs, it does not necessarily mean they have dyslexia. Letter reversals and mirror writing are developmentally normal in primary years.


Researchers don't know exactly what causes the disorder, but they think a problem during development that affects the way the brain processes information may be to blame. The severity of dyslexia may be influenced by environmental factors as well.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the disorder is hereditary. According to one review, up to 60% of children born to parents who have dyslexia will also develop the disorder.

Dyslexia is not due to a lack of intelligence or desire to learn. Many people with dyslexia have average or above-average intelligence.


There is no single test that can diagnose dyslexia. Instead, clinicians use a variety of tests and observational measures, depending on the person's age. This means that the assessment a kindergartner receives may differ from that a high schooler receives.

A physical exam will be done to examine your child for possible physical causes that could make reading difficult, such as hearing and vision impairments. If no physical cause is found, your doctor may refer your child to a psychologist for evaluation.

Dyslexia is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a specific learning disability (SLD). SLD is an umbrella term that can describe a number of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.


During the initial evaluation, the psychologist will review your child's background and family history information. This includes intake forms, school records, IEP records, and previous evaluation reports.

They will then administer standardized tests to measure some of the following areas:

Some assessments are explicitly marketed as dyslexia tests. Many evaluators, however, use diagnostic reading, writing, and language tests that are not labeled as dyslexia tests.

After the test, you'll receive a written report from the psychologist. This report is typically 8–10 pages and includes diagnosis, recommendations for therapy, activities for home practice, and school supports and accommodations.


With proper help, many people with dyslexia can learn to read and write well, but early identification and treatment are key. Students with dyslexia often require intensive language, reading, and multisensory instruction to improve.

Schools can also implement accommodations and modifications to help a student succeed. For example, a student with dyslexia can be given extra time to complete a task and permission to tape lectures rather than write notes.

At home, they can use flashcards to develop sight word recognition and listen to books (rather than read them). They can also use computer software to check spelling and speech-to-text software to help with writing.

Speech and language therapy can address articulation, phonemic awareness, receptive language, expressive language, and other speech and language disorder symptoms.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Dyslexia

If you believe your child has dyslexia, contact your school principal or counselor for information on how to make a referral for assessment. An IEP team meeting will be held to discuss your request. Before you attend, learn about your rights as a parent of a child with a potential disability.

Students in college and vocational programs can contact their school's advising office for information on policies, programs, and strategies to help achieve success.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. What are the symptoms of reading disorders?

  2. Mascheretti S, De Luca A, Trezzi V, et al. Neurogenetics of developmental dyslexia: From genes to behavior through brain neuroimaging and cognitive and sensorial mechanismsTransl Psychiatry. 2017;7(1):e987. doi:10.1038/tp.2016.240

  3. Schumacher J, Hoffmann P, Schmäl C, Schulte-Körne G, Nöthen MM. Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscapeJ Med Genet. 2007;44(5):289-297. doi:10.1136/jmg.2006.046516

  4. U.S. Department of Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Statute/Regs Section 1401 (30).

  5. Schulte-Körne G. The Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of DyslexiaDtsch Arztebl Int. 2010;107(41):718-727. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2010.0718

  6. Schlesinger NW, Gray S. The impact of multisensory instruction on learning letter names and sounds, word reading, and spelling. Ann Dyslexia. 2017;67(3):219-258. doi:10.1007/s11881-017-0140-z

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.