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What is Dyslexia

“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.” This definition was adopted by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Board of Directors on November 12, 2002.

The Mississippi Department of Education also uses the definition above in the 2010 Mississippi Best Practices Dyslexia Handbook (note this is currently under revision according to their website but can be found at  The Handbook further breaks down the definition by component.  Dyslexia is specific to print language.  The student with dyslexia is born with a brain that functions differently than the brain of a student who does not have dyslexia.  These differences negatively impact phonological processing skills such as rapid naming, word recognition, reading fluency and comprehension.  The brain difference of a dyslexic student results in a disconnection of the brain centers used in reading causing scattered activity in the right hemisphere of the brain rather than focused activity in the left hemisphere.  It is important to note that researchers such as Dr. Sally Shaywitz have noted that the brain function of a dyslexic student changes with interventions that are designed specifically for dyslexia (1996).  The student with dyslexia has difficulty with consistent and accurate identification of sight words and reading quickly, accurately, and with good understanding (i.e., fluent reading).  Further, the student with dyslexia usually does not spell or decode (i.e., read) words intuitively nor learn these skills through implicit teaching.  Phonics rules governing spelling and decoding should be taught directly and explicitly for best results.

Areas of Difficulty

As noted by the International Dyslexia Association (2003), individuals with dyslexia may display difficulties with some of the following characteristics:

Oral Language

  • Learning to talk

  • Pronouncing words

  • Acquiring vocabulary

  • Using age appropriate grammar

  • Following directions

  • Confusing before/after, right/left, etc.

  • Learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes or songs

  • Understanding concepts and relationships

  • Retrieving words or naming problems


  • Learning to read

  • Identifying or generating rhyming words or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)

  • Hearing and manipulating sounds in words (Phonemic Awareness)

  • Distinguishing different sounds in words (Auditory Discrimination)

  • Learning the sounds associated with letters

  • Remembering names and/or shapes of letters

  • Reversing letters or the order of letters when reading

  • Misreading or omitting common small words

  • Stumbling through longer words

  • Comprehending during oral or silent reading

  • Reading slow and laboriously

Behaviors Observed at Various Grade Levels

As noted by the International Dyslexia Association (2003), individuals with dyslexia may display difficulties with some of the following characteristics:

Grades K-2

  • Trouble segmenting and blending

  • Poor letter-sound recall

  • Poor application of phonics

  • Inconsistent memory for words and lists

  • Mispronouncing words

  • Inability to spell phonetically

Grades 3-4

  • Poor phonetic decoding

  • Inconsistent word recognition

  • Over reliance on context and guessing

  • Difficulty learning new words (spoken)

  • Confusion about other symbols (math and music)

Grades 5-6

  • Poor spelling and punctuation

  • Reverts to manuscript from cursive

  • Difficulty organizing writing

  • Decodes laboriously, skips unknown words

  • Avoids reading, vocabulary declines

Myths About Dyslexia

Joan Stambaugh debunks common myths about dyslexia in her book titled What’s Right with Me? Hope for the Dyslexic published in 2016.  A brief synopsis from this book is provided below.

Myth:     People with dyslexia lack intelligence.

Busted:  Dyslexia is not an intellectual disability since dyslexia and IQ are not interrelated, as a result of cognition developing independently.  Dyslexia creates reading problems, not impairment of thinking, failure of imagination or deficiency of courage.


Myth:     People with dyslexia see backwards.

Busted:  Dyslexics do not see things backwards because dyslexia is not a problem with the eyes.


Myth:     He/She is just a late bloomer.

Busted:  Students in the bottom 20% in basic reading skills are likely to be there for the duration of schooling unless something is done to help them overcome their problem.


Myth:     Dyslexia is rare.

Busted:  Nationwide, 20% of the elementary school population is clearly struggling with reading, is at risk for academic failure and is in need of remedial intervention or specialized instruction.


Myth:     Dyslexia is a vision problem.

Busted:  A brain imaging study appears to rule out one potential cause of dyslexia, finding that vision problems don’t lead to the common reading disorder – it has importance from a practical viewpoint.  It means you shouldn’t focus on the visual system as a way to diagnose dyslexia or treat dyslexia.


Myth:     Children with dyslexia are unmotivated.

Busted:  Dyslexia is not caused by lack of motivation or interest in reading.  Lack of motivation to read and write may be a consequence of dyslexia because reading is very taxing and difficult for a dyslexic individual.


Myth:     You’re not dyslexic if you don’t reverse letters and numbers.

Busted:  Many dyslexic children who do not make reversals are often undiagnosed.


Myth:     Children outgrow dyslexia.

Busted:  Dyslexia’s cognitive and processing pattern appears stable across the lifespan.

List of Celebrities with Dyslexia


  • Jennifer Aniston

  • Steven Spielberg

  • Whoopi Goldberg

  • Henry Winkler

  • Muhammed Ali

  • Richard Branson

  • John Irving

  • Jay Leno

  • Danny Glover

  • Keira Knightly

Self-Acknowledged Dyslexics


  • Tom Cruise

  • Bill Gates

  • Charles Schwab

  • Bruce Jenner

  • Greg Louganis

  • Jackie Stewart

Historical Figures With Learning Differences


  • Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

  • Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

  • Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

  • Henry Ford (1863-1947)

  • Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

  • Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

  • Babe Ruth (1895-1948)

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