What is Dyslexia?

leslie-eller-1Dyslexia is a specific learning difference in areas of receptive oral language, expressive oral language, reading skills, spelling and written expression.  It is neurobiological in nature and typically results in a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities.  The definition of dyslexia used by The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the National Institute of Child Health Development (NICHD) describes the reading and spelling difficulties of dyslexia as “typically the result from a deficit in the phonological component of language.”  Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension, fluency, accuracy and reading speed which may impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia varies in degree of severity with specific patterns of strengths and weaknesses and is not the result or lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instruction, environmental opportunities, low intelligence, or other limited factors.  It is a condition that often runs in families but with proper and appropriate instruction and intervention, individuals with dyslexia respond successfully to timely interventions.  

The deficits in phonemic awareness and in other forms of phonological processing are the characteristic early markers of dyslexia.  Neurological research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) confirms this model of dyslexia.  Yale pediatric neurologist Sally Shaywitz stated in her book Overcoming Dyslexia that, ” The pattern of under-activation in the back of the brain provides a neural signature for the phonologic difficulties characterizing dyslexia.” (2003, p. 82)

Along with difficulties in areas of language, however, many dyslexic people have great strengths in visual-spatial activities, music, the arts including architecture, dance, drawing, painting, and engineering.  People with dyslexia often are very creative and think outside of the box, can have excellent math skills and so many other qualities that can be very beneficial throughout life.  

Teaching, as well as learning, is a multi-dimensional process.  Structured, sequential, cumulative and thorough teaching techniques and strategies should be provided to the dyslexic in order to ensure success.  People with specific reading difficulties may not learn to read successfully by “sight-word” methods, even when these are later reinforced by functional, incidental, or analytical phonics.

Some other characteristics of the poor reader are difficulties with organization, attention and concentration, memory, physical coordination and appropriate social behavior. Early identification and remediation are integral to the success of a child with dyslexia.


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Is your school-aged child struggling with reading, spelling or writing? Contact Leslie Eller. She has more than 40 years of experience helping children just like yours.

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