English LanguageStart - Smart Words

Dyslexia is a reading, spelling and writing disorder marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.

People this disorder have problems converting spoken language into written language (and vice versa). A genetic predisposition, problems with auditory and visual perception processing, with the processing of speech and especially with phonological awareness are assumed to be the cause. Dyslexia occurs in isolation and contrary to expectations: that is, the written language problems arise without a plausible explanation for them without a thorough examination by a neurologist (such as general aptitude or insufficient schooling).

The disorder refers to massive and mostly long-lasting problems of the acquisition of the written language. The term has its origin from Latin: dys- + Greek: lexis, speech (from legein, to speak).


Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological 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 the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

But what does that mean exactly?

It refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students usually experience difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.

The disorder affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, and/or extra support services.


The exact causes are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions (see also idioms and thier meaning). Moreover, most people with have been found to have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. It is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn; with appropriate teaching methods, students with dyslexia can learn successfully.

Dyslexia occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels. People affected can be very bright. They are often capable or even gifted in areas such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, mechanics, music, physics, sales, and sports. In addition, it runs in families; having a parent or sibling with dyslexia increases the probability that you will also have similar problems. For some people, the symptons are identified early in their lives, but for others, it goes unidentified until they get older.


The impact is different for each person and depends on the severity of the condition and the timeliness and effectiveness of instruction or remediation. The core difficulty involves word recognition and reading fluency, spelling, and writing (see also synonyms). Some individuals manage to learn early reading and spelling tasks, especially with excellent instruction, but later experience their most debilitating problems when more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and writing essays.

People can also have problems with spoken language, even after they have been exposed to excellent language models in their homes and high quality language instruction in school. They may find it difficult to express themselves clearly, or to fully comprehend what others mean when they speak. Such language problems are often difficult to recognize, but they can lead to major problems in school, in the workplace, and in relating to other people. The effects reach well beyond the classroom.


It is equally important to understand what dyslexia isn’t. There are great misconceptions and myths about teh disorder which make it that much more difficult for someone affected to receive help and generally be understood. It is a myth that individuals “read backwards.” Their spelling can look quite jumbled at times not because they read or see words backwards, but because students have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and letter patterns in words.

With proper diagnosis, appropriate and timely instruction, hard work, and support from family, teachers, friends, and others, individuals can succeed in school and later as adults. Individuals with dyslexia do not have a lower level of intelligence. In fact, more often than not, the complete opposite is true.

Signs & Symptons

It is crucial to be able to recognize the signs of symptoms. The earlier a child is evaluated, the sooner he or she can obtain the appropriate instruction and accommodations he or she needs to succeed in school.

General problems experienced by people include the following:

Some specific signs for elementary aged children may include:

It is important to note that not all students who have difficulties with these skills have dyslexia. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia. An individual can have more than one learning or behavioral disability. For example, in various studies as many as 30% of those diagnosed with a learning or reading difference have also been diagnosed with ADHD. Although disabilities may co-occur, one is not the cause of the other.

Adapted from Handbook of the International Dyslexia Association

Tips for Teachers

Because dyslexia impacts both reading and writing, teachers need to be prepared with specific strategies to help students improve writing skills. The following are 20 tips for teachers when working on writing assignments with students with dyslexia:

  1. Use motivational techniques. Because writing is hard work for students with dyslexia, set up a reward program for taking steps and improving writing. For example, you can award students with a homework pass for other work if the writing assignment was completed and handed in on time.
  2. Allow a student to use a tape recorder, at least during the planning and research sections of an assignment. Once he has the writing assignment planned out, he may be more motivated and ready to finish up by writing his thoughts on paper.
  3. Be sure the topic is emotionally engaging. Students who have a difficult time writing will be more motivated to complete an assignment if the topic is interesting. Research is more focused if he already has an interest in the topic and wants to learn.
  4. Ignore grammar, spelling, sentence structure and punctuation in the first draft of an assignment. Teaching these skills independent of writing is more effective. Work with your student individually to make corrections before he completes the final draft.
  5. When writing a fictitious story about a character, have the student look through magazines and choose a picture of a person to be used as the main character. Having a visual representation helps him to focus on the story rather than trying to come up with a description of the character.
  6. Observe the student and their frustration level. If a student is tired or ready to shut down, the writing project will go downhill. Have them complete another portion of the project, such as looking at pictures to help with descriptions or finding music that he can incorporate into the story.
  7. Allow students to illustrate their assignments or prepare a presentation based on their skills. Students with dyslexia have strong skills outside of writing and having them incorporate other strengths helps them to feel proud of their work.
  8. Pair students for some assignments. The student with dyslexia might be great at orally explaining his story concept or describing people or places but have a hard time putting his thoughts on paper. Another student may be great at translating situations and events on paper. Having students work together on some projects can help both develop weak skills.
  9. Provide students with a writing prompt or a planning guide to help them organize their thoughts and develop a logical sequence for their writing.
  10. Use multi-sensory approaches to writing. For example, start students writing descriptive paragraphs about an object in the classroom. Let them hold it, touch it, see it while they are writing.
  11. Have students type their assignment on the computer, using spell and grammar checkers before handing in a final draft. Remind students that these tools will not find every error and they will still need to proof-read and edit assignments.
  12. Use misspelled words to add to your student's personal word bank when editing writing assignments. He can refer to words he commonly misspells when making corrections to his paper.
  13. When grading, give students with dyslexia credit for their effort as well as the actual work. If grading spontaneous writing assignments, don't take off for spelling or grammar. For final projects provide a grading rubric to show students explicitly what is expected.
  14. When correcting a child's written work, don't use a red pen. It is very discouraging to get a paper back with red marks all over, especially because your student probably worked harder than many of the other students.
  15. Don't ask a student to rewrite a paper because of neatness unless you plan on displaying the work. If so, work with the student on having his work typed. Rewriting, especially for neatness, can take a student with dyslexia and dysgraphia much longer than it takes other students. Having to rewrite something that took great effort to complete is disheartening.
  16. Discuss the writing project with the student before beginning. Students with dyslexia sometimes have trouble connecting information previously learned with the current situation. Discussion helps students think about what they already know and use this as background information for the project.
  17. Show students how to brainstorm ideas. Use a general topic and have your student list all the ideas he has on the topic, whether he feels they are relevant or not. You can do this as a group activity, have students pair up with one another or work with the student individually.
  18. Have students talk aloud as they write or read their first draft out loud before completing the revised draft. The student can also ask another student, parent or teacher to read it out loud. Because students with dyslexia have strong verbal and oral abilities, this lets them hear how it sounds and make corrections.
  19. Have students practice writing skills through fun, interactive ways, such as sending a friend an email, writing a letter to a pen-pal or writing about topics they choose.
  20. Give students positive feedback whenever possible. Students with dyslexia often don't see their errors but they may also not know what they did right. Point out their successes frequently.