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Dyslexia: Insights and Current Understandings

Through what lens, do we examine dyslexia?  Medically, educationally, legislatively?
Definition?  Prevalence? Resources?

Much recent educational conversation centers on dyslexia.  Parent groups have formed to address their concerns regarding their children’s progress in reading and academics after a diagnosis of dyslexia.  Long-standing professional organizations work in the area of dyslexia through research, pedagogy, curriculum, and other avenues in education.  Much attention has been given to addressing the needs of students and adults with dyslexia.  Eighteen states have adopted legislation involving dyslexia, and 25 states have either issued a dyslexia handbook or recognized October as Dyslexia Awareness Month (USA Today, October 30, 2014).

How shall we define dyslexia?

Varying definitions of dyslexia exist whether through administrative code, education entities, or medical diagnosis.  (Click on each link below to read the definitions.)

In Virginia, as across the United States, dyslexia is addressed as a condition under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) eligibility area of Specific Learning Disability.  In Virginia, a definition for dyslexia also exists within the state code to help meet the educational needs of students who are identified with dyslexia.  All definitions indicate that dyslexia is a neurologically-based phonological processing problem causing difficulties with words or language.

What is the prevalence of dyslexia?

Estimates indicate that 5 to 20% of the population is affected by dyslexia.  Mayo Clinic researchers found that 11% of the population exhibits characteristics of dyslexia (Moats, 2014).  The Yale Center for Dyslexia purports that one in five individuals is affected by dyslexia and attentional issues, whereas the World Health Organization reports that 5 to 15% of the population demonstrates signs of dyslexia.  Publications housed on the IDA website note the possibility of 15 to 20% of the entire population having symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words (Moats & Dakin, 2012).

What is the impact of dyslexia?

The impact of dyslexia is different for each person affected, depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of instruction or remediation offered (Moats & Dakin, 2012).  At its core, dyslexia means a difficulty with words or language. Individuals with dyslexia may struggle with word recognition, spelling, and decoding, stemming from a core deficit in phonological awareness. Difficulties in phonological processing can affect areas where phonological memory or sequencing is required.

Challenges may arise in other academic areas as well as with an individual’s self-esteem. Difficulties in phonological processing can affect areas where phonological memory or sequencing is required.

Additional information regarding the impact of dyslexia may be found at these links:

How is dyslexia addressed?

Expert teaching is the optimal treatment for dyslexia (Moats & Dakin, 2008).  Most sources indicate that multisensory structured teaching is the best avenue for addressing the reading needs of students identified with this phonologically based word-level reading difficulty.  Multisensory teaching involves the use of many senses – auditory, visual, and kinesthetic – in the instructional process.  Structured instruction is explicit, systematic, and sequential, following the structure of the English language that is also outlined within the Virginia English Standards of Learning.

Links to structured instruction methodology may be found through the following links or at the following sites:

Neuroscience research has demonstrated that intensive instruction that requires relating speech sounds to written letters (phonemic awareness and targeted decoding) improved decoding and reading comprehension. This type of intensive instruction also activated brain regions in readers with dyslexia that are typically active in nondisabled readers during phonological awareness tasks (Temple et al., 2003).   Ehri’s (cited in Moats, 2014) research showed that, if students say words aloud when learning their meanings and practicing spelling, these words are learned more readily.

What are the directions of current research?

Dyslexia is examined through various lenses – genetics, neurobiology, education, and others.  For example, researchers have studied the genetic link for dyslexia through twin studies.  Additional research is exploring dyslexia and math, reading and brain activation, and reading experiences of students who are deaf language learners and students with dyslexia (Center for the Study of Learning).  Pugh has conducted behavioral and neurobiological investigations into the differences between typically developing readers and those who experience dyslexia (Glutamate and Choline Levels Predict Individual Differences in Reading Ability in Emergent Readers), while Schneps (2014) has investigated the superior ability of individuals with dyslexia to recognize optical illusion drawings (The Advantages of Dyslexia).

What are the key ideas to remember about dyslexia?

(Adapted from Understood, National Center on Learning Disabilities, 2014)

  • Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects reading, writing, spelling, and even speaking.  It is developmental and chronic.
  • Dyslexia is not a sign of low intelligence.
  • Teaching methods that involve sight, sound, and touch can improve skills significantly.  Further instruction should follow the sequence of English language development and be presented explicitly and systematically, relating speech sounds to written letters.

Additional instructional and informational resources regarding dyslexia may be found after the references and the student perspective included with this article.


Burns, M. (2014, October 22).  Understanding the causes of dyslexia for effective intervention. Edutopia.

Ferrell, M., & Sherman, G. (2011). Multisensory structured language education.  In J. R. Birsh (Ed.),  Multisensory teaching of basic language skills (3rd ed., pp. 25-43). Baltimore, MD:  Brookes Publishing Co.

Lowell, S. D., Felton, R. H., & Hook, P. (2014).  Basic facts about assessment of dyslexia, testing for teaching.  Baltimore, MD:  The International Dyslexia Association.

Moats, L. C. (2014, February 23).  LETRS certified trainers – Dyslexia 101: Myths and realities – 20140203 2101-1.

Moats, L. C., & Dakin, K. E. (2008).  Basic facts about dyslexia and other reading problems.  Baltimore, MD:  The International Dyslexia Association.

Moats, L. C., & Dakin, K. E. (2012). Just the facts: Dyslexia basics.  Baltimore, MD: The International Dyslexia Association.

Schneps, M. H. (2014, August 19). The advantages of dyslexia. Scientific American

Temple, E., Deutsch, G. K., Poldrack, R. A., Miller, S. L., Tallal, P., Merzenich, M. M., & Gabriel, J. D. E. (2003, March 4). Neural deficits in children with dyslexia ameliorated by behavioral remediation: Evidence from functional MRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(5).

One Student’s View of Dyslexia

Just Like Me
By Gloria Clark
(Thru The Eyes of 9/11, 2013)

 Muhammad Ali,
Tom Cruise,
Thomas Edison,
Magic Johnson,
John Lennon,
Steve Jobs.

All of them have one thing in common;
They’re famous.

Then, add me to the list.
They are just like me.

We all are just different,
Our minds just think different,
And our eyes just see different.

And, you might look at us like we are a monster,
Or some kind of disease you can never cure.
But, we will just look to the sky,
Because we know we can be something better.
You see us as someone who can’t read or write,
Just a stupid dyslexic person
Who will never go anywhere in life.

And, we will just laugh alone
Because if you would ever get the chance to ask us,
We would say:
We are the green apples with the red,
The stars that will never stop shining
The shoe that is untied and always will be.

I Am Different
And I’m not ashamed

I’m loving me
Whether you do or you don’t;
I will stay this way because I was born this way.

Because I know someday I will be the Beyonce of your music
The Lisa of your basketball team
The Allyson Felix of your track team
The Maya Angelou of your Language Arts class

And you can’t stop me.
You can’t even spell the word in front of me
Because I might think the P is a B or D
And you will look at me strange

And I will just roll my eyes and say,
“Look I was born this way”

And I mean I can’t even say “Sorry”
Because it’s not even like I wanted this label on me
Like if we all have a say if we wanted this or not
Ordering it at Burger King
Thinking we’re always gonna have it our way
We just made the best of it and this is being our selves

Being who you are
And staying who you are
And loving who you are
Because you were born this way


Reprinted with Permission

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