If you’ve heard the term dyslexia and aren’t sure what it means, you’re not alone. People tend to have a lot of questions about dyslexia. Is it just about reading, or does the term refer to learning challenges in general? Is it different from a specific learning disability? The answers here can help you develop a better understanding of dyslexia.
What exactly is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that makes it hard to read. It can also affect:
Dyslexia can cause trouble with basic language skills. This includes recognizing sounds in words and matching letter sounds and symbols (for example, matching the letter b with the sound buh). It can make it hard to blend sounds together to make words, and to sound out or “decode” words.
People with dyslexia can also struggle to understand what they read. Dyslexia can make it hard to read in a way that’s automatic, or seemingly without effort.
A common misconception is that dyslexia is a problem with vision. It isn’t. Dyslexia is a language issue. It’s also not a problem with intelligence. Having dyslexia doesn’t mean someone isn't smart.
People often think writing letters backward is a sign of dyslexia. But that’s not necessarily true.
There’s been a lot of brain imaging research intowhat causes dyslexia. That research shows differences in the areas of the brain involved in key reading skills between people who have dyslexia and people who don’t. (Watch avideo about dyslexia and the brain.)
Trouble with decoding is a key sign of dyslexia. Dyslexia can also make it hard to:
Pronounce words and phrases, like saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”
Read aloud with the proper tone, and group words and phrases together
Write or copy letters, numbers and symbols in the correct order
Is dyslexia a specific learning disability?
Dyslexia is a term for a type of learning disorder. It’s also a type of learning disability. It falls under a category of disability that allows kids to get special education services.
That category is called specific learning disability. It’s one of 13 categories listed in federal special education law. Dyslexia isn’t called out separately on the list. But it’s mentioned as an example.
Many states have added dyslexia to their list of conditions that qualify students for help. Some have even passed dyslexia laws. And the U.S. Department of Education has specifically advised states to use the term in IEPs, at meetings, and in special education evaluations.
Why is dyslexia confused with other challenges?
Dyslexia often co-occurs with other learning and thinking differences. Some of them have signs that are similar to the signs of dyslexia. Or they may have signs that can mask dyslexia.
Here are some of the conditions that can look like dyslexia.
Dyscalculia mainly impacts math. But it can also cause problems with reading, writing, and understanding numbers. People with dyscalculia may read numbers incorrectly or have trouble writing math numbers and symbols. Dyscalculia is sometimes mistakenly referred to as number dyslexia or math dyslexia.
Dysgraphia makes it hard for kids to put words on paper and spell when writing. Dyslexia can also cause trouble with spelling and writing.