November 1st, 2017


Writing for the Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education blog, learning specialist Beth Guadagni reveals 5 falsehoods about dyslexia:

> Kids with dyslexia are mentally handicapped or lazy.

> Boys are more likely to have dyslexia than girls.

> People with dyslexia see letters backwards.

> Individuals with dyslexia can read better with the help of colored films.

> Dyslexia can be cured.


Again, all 5 of those statements about dyslexia are false. In this excellent review of what dyslexia is (and what it isn’t), Guadagni debunks these myths:

Dyslexia is a genetic, lifelong, language-based disability. It is neurological in origin; brain scans of people with dyslexia show that they process language differently than typically-developing youngsters, even when they’re just listening or speaking and not reading at all! Individuals with dyslexia are most certainly not cognitively limited. In fact, a person must have average to above-average intelligence in order to be diagnosed with dyslexia. And dyslexia is positively correlated with creativity, which will not surprise anyone familiar with Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Pablo Picasso, Stephen Spielberg, and Henry Winkler, (all of whom have dyslexia).


The International Dyslexia Association estimates that 15-20% of Americans have some degree of dyslexia, manifested by “slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words”:

Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit, instruction in reading, writing, and language.


The fact is that fewer than 15-20% of Americans who have symptoms get diagnosed with dyslexia. Many kids — especially those who don’t exhibit problem behaviors or significant inattentiveness (and especially girls) — fly under the radar and never get diagnosed with a specific learning disability. All of us probably remember a bright and talented classmate who nevertheless struggled academically. If we look close enough, however, symptoms of disordered language processing (which can occur in any language and culture) are usually present early in life:

Most individuals with dyslexia were late talkers as young children, likely because they struggled to recall and produce the sounds that make up words. Dyslexia is considered a reading disability because this task is particularly difficult for affected individuals and has an enormous impact on their lives, but spelling and even pronouncing words can pose serious challenges as well.


Guadagni reminds us that dyslexia is a neurologic condition with no relationship to vision. Special glasses and colored lenses, she says, are worthless:

And the belief that students with dyslexia see letters backwards is completely false. Children with dyslexia do reverse words when reading and writing, but typically-developing readers do, too. Learners tend to stop reversals when the sequence of letters begins to have significance for them, and this understanding takes much longer for students with dyslexia to develop.


Dyslexia is common — so common, in fact, that perhaps we should view it as a variant of normal rather than as a disorder. Yes, it makes doing what kids are expected to do — go to school and succeed — much more difficult. But it doesn’t reflect on an affected child’s intelligence, talent, or inherent “goodness”. Dyslexia can’t be cured — it persists throughout life — but it can be overcome with the proper diagnosis, empathy and compassion from parents and teachers, and effective teaching strategies:

With the right instruction, almost all children with dyslexia can learn strategies to read and write and manage their dyslexia in a way that allows them to access the kind of opportunities that interest and suit them.


We’ll look at the emotional toll of dyslexia, tomorrow, on The PediaBlog.


(Google Images)


4 Responses to Demystifying Dyslexia – 1

  1. “I am not sure there is enough evidence-based research to universally prescribe Vision Therapy for all students with dyslexia who truly struggle. My own clinical experience suggests that this is a positive initiative for most if performed by the right specialist.” — Dr. Tony Kovatch.

    • Having experienced this very issue with my own son who has dyslexia — who underwent vision therapy to help correct his amblyopia and convergence insufficiency and not his dyslexia — I can say with some authority that there is absolutely no evidence that vision therapy is helpful for students with dyslexia. I have spoken to developmental optometrists and pediatric ophthalmologists who prescribe vision therapy for kids to help strengthen their eye muscles and improve visual perception, but not to correct dyslexia. The eye specialists here in the Pittsburgh area understand that vision therapy should not be prescribed for dyslexia. — Dr. Ned Ketyer.

  2. I wonder if a placebo effect is at play in those that report improvement–or that a part of the pathophysiologic process is remediated and that makes the effort and expense rewarding

    • Think of vision therapy as occupational therapy for the eyes. Some children with dyslexia have other processing issues they must deal with. Dyspraxia, for example, may coexist with dyslexia, making learning that much more difficult. For a lot of these kids, they just don’t use their eyes efficiently, and that significantly affects their hand-eye coordination (which is rather important for developing both cognitive and motor skills). I can attest that vision therapy certainly helps with that. When kids work closely with a therapist and improve, they earn the feeling of success — a very important component of self-esteem (read part 2 of this series tomorrow).


    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh's South Hills. 

  • Note: The information included in these posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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