what is dyslexia?


Dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language–despite at least average intelligence.

Revised definition from the International Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic.
Dyslexia is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions.
Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention.
Dyslexia is not an intellectual problem

Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Poor memory skills
  • Difficulty remembering what was read
  • Slow reading
  • Forgetting directions
  • Time management problems
  • Difficulty understanding what was read
  • Depends on digital watches

Pre-school and kindergarten warning signs

If three or more of these warning signs exist, especially if there is dyslexia or AD/HD in the family tree, the child should be tested for dyslexia when the child becomes five years old. Also, phonemic awareness games and other reading readiness activities should be done daily during the preschool years.

  • delayed speech (not speaking any words by the child's first birthday. Often, they don't start talking until they are two, two-and-a-half, three, or even older.)
  • mixing up sounds in multi-syllabic words (ex: aminal for animal, bisghetti for spaghetti,
  • hekalopter for helicopter, hangaberg for hamburger, mazageen for magazine, etc.)
  • early stuttering or cluttering
  • lots of ear infections
  • can't master tying shoes
  • confusion over left versus right, over versus under, before versus after, and other directionality words and concepts
  • late to establish a dominant hand
    May switch from right hand to left hand while coloring, writing, or doing any other task. Eventually, the child will usually establish a preferred hand, but it may not be until they are 7 or 8. Even then, they may use one hand for writing, but the other hand for sports.
  • nability to correctly complete phonemic awareness task
  • despite listening to stories that contain lots of rhyming words, such as Dr. Seuss, cannot tell you words that rhyme with cat or seat by the age of four-and-a-half
  • difficulty learning the names of the letters or sounds in the alphabet; difficulty writing the alphabet in order
  • Trouble correctly articulating R's and L's as well as M's and N's. They often have "immature" speech. They may still be saying "wed and gween" instead of "red and green" in second or third grade.

Reading and Spelling

People with dyslexia do not make random reading errors. They make very specific types of errors. Their spelling reflects the same types of errors. Watch for these errors:


  • can read a word on one page, but won't recognize it on the next page.
  • knows phonics, but can't—or won't—sound out an unknown word.
  • slow, labored, inaccurate reading of single words in isolation (when there is no story line or pictures to provide clues)
    When they misread, they often say a word that has the same first and last letters, and the same shape, such as form-from or trial-trail. They may insert or leave out letters, such as could-cold or star-stair.
    They may say a word that has the same letters, but in a different sequence, such as who-how, lots-lost, saw-was, or girl-grill.
  • when reading aloud, reads in a slow, choppy cadence (not in smooth phrases), and often ignores punctuation
  • becomes visibly tired after reading for only a short time • reading comprehension may be low due to spending so much energy trying to figure out the words. Listening comprehension is usually significantly higher than reading comprehension.
  • directionality confusion shows up when reading and when writing
    b-d confusion is a classic warning sign. One points to the left, the other points to the right, and they are left-right confused. b-p, n-u, or m-w confusion. One points up, the other points down. That's also directionality confusion.
  • Substitutes similar-looking words, even if it changes the meaning of the sentence, such as sunrise for surprise, house for horse, while for white, wanting for walking
  • When reading a story or a sentence, substitutes a word that means the same thing but doesn't look at all similar, such as trip for journey, fast for speed, or cry for weep
  • Misreads, omits, or even adds small function words, such as an, a, from, the, to, were, are, of
  • Omits or changes suffixes, saying need for needed, talks for talking, or late for lately.


  • Their spelling is far worse than their reading. They sometimes flunk inventive spelling. They have extreme difficulty with vowel sounds, and often leave them out.
  • With enormous effort, they may be able to "memorize" Monday's spelling list long enough to pass Friday's spelling test, but they can't spell those very same words two hours later when writing those words in sentences.
  • Continually misspells high frequency sight words (nonphonetic but very common words) such as they, what, where, does and because—despite extensive practice.
  • Misspells even when copying something from the board or from a book.
  • Written work shows signs of spelling uncertainty--numerous erasures, cross outs, etc.



Also known as a visual-motor integration problem, people with dyslexia often have poor, nearly illegible handwriting. Signs of dysgraphia include:

  • Unusual pencil grip, often with the thumb on top of the fingers (a "fist grip")
  • Young children will often put their head down on the desk to watch the tip of the pencil as they write
  • The pencil is gripped so tightly that the child's hand cramps. The child will frequently put the pencil down and shake out his/her hand.
  • Writing is a slow, labored, non-automatic chore.
  • Child writes letters with unusual starting and ending points.
  • Child has great difficulty getting letters to "sit" on the horizontal lines.
  • Copying off of the board is slow, painful, and tedious. Child looks up and visually "grabs" just one or two letters at a time, repeatedly subvocalizes the names of those letters, then stares intensely at their paper when writing those one or two letters. This process is repeated over and over. Child frequently loses his/her place when copying, misspells when copying, and doesn't always match capitalization or punctuation when copying—even though the child can read what was on the board.
  • Unusual spatial organization of the page. Words may be widely spaced or tightly pushed together. Margins are often ignored.
  • Child has an unusually difficult time learning cursive writing, and shows chronic confusion about similarly-formed cursive letters such as f and b, m and n, w and u. They will also difficulty remembering how to form capital cursive letters.

Quality of Written Work

People with dyslexia usually have an "impoverished written product." That means there is a huge difference between their ability to tell you something and their ability to write it down.

They tend to:

  • avoid writing whenever possible
  • write everything as one very long sentence
  • not understand that a sentence has to start with a capital letter and end with punctuation
  • be confused about what is a complete sentence versus a fragment
  • misspell many words—even though they often use only very simple one-syllable words that they are "sure" they know how to spell
  • take an unusually long time to write, due to dysgraphia
  • have nearly illegible handwriting, due to dysgraphia
  • use space poorly on the page; odd spacing between words, may ignore margins, sentences tightly packed into one section of the page instead of being evenly spread out
  • do not notice their errors when "proofreading." They will read back what they wanted to say, not what is actually on the page.


Most dyslexic children and adults have significant directionality confusion.

Left-Right confusion:

  • Even adults have to use whatever tricks their mother or teacher taught them to tell left from right. It never becomes rapid and automatic.
  • A common saying in household with dyslexic people is, "It's on the left. The other left."
  • That's why they are b-d confused. One points to the left and one points to the right.
  • They will often start math problems on the wrong side, or want to carry a number the wrong way.

Up-Down confusion:

  • Some children with dyslexia are also up-down confused. They confuse b-p or d-q, n-u, and m-w.
  • Confusion about directionality words:
  • First-last, before-after, next-previous, over-under
  • Yesterday-tomorrow (directionality in time)
  • North, South, East, West confusion:
  • Adults with dyslexia get lost a lot when driving around, even in cities where they've lived for many years
  • Often have difficulty reading or understanding maps.