My background is in journalism, so when my son was diagnosed with “visual processing disorder” and, eventually, dyslexia, I started a research frenzy. I expected to build upon my scanty knowledge of dyslexia. What I didn’t expect was to walk away with a whole new perspective–and, in some ways, appreciation–of dyslexia.
Dyslexia is perhaps one of the best known, but least understood learning challenges, publicly speaking. The National Center for Learning Disabilities published a report stating that a full 91 percent of people have heard of dyslexia. Chances are you know a few people with dyslexia. Perhaps you are one of them. The following is a list of truths and myths about dyslexia I’d like the world to know. To clarify, we have also worked with a developmental pediatrician, a school psychologist, and a reading specialist, who confirmed my research.
5 Truths That Prove Everything You Thought You Knew About Dyslexia Wrong
What is dyslexia? Just as importantly, what ISN’T dyslexia? Here are a few key truths and myths, courtesy of science.
1. Research: Children with dyslexia tend to be smart, innovative, and highly creative
Note: When I originally wrote this article, I did not lead with this point. Life and experience has taught me that I should have, so I’m making amends.
Dyslexia is real, and so are the challenges associated with it. It is a two-sided coin. A number of studies suggest that children with dyslexia also tend to become highly creative, innovative and successful grown-ups. They are neurologically healthy and often highly intelligent. This is not an exercise in positive thinking. Note the following articles and studies:
- See this. “Dyslexia Linked With Visual Strengths Useful in Astronomy,” Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
- “Visual Learning and the Brain: Implications of Dyslexia,” Mind, Brain, and Education
- The Advantages of Dyslexia: With reading challenges come other cognitive strengths,” Scientific American
- “Q&A: The Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia,” WIRED
- “The Upside of Dyslexia,” The New York Times
- “Uncharted Waters in Dyslexia Research,” Yale Scientific
The evidence is so compelling that the ever-prestigious Yale University went so far as to establish the Yale Center For Dyslexia and Creativity. The center notes that research and projects are underway the world over to explore how colleges and employers can actually harness this trademark imaginative thinking. The list of successful entrepreneurs, inventors and artists diagnosed with dyslexia and related disorders like ADHD is exhaustive.
2. Dyslexia is not a reading disorder
Dyslexia certainly impacts reading, but to stop there would be insufficient. Parents and educators can better support children with dyslexia when they realize its full reach. Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder that is manifested by reading, writing, and spelling woes. This may seem a minor distinction, but it underscores the idea that children with dyslexia do not just struggle to read letters (a common mischaracterization). They struggle with phonemic awareness, which is to say they struggle to recognize, discern, and relate certain sounds. But they might also have trouble organizing their thoughts when they write. They may struggle to tie their shoes. They demonstrate off-the-chart vocabularies that never shine through in their work. They may also struggle socially. I’ll delve into some of this more thoroughly later, but for now I just want to note that reading drills will never “fix” dyslexia. The proper diagnosis, support, and curriculum can help them adapt.
3. Letter reversals are not necessarily associated with, or a symptom of, dyslexia
Your child reverses letters when she writes. Perhaps she pens her whole name backwards and doesn’t seem to notice. it dyslexia? No. Yes. Maybe. While letter reversals have become dyslexia’s unofficial calling card, letter reversals can be age-appropriate until well into elementary school. Children with dyslexia may not make any letter reversals. I cannot confidently say that letter reversals and dyslexia are mutually exclusive, but it is one in a long, long list of warning signs. It may not be an indication of anything except maybe that your child is human and learning new things. If you are concerned by your child’s letter reversals, I urge you to research other red flags and discuss them with your child’s doctor. You may be referred to a psychologist or developmental pediatrician for a full evaluation. Your child might even be evaluated by the school district. Which brings us to my next point.
3. Dyslexia is rarely just dyslexia
Dyslexia rarely travels alone. There is a notable comorbidity between dyslexia and other learning or behavior differences, like ADHD. In fact, children with dyslexia often struggle with a wide variety of tasks, including writing (dysgraphia), math (dyscalculia), and non-written visual processing tasks. My son, for instance, was an early walker, but was the last one in his class to jump or balance on one foot. He still cannot ride a bike. One expert told us that children diagnosed with dyslexia may have visual processing challenges that impact coordination and balance, among other things. All of this can also result in social challenges even in cases where children are not expected to read in front of their peers.
4. Schools tend to underdiagnose dyslexia, or recognize it too late
Let me preface this point by saying that I love and respect educators. Chances are your child’s teacher didn’t get into the field for the money or glamour. In fact, he or she is probably buying most classroom supplies just to make it through. Why? Because teachers truly care about their students and want them to succeed. The same is true for special education teachers, administrators, school-based pediatric occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so forth. And yet, dyslexia often goes completely undiagnosed in schools.
As one speech-language pathologists and professor puts it, many educators lack the resources or the expertise to properly diagnose and address dyslexia. They may deem struggling readers late bloomers, which is completely understandable when you consider that some of dyslexia’s defining features can be age appropriate. Another problem: Many schools do not even evaluate students until at least third grade because they require students to be at least two grade levels behind in reading before they act. It’s procedure — not a conscious effort to curtail services. Early intervention is crucial. If your child’s school is not interested in conducting an evaluation just yet, bake the staff some muffins to thank them for their time, then consider setting an appointment with a developmental physician, psychologist, or other qualified specialist for a second opinion.
Why This Matters
I hope I’ve dispelled some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding dyslexia and at least cracked the door to the world of strengths often associated with it. I cannot stress how important this understanding is. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity reports that children with dyslexia often feel broken. This is a horrible injustice to young learners who are establishing a lifelong sense of self. Please feel free to share this article with anyone who you can benefit from knowing just how wonderful children with dyslexia are.