Letters What? (Dyslexia)

Hmmm…for us, letters are just granted in our everyday lives. After all, they are just…letters. Letters to read, letters that convey words…bu alas, not all of us can read or comprehend letters or overall written language in general. Some people do really have that kind of condition. Thus is what we call dyslexia.

What is it?

Dyslexia, also known as alexia[1] or developmental reading disorder,[2] is characterized by difficulty with learning to read and with differing comprehension of language despite normal or above-average intelligence.[3][4][5] A person who has dyslexia is called a dyslexic.[6]

In layman’s term, a person with dyslexia or a dyslexic cannot understand what he or she reads or what it is written. It does not necessarily mean that a dyslexic is not intelligent. He or she can be fluent in speaking, physically active without motor weakness, in short, normal in all aspects of development, except for his or her reading comprehension. The condition is slightly more

It is not caused by vision problems. The disorder is a specific information processing problem. It does not interfere with one’s ability to think or to understand complex ideas. The condition often runs in families.[7]

What are the signs and synptoms of dyslexia?

Although symptoms may vary among individuals, here is the list of warning signs per developmental stage:

Warning Signs in Preschool or Kindergarten[8]:
-Has trouble recognizing the letters of the alphabet
-Struggles to match letters to sounds, such as not knowing what sounds b or h make
-Has difficulty blending sounds into words, such as connecting C-H-A-T to the word chat
-Struggles to pronounce words correctly, such as saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”
-Has difficulty learning new words
-Has a smaller vocabulary than other kids the same age
-Has trouble learning to count or say the days of the week and other common word sequences
-Has trouble rhyming

Warning Signs in Grade School or Middle School[8]:
-Struggles with reading and spelling
-Confuses the order of letters , such as writing “left” instead of “felt”
-Has trouble remembering facts and numbers
-Has difficulty gripping a pencil
-Has difficulty using proper grammar
-Has trouble learning new skills and relies heavily on memorization
-Gets tripped up by word problems in math
-Has a tough time sounding out unfamiliar words
-Has trouble following a sequence of directions

Warning Signs in High School[8]:
-Struggles with reading out loud
-Doesn’t read at the expected grade level
-Has trouble understanding jokes or idioms
-Has difficulty organizing and managing time
-Struggles to summarize a story
-Has difficulty learning a foreign language

That makes a dyslexic suffer from not understanding written language and its consequeces. Thus, it makes him or her frustrated, and predisposes him or her to depression or anxiety or other mood disorders.

Really? But letters are easy to learn.

Yes, easy for us. But not for dyslexics. As what it is stated, a dyslexic has no visual problems and usually has normal to above-average intelligence. The problem lies here.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia[5]

As you can see in the above picture, a dyslexic can see written words like this. It is not caused by blurry vision or eye disorder, but rather abnormal development of their visual nerve cells.[5][9]

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) have produced a correlation between functional and structural differences in the brains of children with reading difficulties. Some individuals with dyslexia show less electrical activation in parts of the left hemisphere of the brain involved in reading.[5][10]

In a nutshell, there is a ‘short circuit’ in the reading area part of the brain, that makes it difficult to read and interpret words.

Dyslexia can lead to a number of problems, including:

Trouble learning. Because reading is a skill basic to most other school subjects, a child with dyslexia is at a disadvantage in most classes and may have trouble keeping up with peers.[11]

Social problems. Left untreated, dyslexia may lead to low self-esteem, behavior problems, anxiety, aggression, and withdrawal from friends, parents and teachers.[11]

Problems as adults. The inability to read and comprehend can prevent a child from reaching his or her potential as the child grows up. This can have long-term educational, social and economic consequences.[11]

If without support, dyslexics can end up unemployed, divorced, or with lifelong struggle to live independently.

How is dyslexia diagnosed and treated?

To diagnose dyslexia, the health care provider will:

-Perform a complete medical exam, including a neurological exam
-Ask questions about the person’s developmental, social, and school performance
-Ask if anyone else in the family has had dyslexia[7]

This is to rule out if someone suspected has other conditions that hamper reading comprehension.

If all tests are ruled out and there is no other condition, then a diagnosis of dyslexia is made.

There is no treatment for dyslexia. Instead, there are therapies aimed for improving reading comprehension using individualized approach since the severity affects each dyslexic differently. It can be through flash cards or tape classroom lessons and homework assignments instead of taking notes about them.[12] Tutoring nad extra test time (though it’s too ideal) also may help and also use of computers with either large fonts or dyslexia-friendly fonts like Dyslexie, OpenDyslexic, and Lexia Readable[5] can help in making dyslexia less difficult to manage.

Can dyslexics be successful?

Of course yes. Given early identification and intervention and also support from loved ones, a dyslexic can be successful in life. He or she can compensate in other areas of interest like in math, science, art, sports, and others. In fact, many smart and talented people have dyslexia. Here are some examples[13]:

-Leonardo da Vinci, painter and polymath
-Galileo Galilei, scientist
-Pierre Curie, scientist
-Alexander Graham Bell, inventor and scientist
-Nikola Tesla, scientist and engineer

Huh? Scientists only?

Okay, no. There are also celebrities[13]:

-Ozzy Osbourne, musician
-Keanu Reeves, actor
-Whoopi Goldberg, American actress, comedienne, TV personality
-Cher, singer and actress, and Chaz Bono (formerly known as Chastity)
-Tom Cruise, actor
-Orlando Bloom, actor
-Patrick Dempsey, actor
-Salma Hayek, actress
-Keira Knightley, actress
-Bella Thorne, American actress
-Joss Stone, singer
-Jay Leno, talk show host and comedian

And dyslexics in other fields[13]:

-Anderson Cooper, American journalist
-Jamie Oliver, chef and television host
-Tim Tebow, American football player
-Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore
-Steven Spielberg, film director
-Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist, sculptor
-Jules Verne, French author
-Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc

So, who says a person with dyslexia cannot succeed in life? If you suspect a loved one or a friend or a colleague has dyslexia, understanding, support, and management is needed for him or her instead of discrimination or ridicule, so that at the end of the day, he or she can be productive as any human can be.


Image courtesy of KidsHealth.org[12]

Who says reading is the only way to acquire knowledge? Hmm…

Dyslexia is only one of the conditions under neurodiversity. There are more conditions which will be written next time.


[1] Benson, David (1996). Aphasia: A Clinical Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780195089349.
[2] “Developmental reading disorder”. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
[3] Silverman, Linda Kreger (2000). “The Two-Edged Sword of Compensation: How the Gifted Cope with Learning Disabilities”. In Kay, Kiesa. Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-exceptional Student. Avocus. pp. 153–9. ISBN 978-1-890765-04-0.
[4] “Dyslexia Information Page”. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
[5] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia
[6] Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2014 application
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002379/
[8] https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/understanding-dyslexia#item3
[9] Stein, John (2014). “Dyslexia: the Role of Vision and Visual Attention”. Current Developmental Disorders Reports 1 (4): 267–80. PMC 4203994. PMID 25346883.
[10] Cao, F; Bitan, T; Chou, T. L.; Burman, D. D.; Booth, J. R. (October 2006). “Deficient orthographic and phonological representations in children with dyslexia revealed by brain activation patterns”. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 47 (10): 1041–50. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01684.x. PMC 2617739. PMID 17073983
[11] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/basics/complications/con-20021904
[12] http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/learning_problem/dyslexia.html#
[13] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_diagnosed_with_dyslexia