What is dyslexia?

What is dyslexia?

Video Explaining Dyslexia:

What is Dyslexia - Kelli Sandman-Hurley 




Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.003 defines dyslexia and related disorders in the following way:


“Dyslexia” means a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by a difficulty in learning to read, write, or spell, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and sociocultural opportunity. “Related disorders” include disorders similar to or related to dyslexia, such as developmental auditory imperception, dysphasia, specific developmental dyslexia, developmental dysgraphia, and developmental spelling disability. TEC §38.003(d)(1)-(2) (1995) http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/htm/ED.38.htm#38.003




The International Dyslexia Association defines “dyslexia” in the following way:


Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Adopted by the International Dyslexia Association Board of Directors, November 12, 2002



Students identified as having dyslexia typically experience primary difficulties in phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness and manipulation, single-word reading, reading fluency, and spelling. Consequences may include difficulties in reading comprehension and/or written expression. These difficulties in phonological awareness are unexpected for the student’s age and educational level and are not primarily the result of language difference factors. Additionally, there is often a family history of similar difficulties.



The following are the primary reading/spelling characteristics of dyslexia:


• Difficulty reading words in isolation

• Difficulty accurately decoding unfamiliar words

• Difficulty with oral reading (slow, inaccurate, or labored without prosody)

• Difficulty spelling


It is important to note that individuals demonstrate differences in degree of impairment and may not exhibit all the characteristics listed above.


 The reading/spelling characteristics are most often associated with the following:

• Segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)

• Learning the names of letters and their associated sounds

• Holding information about sounds and words in memory (phonological memory)

• Rapidly recalling the names of familiar objects, colors, or letters of the alphabet (rapid naming)


Consequences of dyslexia may include the following:

• Variable difficulty with aspects of reading comprehension

• Variable difficulty with aspects of written language

• Limited vocabulary growth due to reduced reading experiences


Sources for Characteristics and Consequences of Dyslexia

Branum-Martin, L., Fletcher, J. M., & Stuebing, K. K. (2013). Classification and identification of reading and math disabilities: The special case of comorbidity. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 12, 906–915.

Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2007). Learning disabilities: From identification to intervention. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

The International Dyslexia Association. (2018). Knowledge and practice standards for teachers of reading, (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://app.box.com/s/21gdk2k1p3bnagdfz1xy0v98j5ytl1w.

Moats, L. C., & Dakin, K. E. (2008). Basic facts about dyslexia and other reading problems. Baltimore, MD: The International Dyslexia Association.



Common Risk Factors Associated with Dyslexia

If the following behaviors are unexpected for an individual’s age, educational level, or cognitive abilities, they may be risk factors associated with dyslexia. A student with dyslexia usually exhibits several of these behaviors that persist over time and interfere with his/her learning. A family history of dyslexia may be present; in fact, recent studies reveal that the whole spectrum of reading disabilities is strongly determined by genetic predispositions (inherited aptitudes) (Olson, Keenan, Byrne, & Samuelsson, 2014). The following characteristics identify risk factors associated with dyslexia at different stages or grade levels.



• Delay in learning to talk

• Difficulty with rhyming 2

• Difficulty pronouncing words (e.g., “pusgetti” for “spaghetti,” “mawn lower” for “lawn mower”)

• Poor auditory memory for nursery rhymes and chants

• Difficulty adding new vocabulary words

• Inability to recall the right word (word retrieval)

• Trouble learning and naming letters and numbers and remembering the letters in his/ her name

• Aversion to print (e.g., doesn’t enjoy following along if a book is read aloud)


Kindergarten and First Grade

• Difficulty breaking words into smaller parts, or syllables (e.g., “baseball” can be pulled apart into “base” “ball” or “napkin” can be pulled apart into “nap” “kin”)

• Difficulty identifying and manipulating sounds in syllables (e.g., “man” sounded out as /m/ /ă/ /n/)

• Difficulty remembering the names of letters and recalling their corresponding sounds

• Difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)

• Difficulty spelling words the way they sound (phonetically) or remembering letter sequences in very common words seen often in print (e.g., “sed” for “said”)


Second Grade and Third Grade

Many of the previously described behaviors remain problematic along with the following:

• Difficulty recognizing common sight words (e.g., “to,” “said,” “been”)

• Difficulty decoding single words • Difficulty recalling the correct sounds for letters and letter patterns in reading

• Difficulty connecting speech sounds with appropriate letter or letter combinations and omitting letters in words for spelling (e.g., “after” spelled “eftr”)

• Difficulty reading fluently (e.g., reading is slow, inaccurate, and/or without expression)

• Difficulty decoding unfamiliar words in sentences using knowledge of phonics

• Reliance on picture clues, story theme, or guessing at words

• Difficulty with written expression


Fourth Grade through Sixth Grade

Many of the previously described behaviors remain problematic along with the following:

• Difficulty reading aloud (e.g., fear of reading aloud in front of classmates)

• Avoidance of reading (particularly for pleasure)

• Difficulty reading fluently (e.g., reading is slow, inaccurate, and/or without expression)

• Difficulty decoding unfamiliar words in sentences using knowledge of phonics

• Acquisition of less vocabulary due to reduced independent reading

• Use of less complicated words in writing that are easier to spell than more appropriate words (e.g., “big” instead of “enormous”)

• Reliance on listening rather than reading for comprehension


Middle School and High School

Many of the previously described behaviors remain problematic along with the following:

• Difficulty with the volume of reading and written work

• Frustration with the amount of time required and energy expended for reading

• Difficulty reading fluently (e.g., reading isslow, inaccurate, and/or without expression)

• Difficulty decoding unfamiliar words in sentences using knowledge of phonics

• Difficulty with written assignments

• Tendency to avoid reading (particularly for pleasure)

• Difficulty learning a foreign language


Post Secondary

Some students will not be identified as having dyslexia prior to entering college. The early years of reading difficulties evolve into slow, labored reading fluency. Many students will experience extreme frustration and fatigue due to the increasing demands of reading as the result of dyslexia. In making a diagnosis for dyslexia, a student’s reading history, familial/genetic predisposition, and assessment history are critical. Many of the previously described behaviors may remain problematic along with the following:

• Difficulty pronouncing names of people and places or parts of words

• Difficulty remembering names of people and places

• Difficulty with word retrieval

• Difficulty with spoken vocabulary

• Difficulty completing the reading demands for multiple course requirements

• Difficulty with notetaking

• Difficulty with written production

• Difficulty remembering sequences (e.g., mathematical and/or scientific formulas)


Appendix H, Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post Secondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities has been included for additional information.


Since dyslexia is a neurobiological, language-based disability that persists over time and interferes with an individual’s learning, it is critical that identification and intervention occur as early as possible.


(The above information is copied from the The Dyslexia Handbook, 2018 Update.  It can be found in its entirety at https://tea.texas.gov/academics/dyslexia/ )





It is estimated that 5-10% of the population are dyslexic, some are mild, some are moderate and some more severe.

Having dyslexia does not mean you are stupid. It means that reading, writing, and spelling are more difficult for you, but you have gifts in other areas such as music, art, or math. 

Some famous dyslexics are Thomas Edison - the school staff said he was incapable of learning and his mother taught him at home: Albert Einstein - he did not learn how to talk until he was 4 years old and his teachers said he was mentally slow: Hans Christian Anderson - his story of the ugly duckling expressed how he felt about himself. Others with dyslexia are Charles Schwab (investor), Cher (singer), Stephen Spielberg (director), Nolan Ryan (pitcher), Whoopi Goldberg (actress), Tom Cruise (actor), Greg Louganis (swimmer), Jay Leno (TV personality), John Horner (paleontologist from Jurassic Park), Reyn Guyer (developer of Nerf ball), David Murdock (CEO of Dole), David Boles (lawyer who defeated Microsoft), Craig McCaw (inventor of cell phones), John Chambers (founder of Virgin Airlines and Virgin Music) and Pete Conrad (astronaut).

Having dyslexia does not mean you cannot learn. It means that you learn in a different way.