What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to read, speak, and/or write. It is rooted in a difficulty of connecting letters with sounds, and assembling those letters and sounds in proper order as words. Dyslexia usually first appears in childhood, when students struggle in school and show signs of frustration or disengagement. Previously undiagnosed adults can also experience problems in reading and vocal comprehension. It is important to note that dyslexia is a medical condition, with a probable genetic basis, and not a lack of intelligence or the result of character issues. 

Dyslexia is thought to affect roughly one person in twenty, though there is some indication that the symptoms are more widespread. Males seem more prone to it than females. The good news is that there are positive steps you can take to overcome a learning disability. For diagnosis and treatment options, see your Baptist Health medical provider. 

What Are Dyslexia Symptoms?

Dyslexia is most commonly recognized in childhood, typically once school attendance has begun. On occasion, the diagnosis isn’t made until the individual reaches adolescence or adulthood:

Childhood Symptoms

  • Slow-to-develop language skills
  • Incorrect pronunciation of words
  • A tendency to reverse the order of sounds in words (“boy” becomes “yob”)
  • Reading at below-expected levels
  • Problems with reading and spoken-word comprehension
  • Inability to sound out new words
  • Needing extra time to complete relatively simple school assignments that involve reading

Adolescent and Adult Symptoms

Adolescents and adults with dyslexia tend to experience similar problems in spelling, reading comprehension, and sound articulation. In addition, they sometimes: 

  • Misunderstand jokes or idiomatic figures of speech, taking them literally
  • Find math problems difficult
  • Have memorization issues
  • Struggle to learn foreign languages
  • Find it hard to summarize or explain a news item, document, or story they’ve read

There are three main types of dyslexia: primary, the genetic form; secondary, which is linked to fetal development; and traumatic, which is injury-related. Other, less common types involve visual or auditory dysfunction, and a writing dysfunction, called dysgraphia, caused by a lack of hand control over pencils, pens, or other writing instruments.

What Causes Dyslexia? 

Dyslexia likely has a genetic cause, because it tends to run in families. The affected genes control how vocal sounds and language are formulated and interpreted in certain areas of the brain. Environmental factors can play a role, as well. 

The chief risk factor is the possibility of inheriting a learning disability through your parents. In some cases, dyslexia may be triggered by idiosyncrasies in brain development. A child’s exposure to alcohol, drugs, and other chemical substances during pregnancy may also have an impact, as would certain forms of medical infection. 

How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing dyslexia usually requires several of the following steps:

  • Establishing a child’s medical history, including documentation of problems that he or she is having with reading or schoolwork
  • Gathering information on a child’s learning behaviors, through questionnaires distributed to parents, teachers, counselors, and other involved parties
  • Academic testing of a child’s reading and language skills
  • Vision, hearing, and neurological tests, to determine if other factors are contributing to dyslexic behavior
  • Mental health testing, to measure the impact a learning disability might be having a child’s psychological state.

Some of these same steps are used to diagnose dyslexia in adults.

How Is Dyslexia Treated?

Dyslexia is treated indirectly, by providing better tools for learning to persons having this condition:

  • Educational techniques: Dyslexic students often find that they can improve their reading and speaking skills by focusing on phonics. Phonics is an educational method that emphasizes the close relationship of sounds and letters in an alphabetic language, and how words are constructed from various letter-sound combinations.
  • Customized education plans: American schools are obligated by law to assist dyslexic students with learning. Parents should talk to their child’s teachers about developing what is known as an IEP – an Individualized Education Plan. 
  • Parental support: Parental support of children with dyslexia is particularly important. Besides keeping in touch with teachers, parents should make reading an active part of home life, by sharing books with their children, and encouraging them to read on their own. 

Because dyslexia is at least partly a genetic condition, it cannot be cured or prevented in any conventional sense. It can lead to serious complications, including performance problems at school and work, antisocial behaviors, and limitations on one’s future potential. That’s why early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Fortunately, children who receive the help they need often overcome the difficulties imposed on them by dyslexia. The situation is more complicated for late-diagnosed adults, but evaluation and training opportunities are available. 

Learn More About Dyslexia at Baptist Health 

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects people in various ways. If properly diagnosed and treated, however, its impact on learning can be minimized. Ask your Baptist Health physician for help, if someone in your family is exhibiting possible signs of dyslexia. 

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