Dyslexia Awareness Month—Dyslexia Explained

October is Dyslexia Awareness month. As a Dyslexia Therapist, I live and breathe all things reading, spelling, and phonics related. I also spend a lot of time talking to parents about what dyslexia is, and what it is not. There is lots of information floating around out there about dyslexia, so hopefully this quick post can help clarify some of the most basic information.

So, what IS dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association, 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.”

Confused? Yeah, it’s not exactly a concise or simple definition. Let’s break it down!

  • Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference.

  • Dyslexia is caused by differences in the way the language part of our brains process language.

  • It can show up as various reading and writing difficulties, and it is a lifelong diagnosis.

  • If people with dyslexia do not receive intervention, more severe and broad difficulties across academic subject areas may occur and persist into adulthood and the workplace.

How does our brain process language?

Reading and writing can be broken down into phonemes—the smallest pieces of language without meaning. Specific parts of our brain are responsible for processing these phonemes and giving them meaning. Basically, this part of our brain takes the sounds (or phonemes) and makes them into words and vice versa.
Seems simple, but it is actually a really, really big deal. Not only does our brain need to be able to do this for language processing, reading, and writing, it needs to be able to do it quickly and automatically. This is where dyslexia throws us a curve ball.
The LD Expert has a great graphic that explains how different components of language are related. If one part of the tower is affected, everything else above it will be also. Notice how phonology is at the base—which means dyslexia can impact lots of other language aspects, as well.
Here is what it can look like when other areas of language are affected by dyslexia:
  • Difficulty sounding out words when reading
  • Difficulty breaking apart words when spelling
  • Difficulty comprehending what you’re reading because you are so focused on sounding out the words correctly
  • Difficulty understanding and using vocabulary words
  • Difficulty understanding how words can be related by a relationship: opposites, categories, synonyms, series, etc.

  • Difficulty using and understanding appropriate grammar when speaking and writing; This can be subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, pronouns, etc.

  • Difficulty forming thoughts into spoken or written sentences and difficulty reading or listening to sentences

Basically, it affects everything! If you think about how much reading and writing you do during an average day (emails, work-related materials, instructions, street signs, text messages, menus, etc.) it is easy to understand how dyslexia can have a huge impact on an individual’s life.

The good news is that dyslexia can be remediated! Proper training and certifications are critical when working with students to remediate their dyslexia. Research states that the most effective programs are individualized, diagnostic, explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory. A quick Google search could help you find dyslexia specialists in your area, or you could reach out to your local school district for help.

It is important to note that dyslexia is not just “seeing numbers and letters backwards or moving on the page” like a lot of information implies. It is a complex language-based learning difference that results from how our brains work. People with dyslexia are often extremely intelligent and some of the most creative people you will meet.

A grateful San Antonio transplant that fled the midwestern winters at the first opportunity. Driven by her core values, faith, family, and knowledge, Stephanie and her husband are passionately raising their three daughters - Nikoletta (2017), Eleni (2019) and Emmelia (2022). With a husband from Greece, travel is a big part of their family life along with their Greek Orthodox identity. Stephanie has a Masters Degree in Educational Psychology and is a licensed teacher, school principal, and dyslexia therapist. She is also the CEO and Founder of The LD Expert, a nationwide company that brings the best academic tutoring and dyslexia intervention to schools and families through virtual instruction. Favorite Restaurant: Jets Pizza Favorite Landmark: Marriage Island Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Cascarones