What is Dyslexia?

(This section is taken from the most scientifically valid and clinically accurate information available and presented in the book Overcoming Dyslexia, © Sally Shaywitz. The information throughout, including the definition of dyslexia, history, symptoms, diagnosis, interventions and accommodations, is discussed much more completely there.)


What Is Dyslexia? | History of Dyslexia


What Is Dyslexia?


Reading is complex. It requires our brains to connect letters to sounds, put those sounds in the right order, and pull the words together into sentences and paragraphs we can read and comprehend.

People with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make. And when they have trouble with that step, all the other steps are harder.

Dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly and learn a second language, among other challenges. But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.

Dyslexia is also very common, affecting 20 percent of the population and representing 80– 90 percent of all those with learning disabilities. Scientific research shows differences in brain connectivity between dyslexic and typical reading children, providing a neurological basis for why reading fluently is a struggle for those with dyslexia.

Dyslexia can’t be “cured” – it is lifelong. But with the right supports, dyslexic individuals can become highly successful students and adults.

History of Dyslexia


In 1896, a doctor in Sussex, England, published the first description of the learning disorder that would come to be known as developmental dyslexia. “Percy F. . . ged 14. . .has always been a bright and intelligent boy,” wrote W. Pringle Morgan in the British Medical Journal, “quick at games, and in no way inferior to others of his age. His great difficulty has been and is now his inability to learn to read.”

In that brief introduction, Morgan captured the paradox that has intrigued and frustrated scientists for a century since: the profound and persistent difficulties some very bright people face in learning to read.

© Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, pp.13- 24.

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