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Dyslexia (Developmental Reading Disorder)


Developmental reading disorder (DRD), more commonly called dyslexia, occurs when your brain has a hard time processing language. You might misread the letters in a word and/or have difficulty reading irregular or unfamiliar words. Dyslexia is the most common type of reading disorder, affecting two to eight percent of young children.

What Causes Dyslexia?

Reading problems such as dyslexia tend to run in families. The exact cause of the disorder is unknown. However, experts are beginning to understand why it causes problems with reading and related academic skills.

Research by Dr. Elise Temple of Cornell University indicates that the basic problem of dyslexia is processing the sounds of language. Those with the disorder have a hard time distinguishing and manipulating sounds. Unfortunately, these are some of the most fundamental reading skills. Most readers can identify sounds, associate specific sounds with specific letters or groups of letters, and combine these to read words.

Some research indicates that the brains of those with dyslexia also have trouble processing environmental sounds. The brain cannot interpret what the ears hear quickly enough, so it does not distinguish certain sounds. This makes a person unfamiliar with some of the sounds and patterns of language. This deficit becomes an issue when learning to read.

Dyslexia is a problem with the way your brain functions, but it is not connected to intelligence level. The disorder does not affect the ability to think and process ideas.

Types of Dyslexia

The disorder can be classified by how you develop it.

  • Developmental dyslexia is a condition you are born with.
  • Acquired dyslexia can result from brain trauma or diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

There are man subtypes of dyslexia. These are classified according to whether the specific processing problem is related to letters, sounds, word recognition, spelling, etc.

Who Is at Risk for Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is up to four times more likely in boys than girls. Other groups at risk include:

  • people with limited vocabulary
  • children with parents who have reading problems
  • learners with hearing or speech problems
  • individuals who have memory issues

Recognizing the Symptoms of Dyslexia

Reading extremely slowly and inaccurately are the most obvious signs of this disorder. In young children, the following may also be symptoms:

  • not recognizing words that rhyme
  • putting letters of a word in a different order
  • making mistakes when reading out loud
  • struggling with long reading sessions
  • having illegible handwriting
  • making spelling mistakes
  • difficulty learning a new language
  • inability to separate sounds in a word when speaking
  • skipping a word or line when reading

How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

You will notice the disorder as soon as a child begins learning to read. Diagnosis may involve talking to your child’s doctor, psychologist, and/or reading specialist.

  • A physician will ask about your family’s medical history and whether others in your family have dyslexia. Tests may be needed to rule out other diseases.
  • A psychologist can rule out other factors associated with learning disabilities such as emotional disorders or mental health issues.
  • Learning how to read in a new culture or language can also complicate the process. A reading specialist can conduct reading tests to help diagnose the problem.

Treatment for Dyslexia

Each child learns at a different pace, so it is important to customize treatment. Your child may need one-on-one tutoring, targeted supplemental activities, or additional help in a class that moves at a slower pace. Treating a reading disorder may require the help of a reading specialist, teachers, a psychologist, and parents.

Long-Term Outlook

Reading difficulties can continue for a lifetime. But addressing the problem early in life will improve the outcome. Research has shown that the brain can adapt and begin to function in new ways following treatment to address the problems of dyslexia.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Chitra Badii and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Jul 25, 2012: George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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