Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, yet many people know very little about it – dyslexia myths abound!
Today, in the first of my collaborative blog series with Becky Spence of This Reading Mama, we’re going to do some dyslexia myth busting!
Myth #1: People with dyslexia see letters and words backward, and people with dyslexia always write letters and words backward.
This misconception may be the most common, perhaps because it’s been around for so long. Dyslexia is not a visual disorder. It’s a phonological processing disorder (more on that next week!).
This myth is especially troublesome because some teachers and parents will dismiss the possibility of dyslexia because a child doesn’t transpose letters or write backward.
Myth #2: Dyslexia is rare.
Dyslexia is actually the most common reading disability. Estimates vary, but some experts say that as many as 15% of the population has dyslexia. It exists on a continuum, so people with dyslexia have varying levels of difficulty when it comes to learning to read.
Myth #3: Laziness causes dyslexia.
Anyone can be lazy, but dyslexia is not caused by laziness. In fact, oftentimes the person with dyslexia is working harder than anyone else in the room. Telling someone with dyslexia to just “try harder” isn’t going to solve the problem.
As Jan Hasbrouck points out in her book, Conquering Dyslexia, “children with dyslexia use nearly five times the brain areas as their neurotypical peers while performing a simple language task. Readers with dyslexia are already working very hard!”
Myth #4: Dyslexia is a sign of below-average intelligence.
According to the International Dyslexia Association’s definition, dyslexia is “neurobiological in origin.” People with dyslexia do not necessarily have a low IQ, and people with a high IQ can most certainly have dyslexia.
Myth #5: Dyslexia is much more common in boys than girls.
While it seems that slightly more boys and than girls have dyslexia, dyslexia affects boys and girls at almost the same rate. It’s possible that boys may be diagnosed more often because their difficulties may be more likely to lead to misbehavior, whereas girls may be more likely to struggle quietly.
Myth #6: Dyslexia only affects people who speak English.
People from all different countries may be born with dyslexia (remember, it’s neurobiological). But depending on how their language works, dyslexia shows up in different ways.
Myth #7: Dyslexia is a result of parents not reading enough at home.
I cringe when I look back to my teaching days and remember one particular child that most assuredly had dyslexia. I knew nothing about it at the time, so my top advice was for his parents to read to him more. (These caring parents had been reading to him consistently for years.)
Reading more to our kids has countless benefits, but reading to a child with dyslexia will not overcome this neurobiological condition. Dyslexia is caused by a difference in how the brain works (more on that next week!).
Myth #8: People with dyslexia always have special gifts in other areas.
This is a myth we’d like to be true, but the fact is that many people with dyslexia do not show signs of giftedness. In speaking with a dyslexia tutor in an online training, she told me that this myth is dangerous because of the discouragement it can cause. It can lead students to say, “Great. I have dyslexia AND I don’t have any special talents. I’m not even good at being dyslexic.”
Myth #9: An FMRI scan can be used to diagnose dyslexia.
This would be handy, but this technology can only show differences between groups of individuals with or without dyslexia. It doesn’t have the ability to distinguish individuals with and without dyslexia.
Myth #10: Dyslexia cannot be identified until third grade.
This may be one of the most damaging myths, as early identification is crucial so that proper intervention can begin. Students at risk for dyslexia can be identified as early as four years old, and possibly even earlier.
Our children are precious, and we must always bear in mind that if a child is not evaluated and later proves to have dyslexia, we have robbed him of precious time.Sally Shaywitz, in Overcoming Dyslexia
Myth #11: With time, a person will outgrow dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a lifelong disability, and we can’t cure it.
Myth #12: People with dyslexia cannot learn to read and spell.
This is a myth we are especially happy to debunk! It may require a great deal more effort and time, but children with dyslexia can learn to read and spell with systematic, sequential, explicit instruction
Stay tuned for the rest of this dyslexia series!
- Conquering Dyslexia, by Jan Hasbrouck
- Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz
Check out the whole series
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9
If a person has Dyslexia they may also have any of these other dysfunctions: dysgraphia, dysnomia, dyscalcula, or dyspraxia. Or any combination thereof. This site explains if you don’t know. https://www.theedadvocate.org/dyscalculia-dysgraphia-dysnomia-dyslexia-dyspraxia-differences/
I also read a great book that has been revised that explains them and what goes on in a readers head. The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis. Not trying to plug anyone just inform. I learned a lot about myself with research. I have Dyslexia, dysnomia, and dyspraxia.
Heather Groth, Customer Support
Thank you for sharing this resource, Hilary!
While it is true that Dyslexia is not a vision problem, it is also true that 80% of people who have difficulty with reading do have vision problems such as convergence insufficiency (difficulty turning their eyes in), ocular motor control (moving their eyes in the short accurate movements needed for reading) and accommodation (difficulty changing focus). I am a vision therapist and have noted dramatic improvements in reading in students who were incorrectly diagnosed as dyslexic. So if your child has difficulty reading, getting their eyes examined by an eye doctor who specializes in developmental vision could be an important step for the correct diagnosis.
Thanks so much for sharing this important information, LeAnn!
– The dyslexic brain needs a different approach to reading instruction.-
Fact: Children with dyslexia use less efficient strategies when reading – this CAN be changed! These less efficient strategies curiously align quite well with the three cuing system. When teaching the three cuing system, we are therefore not supporting reading development, but actually reinforcing the habits of struggling readers .
Great one, Mari! Thanks so much for adding it!
Hi! I have been tutoring for over six years, and in that time I have worked with a number of kids who wound up getting diagnosed with dyslexia. I sometimes started working with them before they could get diagnosed, and it frustrated me that they had to wait until age eight to get help. I was surprised by my students’ lack of phonemic and phonological awareness, and so it became my approach to double down on the teaching of phonics. I later discovered that a strong focus on phonics is what is needed to work with dyslexic students, but I am sure there is much more to learn, and I am eager to find out what other helpful tools there may be.
Thanks for all you’re doing to help these kids, Tina! Hopefully this series will alert more people to signs of dyslexia and inspire them to get help sooner!
Great post! I’m excited to explore this topic with you over the next few weeks!
Coloured overlays are not debunked. They are not a Dyslexic treatment but an overlay of difficulties students may have.
I am an Irlen Screener, Specialist Educator as well as Dyslexic, ADD and wear Irlen lens. Colour overlays make a dramatic difference to students who are dyslexic and others who are not. This is backed by science, my person life experience, many students and their parents that I work with. For those of us that benefit from tinted Irlen Lens it is life changing for the better.
I had students describe how words pour off the sides of the page or that letters swirl in the middle. There are many other distortions students see. How are we meant to learn if the print/text doesn’t stay still? No wonder many of us get fatigued, feel sick to our stomach, have headaches or feel dizzy.
Thanks for your comment. The results with Irlen’s screeening are dramatic and life changing. I was very surprised to see that in the blog as being a myth. So glad you took the time to set the record straight.
Thank you for your feedback, Nicolle! My understanding is that some people do use colored screens as a treatment for dyslexia, which has not been proven effective that I know of (see this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4999357/). My caution to parents would be to know that treatments that claim to treat dyslexia but are vision-based (rather than phonologically-based) should not be utilized. Thank you for enlightening me that these screens can be helpful for some learners for various reasons. For clarity, I deleted that line from the post.
The use of coloured screens or printing on cream rather than white paper are tools which help individual learners – not treatments. Anything that makes the printed word more accessible is helpful: a reading ruler, larger print, sometimes different fonts.
I’m dyslexic and my daughter is learning to read. She was struggling and the teacher suggested a red piece of plastic to put over the words. I’m not sure it helped my daughter but I could tell a dramatic difference myself. I wish this knowledge had been around when I was learning to read.