What is Dyslexia? Part 1


“Qyslexia is a specific learzing qisabiliqy that is zeurobiological in origin. Iq is characqerized by qifficulqies with accuraqe anq/or fluezt worq recogzitioz azq by poor spelling azd qecoqing abiliqies.

Did that make sense to you? Would it be helpful if I gave you a little support with the decoding? Read it again, but this time, when you see ‘q’, pronounce it as ‘d’ or ‘t’, and when you see ‘z’, pronounce it as ‘n’.


What is Dyslexia? Part 1



For those of us who are familiar with the term dyslexia, you may have recognized the statement as the beginning of the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of the condition. For myself, it reminded me of my own struggles learning to read. Most people barely remember learning to read; those who do generally do so because it was a painful process. As an adult with dyslexia, I remember it all too well because the decoding exercise was anything but fun! The mechanics of decoding had to be taught to me very explicitly by my mother, and even today I’m a slow reader and still find it a challenge to segment multisyllable words.


Dyslexia is considered a hidden disability, because you can’t see it in the way you can a physical disability. Like many hidden disabilities, including ADD, it is experienced differently by each individual. To give you a better understanding of hidden disabilities (I prefer to use the word difference outside of a school situation,) take five minutes to check out Through Your Child’s Eyes (https://www.understood.org/en/tools/through-your-childs-eyes). You can personalize it by difficulty and grade to better approximate the experience for a specific child.


Breaking it down.

The word dyslexia literally means “difficulty with words.”



Breaking it Down


However, for a more specific definition, here is the explanation that the International Dyslexia Association adopted in 2002.


“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.”


“What does that mean?” I hear you thinking. Let’s break it down:


A “specific learning disability that is neurological in origin,” means it’s the way the brain is made, or if you prefer, the way the brain is wired.

“difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.” This means you have difficulty breaking words apart in order to read (decode) and spell (encode.)


A “deficit in the phonological component of language” highlights a key point: Spoken English consists of about 44 individual sounds (phonemes.) Plugging several phonemes together creates words that our brains recognize – /k/ /a/ /t/ for “cat” for example. The brains of people with dyslexia have difficulty distinguishing certain phonemes such as ‘sh’ and ‘ch’. In everyday speech, the context limits any confusion, but not so when decoding and encoding. Compounding this, dyslexia frequently affects the ability to sequence information. Hence “the” may be perceived as ‘h’, ‘t’, ‘e’.




“That is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities.” In IQ tests, children and adults with dyslexia exhibit a normal range. However dyslexia results in reading and writing abilities significantly below that expected for their intelligence.


The “provision of effective classroom instruction” means that the student must have had the opportunity to learn in a setting in which others were successful.


Can we go a little deeper into what dyslexia is?


Yes we can, however, I’m only going to touch upon the four subtypes of reading disorders here; the first three of which explain dyslexia in a little more depth. In a future blog, I will cover these in more detail.


  1. Dysphonetic Dyslexia: Which means difficulty sounding-out words. This is the subtype described in the definition above.
  2. Surface Dyslexia: This refers to difficulty with the rapid and automatic recognition of printed words, which severely impacts reading fluency.
  3. Mixed Dyslexia: Also known as a double deficit, this is the most severe form. These students have both dysphonetic and surface
  4. Comprehension Deficits: The mechanical side of reading is often fine, but students have problems deriving meaning from print.


Coming In Part 2 of Dyslexia -What Is It?

I plan to introduce you to the signs and symptoms of the condition and challenge you to obtain some of the resources that I have found to be most effective in explaining it to parents of my students. I’ll also discuss what children with dyslexia need most, in order to become successful learners.


Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.

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