Wilfred van Gorp, Ph.D., ABPP

Dyslexia is an often used term but one that is often misunderstood.  The core problem for persons with dyslexia is difficulty reading—for reasons that are not yet fully understood, some persons from birth have trouble learning to read.  Even as they mature, their reading is slow and halting.  Early in school, children with a reading disorder (dyslexia) dread being called upon to read.  These persons may or may not have trouble with writing—a reading disorder is not always associated with a disorder of writing, and dyslexia should not be confused with writing problems.  These represent a separate, though related, condition.  Dyslexia represents a problem in the area of the brain that interprets and deciphers language and is not related to poor vision or hearing.

It is a common misconception that persons with dyslexia often reverse the letters such as b and d as they write.  Although this can occur, it is not the hallmark of dyslexia and the majority of persons with reading disorders do not make these types of errors.

Although decades of research have been done, scientists have not yet discovered the exact cause of dyslexia.  We know that it is related to a dysfunction in the area of the brain related to interpreting language and the condition may occur before birth, while the fetus is still in utero.  Although there is an over-representation of left-handers in persons with dyslexia, most left-handers do not have dyslexia.  Also, the condition occurs more often in males than females, and persons with dyslexia have an increased prevalence of auto-immune conditions such as asthma.  One thing is for sure—persons with dyslexia are often intelligent—at least of average intelligence or higher.  This results in confusion for a child with dyslexia.  On the one hand they sense they are smart but they are confused because—if they are smart—how come they have trouble reading?  Only when dyslexia is evaluated and explained does the child (or adult in many cases) come to fully reconcile their intelligence with their specific difficulty or disability.

There are no magic cures for dyslexia, but the first step in getting help for this condition is an accurate assessment.  This usually involves a neuropsychological evaluation of a child or adult (yes, adults are often evaluated for dyslexia too), sometimes called a psychoeducational evaluation.  Once the evaluation is performed and the specific deficits are identified, a treatment plan can be instituted.  Tutoring, smaller class size, or academic and workplace accommodations are often helpful, such as extra time on tests or even a reader to assist the person understanding the written word in front of them.

Dyslexia may represent a hurdle or challenge but it does not mean failure.  Many famous persons have dealt with, and overcome, dyslexia.  It has been said that Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, and many others had dyslexia.  If they overcame it, so can you.

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition), the diagnosis used is Reading Disorder.