Seven Things You Might Not Know About Dyslexia
Learn about the early signs of dyslexia, when to seek a diagnosis, and what to expect through the diagnostic process.
By Ability Central
28 November, 2023
Dyslexia affects about 7% of people worldwide. While dyslexia is one of the most recognized types of learning differences, there are a lot of misconceptions about the diagnosis. This article will answer seven Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about dyslexia, including:
- What is dyslexia?
- Are there different types of dyslexia?
- How common is dyslexia?
- What causes dyslexia?
- What are the risk factors for dyslexia?
- Is there a cure for dyslexia?
- How does dyslexia affect communication?
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a “specific learning disorder” or SLD. It is commonly seen as a reading disorder or reading disability. People with dyslexia struggle to identify speech sounds and connect the sounds they hear to letters and words they see on a page. In addition, people with dyslexia often experience problems with other language skills, including spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.
Dyslexia is classified as a neurodiverse condition, which means people with dyslexia process information differently. Other neurodivergent conditions include:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum condition (ASD/ASC)
- Asperger’s syndrome
Are there different types of dyslexia?
There are three types or "degrees" of dyslexia: primary, secondary, and acquired.
- Primary dyslexia, the most common form of dyslexia, is genetic. It results from the left side of the brain—in particular, the portions that process language—not working the same way as a traditional learner’s.
- Secondary dyslexia occurs when something goes wrong in a developing brain, making the person not process language like traditional learners. With proper intervention, secondary dyslexia can be greatly reduced or even disappear completely.
- Acquired dyslexia is the result of brain injury or illness. Where the other forms of dyslexia involve difficulty learning to read and write, acquired dyslexia appears as the loss of these skills. Luckily, it’s possible to “relearn” at least part of these skills.
To learn more about each, see our article, What Does Dyslexia Look Like in Children and Adults?
Dyslexia also has different levels of severity, including:
- mild dyslexia
- moderate dyslexia
- profound dyslexia
How common is dyslexia?
Experts estimate dyslexia affects about 7% of the world’s population – and that’s only the people with a confirmed dyslexia diagnosis. Many more people show signs of dyslexia, but are never diagnosed. When we consider people without an official diagnosis, the prevalence of dyslexia around the world could be closer to 20%.
In the US alone, about 5% to 15% of people show some symptoms of dyslexia. These may include:
- Slow reading
- Difficulty with spelling, writing, or math
- Mixing up words
- Difficulty concentrating, staying organized, or meeting deadlines
What causes dyslexia?
Dyslexia is not due to visual impairment, disinterest in learning, or a lack of intelligence. Brain imaging shows a physical difference in how the brain functions when someone has dyslexia.
Research shows three main causes of dyslexia. They are:
- Genetics. A child with one parent who has dyslexia has a 30% to 50% chance of having it, too.
- Brain development. For people with dyslexia, the brain develops or works differently: their brain structure, function, and chemistry is often different from what we might expect.
- Disruptions in the brain. Infections, toxic exposures, and other events can disrupt fetal development and increase the odds of developing dyslexia. Brain injuries can also lead to dyslexia.
What are the risk factors for dyslexia?
Several risk factors can contribute to whether someone develops dyslexia. They include:
- Heredity, or a family history of dyslexia.
- Recurring ear infections. Frequent infections can impair hearing, which keeps the brain from experiencing language. Think of it like working out: if the brain can’t spend time “exercising” language, it can’t build language muscles.
- Being left-handed. People with dyslexia have a higher chance to also be left-handed or ambidextrous.
- Low birth weight.
- Being born premature.
- Exposure to toxic substances before birth or in early childhood.
- Lack of access to early learning material. When children are not encouraged to read early in childhood, they have a higher risk of developing dyslexia.
Is there a cure for dyslexia?
There is no cure for dyslexia, but most children with dyslexia grow up to become productive adults. With early intervention or help from a young age, many people with dyslexia can learn to read and write well. Treatment may consist of specific teaching methods, customized school programs, or the use of tools like color overlays. To learn more, see What To Do When Diagnosed With Dyslexia.
Ability Central offers two tools that may help people with dyslexia and their loved ones: the Service Locator and a smartphone Device Finder.
The Service Locator offers a database of nonprofits, including those that specialize in dyslexia. These nonprofits can help with everything from diagnosis to treatment.
The Device Finder allows you to search by diagnosis to see which device best suits your specific needs. Many smartphones offer settings or programs designed for people with dyslexia.
How does dyslexia affect communication?
Dyslexia affects more than just reading. People with dyslexia may:
- Have trouble finding the right words when writing or speaking.
- Have poor short-term memory and concentration.
- Pause before answering direct questions.
- Be shy or reserved because they are worried about saying the wrong thing.
- Misinterpret teasing, sarcasm, and words with more than one meaning.
- Take directions and requests very literally.
Where can I get more information about dyslexia?
For more information about dyslexia, see:
- What Does Dyslexia Look Like in Children and Adults?
- Long-Term Success Tips for People with Dyslexia
- What To Do When Diagnosed With Dyslexia
To learn more about other types of learning disabilities, see: