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What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects a person’s reading and writing skills. People with dyslexia have difficulty understanding how letters and sounds interact. People with dyslexia have difficulties breaking down words into separate speech sounds. They also have trouble figuring out what letters have made those sounds. This is the basis for their problems with reading and writing.

It is not related to intelligence, behaviour or a problem with motivation. Children with dyslexia are just as smart as other children their age. While dyslexia affects each child differently, most affected children will need extra assistance with reading and writing. Dyslexia is common and affects between 5 percent and 10 percent of children.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a difference in the way that the brain processes written words. Dyslexia affects people of all different backgrounds and intelligence levels. Dyslexia can run in families. A parent who has dyslexia is more likely to have a child with dyslexia than a parent who does not. A child still can have dyslexia however even if no one in their family has problems with reading.

How can I tell if my child has dyslexia?

The main symptom of dyslexia is not being able to read as well as other children of a similar age or grade level. Children with dyslexia will often have problems pronouncing words and learning letters. As they get older they will have trouble spelling and reading words aloud. Other difficulties children with dyslexia may have include:

Not all children with these difficulties will have dyslexia.

It is a common myth that people with dyslexia read backwards. While writing letters backwards and reversing words (for example "tap" instead of "pat") can be part of dyslexia, it is also a normal part of reading development that many children will experience.

How is dyslexia treated?

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. It is treated with special education from teachers, tutors and reading specialists. These people help children with dyslexia develop strategies to read and spell. Children with dyslexia may also need extra help in school such as listening to pre-recorded assignments or getting extra time for tests.

Even though most children with dyslexia have normal intelligence levels, they may often feel “dumb” because of their trouble with reading. As they progress in school, they may have further problems with self-esteem as reading becomes a more important part of their school work. It is important to encourage children with dyslexia to keep working on their reading even though it is difficult. With proper help, many people with dyslexia will go on to have successful careers.

What should I do if I think my child may have dyslexia?

The earlier dyslexia is diagnosed and treated, the easier it will be for your child to overcome the barriers that they face. If you think your child may have dyslexia, talk with your child’s doctor and teacher. They can help you to set up an assessment to see if your child has dyslexia.

Key points

  • Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects reading and writing.
  • Treatment of dyslexia involves working with teachers, tutors and reading specialists.
  • Children with dyslexia are on average of the same intelligence as other children their age and can lead normal and successful lives if they receive treatment for their dyslexia.
  • If you suspect that your child might have dyslexia, it is important to have them tested and treated as early as possible.

​​Jennifer Das, MD

Janine A. Flanagan, HBArtsSc, MD, FRCPC