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What is Dyslexia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dyslexia is a neurological learning disorder, characterized by difficulty reading and parsing linguistic information. Over 40 million Americans suffer from dyslexia, making it an extraordinarily widespread disorder. Life as a dyslexic can be extremely frustrating, especially before dyslexia is diagnosed, because people often mistake the symptoms of dyslexia as indicators of a less than average intelligence. In fact, most dyslexics are of above average intelligence and merely have difficulty with written communications.

There appears to be a genetic link that causes dyslexia, although dyslexic parents need not worry that they will necessarily have dyslexic children. Many families with a history of learning disabilities may have a history of dyslexia as well, however. In addition, it has been suggested that childhood hearing problems may lead to dyslexia, as being able to hear and communicate through spoken language is an important building block to successful written communication later in life.

Some dyslexics also suffer from dysgraphia, a condition in which the sufferer has extreme difficulty writing. Most, however, merely have difficulty spelling, discriminating between words of similar appearance, and comprehending written language. Because dyslexics often have difficulty reading, their writing may be stilted as well. Dyslexia can come in forms of varying severity, and it is rarely crippling as long as it is addressed by teachers and medical professionals.

If the condition is caught early enough, teachers can use specialized education techniques to help individuals with dyslexia. These include multisensory teaching programs with a strong emphasis on phonetic learning. Young dyslexics can be taught to parse information in the same way as people with conventional brain patterns, and even older students are capable of learning to read and write effectively. Most dyslexia can be alleviated with focused care and attention, and dyslexics can go on to succeed in college with additional help, such as more time to take tests and dictation software.

Like many learning disorders, dyslexia is not always negative. Dyslexia is often accompanied by a high level of creativity and unconventional thinking. In addition, dyslexic children have been shown to have more empathy and better cooperation abilities, perhaps brought on by their understanding of the difficulties other people might face in daily life. Many famous personalities, including Pablo Picasso, Thomas Edison, and Leonardo Da Vinci, were dyslexic. Because the dyslexic mind works differently from the conventional mind, dyslexics often have interesting insights into learning and society, and many have made valuable cultural contributions.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On May 20, 2013

I also think that Leonardo Da Vinci may have been dyslexic. I sometimes volunteer at an art center and there are a lot of dyslexic kids there who have phenomenal talent in arts. Their paintings and drawings are amazing. They have a very unique and different perspective of the world.

I too paint but I have never been able to paint something as beautiful and unique as some of these kids' paintings. I think some parents feel sad about their kids being dyslexic but they shouldn't. These kids have a gift and they can grow up to be famous and successful artists. They just need to be given the right tools, as well as support and attention to get there.

By ZipLine — On May 20, 2013

@literally45-- I think visual dyslexia causes problems only when reading and writing and regular dyslexia also causes problems with listening, understanding and speaking.

My best friend's daughter was diagnosed with visual dyslexia last year. It took a while to get the diagnosis because she speaks perfectly fine. She also listens well and follows her mom's directions without problems. We were thinking that dyslexia always causes problems in these areas and so her parents never thought that it could be dyslexia.

But when she started school, she was learning to read and write much more slowly than other kids and would read words incorrectly and write them incorrectly. That's how she was diagnosed with visual dyslexia.

By literally45 — On May 19, 2013

What's visual dyslexia? What's the difference between visual dyslexia and regular dyslexia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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