There are many signs or clues to dyslexia which are discussed in depth on this website; however it is also important to be aware of the misconceptions and myths surrounding the disorder. There are several myths regarding dyslexia. We have highlighted some of the more common ones.
- Myth: Smart people cannot be dyslexic or have a learning disability.
Fact: Dyslexia and intelligence are NOT connected. Many dyslexic individuals are very bright and creative and have accomplished amazing things as adults.
- Myth: Dyslexia does not exist.
Fact: There has been over 30 years of documented, scientific evidence and research proving the existence of dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning disabilities to affect children.
- Myth: Dyslexia is rare.
Fact: In the United States, NIH research has shown that dyslexia affects 5-10% of the population, with estimates as high as 17%. Some people may have more mild forms, while others may experience it more severely. Dyslexia is one of the most common causes of reading difficulties in elementary school children. Only 1 in 10 dyslexics will qualify for an IEP and receive the special education services in order to get the help in reading that they need.
- Myth: Dyslexia is very uncommon.
Fact: Similar to the above myth, the International Dyslexia Foundation states that between 15% and 20% of the population have a language-based learning disability, dyslexia being the most common of these. The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 15% of the U.S. population has dyslexia.
- Myth: Dyslexia can be outgrown.
Fact: Dyslexia is a lifelong issue; yearly monitoring of phonological skills from first through twelfth grade shows that the disability persists into adulthood. Although many dyslexics learn to read accurately they may continue to read slowly and not automatically.
- Myth: Dyslexia is a "catch-all" term.
Fact: Research has shown that dyslexia is a specific neurological learning disability that is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and decoding abilities. Other secondary problems in vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing may also arise.
- Myth: Dyslexia is innate, incurable, and permanent.
Fact: While dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability, early, intensive, and systematic intervention can help a student keep up and retain his grade level in school, as well as minimize the negative effects dyslexia can have, such as low self-esteem and poor self-concept as a learner.
- Myth: The prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to be between 4-8% of the total population in English speaking countries.
Fact: Statistics like these can never be certain, because each English-speaking country has its own identification criteria. All that can be known for certain is that in every English-speaking country, a significant percentage of the population has reading and spelling difficulties that range from mild to profound. For example, this percentage in the United States is between 5-17%. The most common of these learning disabilities is dyslexia.
- Myth: There is no way to diagnose dyslexia.
Fact: We can accurately identify those who are at-risk for dyslexia as early as preschool; and identify dyslexia as early as 1st grade.
- Myth: Dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until third grade.
Fact: Professionals with extensive training in diagnosis can accurately identify the precursors to developing dyslexia as early as age 5. We can make a definitive diagnosis as soon as the child begins to struggle with learning to read, spell, and write. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the quicker the child can get help, and the more likely we are to prevent secondary blows to their self-esteem. A combination of a family history of dyslexia and symptoms of difficulties in spoken language can help identify a vulnerable child even before he/she begins formal schooling.
- Myth: Dyslexia can be accurately diagnosed by an educational psychologist or a 'specialist dyslexia teacher' by using special tests. Technically, yes. Although, depending which professional is doing the assessment, the diagnosis may differ. Often, specialists will use phrases in a written report such as “child has a specific weakness in phonological development” instead of saying "child has dyslexia." Additionally, many times the school personnel will say that they don't diagnose dyslexia. It's a matter of semantics -- in most states, dyslexia falls under the special education code. It is a specific learning disability (SLD) in reading, spelling, and/or writing and may be coupled with challenges in oral expression. Don’t give up hope, though! Dyslexia can be diagnosed and early, systematic and explicit intervention can help minimize its negative effects.
- Myth: Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.
Fact: Dyslexia is not characterized as a medical problem and is not typically diagnosed by doctors because they don’t have training in oral language, reading, writing, or spelling assessment and diagnosis. That said, developmental pediatricians have additional training in cognition and learning, and some have expertise in the clinical and neurobiological features of dyslexia. There is no pill or medication that can heal dyslexia. Additionally, dyslexia is typically not covered by medical insurance (i.e., it is not a medical problem), although it does have lifelong negative effects that can encompass feelings of wellbeing.
- Myth: Dyslexia is a specific brain weakness. It is a genetically-based, neurological difficulty with phoneme awareness and processing skills (the ability to perceive and manipulate speech sounds).
Fact: Phonemic awareness is only necessary when learning to read and spell, which involves using an alphabet code. Research has shown that this aptitude is not acquired often in children. Usually, students need systematic phonics instruction in order to become proficient in reading and processing. Some people find this ability to learn how to recognize and manipulate phonemes more difficult than others due to normal genetic variation, rather than a brain weakness. (Source: dyslexics.org.uk)
- Myth: fMRI brain scan studies show that dyslexics’ brains work differently from those of non-dyslexics.
Fact: When a brain scan is done on someone who struggles to read while he is trying to read, the scan will look different than that of someone who has no trouble with reading.
- Myth: Dyslexia is caused by a lack of phonics instruction.
Fact: Increased phonics instruction will not help a child with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia are able to learn phonics once they have the underlying phonemic awareness abilities; although they may continue having trouble applying it. This is why difficulty with phonics and word pronunciation is a good warning sign of dyslexia.
- Myth: Children who fail to discover how to read from embedded phonics instruction by age 7 or 8 and remain phonologically unaware are likely to have dyslexia. Children who continue to struggle with reading despite receiving conventional remediation (‘treatment non-responders’) have the most severe form of dyslexia.
Fact: Failure to read is often more to do with the nature of teaching rather than the nature of the child. A child will not develop dyslexia because he has trouble reading. There are many causes of reading difficulty. If a child is dyslexic, he will show many of the other warning signs. (Source: dyslexics.org.uk)
- Myth: Dyslexics are compensated for their lack of phonological ability by being gifted in the artistic/visual-spatial sphere.
Fact: Systematic research and investigation has found little evidence to support this theory, comforting though it may be. Yet, there are many successful dyslexics who have gravitated towards fields of these types.
- Myth: People with dyslexia cannot read.
Fact: Incorrect. Most children and adults with dyslexia are able to read, even if it is at a basic level. Spelling is one of the classic red flags alerting parents and teachers of a serious underlying problem. The child may be unable to understand the basic code of the English language and cannot break down or reconstruct (with spelling) words using codes (letters).
- Myth: Dyslexic children will never read well, so it’s best to teach them to compensate.
Fact: Individuals with dyslexia can become terrific readers with the appropriate intervention (i.e., systematic, explicit, and research-based). It is important to test a child early in his/her school career in order to identify any problems and attempt to prevent major reading difficulties before they even start.
- Myth: Every child who struggles with reading is dyslexic.
Fact: Dyslexia is the most common cause of difficulties with reading, but it is by no means the only cause. Children with problems understanding spoken language also have problems with reading comprehension since oral language undergirds learning to read, spell, and write. Dyslexia does not only cause difficulties in reading, but may also be manifested in challenges in spelling, verbal expression, speech, writing, and memorization. If a child is dyslexic, she most likely will show other warning signs besides having trouble with reading.
- Myth: If a dyslexic child reads out loud for 20 minutes per day, it will improve his or her reading.
Fact: Reading out loud will not help a child sound out unknown words. Instead, he will continue to try to memorize the shape of a word and use pictures and context clues to try and guess it which will not help his reading development. That said, being exposed to the same texts that his or her peers are reading and learning from is very important, so a dyslexic child should be read to (or read along to audiobooks) every day.
- Myth: If you don’t teach a dyslexic child to read by age 9, then it’s too late for them to ever learn how to read.
Fact: It is never too late to improve the reading, spelling, and writing skills of someone with dyslexia.
- Myth: People with dyslexia see things backwards.
Fact: Dyslexics do not see things backwards because dyslexia is not a problem with the eyes. The research has demonstrated that there is no difference between the letter reversals of young dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. Dyslexia may cause people to reverse certain words because of their confusion when discerning between left and right and their difficulties comprehending their reading.
- Myth: Dyslexia is a visual problem – dyslexics see words backwards and letters reversed.
Fact: This was proven inaccurate by a study by Professor Frank Vellutino while at the University at Albany. He asked dyslexic and non-dyslexic American students to reproduce a series of Hebrew letters that none of them had ever seen before. The dyslexic students were able to perform the task just as accurately as the non-dyslexic students, showing that their dyslexia did not affect their eyesight.
- Myth: Any child who reverses letters or numbers has dyslexia.
Fact: Up to a certain point, it is considered normal for children to reverse their letters and numbers, and is actually quite common. However, if this does not stop after two years of handwriting instruction, it becomes a red flag for dyslexia.
- Myth: Dyslexic children see things backward (i.e., writing letters and words backward) and reversals are an invariable sign of the disability.
Fact: Many young children reverse letters when learning to write. While it is true that dyslexic children have difficulties attaching the appropriate labels or names to letters and words, there is no evidence that they actually see letters and words backward.
- Myth: Mirror writing is a symptom of dyslexia.
Fact: Backwards writing and reversals of letters and words are common in the early stages of writing development among dyslexic and non-dyslexic children alike. Dyslexic children have problems in naming letters (i.e., remembering and quickly accessing the letter names), but not necessarily in copying them. Because many people erroneously, and incorrectly, believe that letter reversals define dyslexia, the children who do not make letter reversals often go undiagnosed.
- Myth: Intelligence and ability to read are related, so if someone doesn’t read well, they can’t be very smart.
Fact: There is absolutely no relation between dyslexia and IQ. Dyslexics can have high, middle, or low IQ’s just like the rest of the population.
- Myth: Children with dyslexia are just lazy. They should try harder.
Fact: If there is ONE myth that we'd like to see disappear, it is this one. Lack of awareness about the disorder among educators and parents has ofter resulted in the child being branded as "lazy." What frequently happens is that these children learn that they are going to fail at tasks of reading, spelling, and writing; it becomes an attempt at self-preservation (i.e., rather than try and fail, it is safer to just not try or work laboriously to no avail). Research has shown, with the technology of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that those with dyslexia use a different part of their brain when reading and working with language. Dyslexic people show an abnormal pattern of brain function when reading: underactivity in some regions, overactivity in another which, according to research, accounts for the difficulty they have in extracting meaning from the printed word. The findings provide evidence that people with dyslexia are not poorly taught, lazy, or stupid, but have an inborn brain difference that has nothing to do with intelligence. If students with dyslexia do not receive the right type of intervention and/or classroom accommodations, they often struggle in school -- despite being bright, motivated, and spending hours on homework assignments.
- Myth: Gifted children cannot be dyslexic or have a learning disability.
Fact: Many dyslexics have very high IQs and have gone on to accomplish outstanding things in their lives. Many famous authors, researchers, actors and actresses, politicians, athletes, and others from all different professions are dyslexic.
- Myth: Retaining a child (i.e., holding them back a grade) will improve their academic struggles.
Fact: According to several institutions (i.e., U.S. Department of Education, American Federation of Teachers, National Association of School Psychologists), there is no benefit to retention because it has never improved a student’s academic struggles. These students do not need another year of the same instruction -- they need differentiated intervention that is research-based, systematic, and explicit.
- Myth: Accommodations are a crutch, and the student for whom they are made will become lazy.
Fact: Accommodations are not an advantage; it is an attempt to level the playing field. To paraphrase Richare Lavoie, fair doesn't mean everyone gets the same thing; fair means everyone gets what he or she needs to be successful. Even with certain accommodations, such as extra time on a test, a slow reader will still feel the same time constraints compared to the ordinary reader.
- Myth: Most teachers know the warning signs of dyslexia, so they can alert a parent if their child is showing symptoms.
Fact: An individual with dyslexia often is confronted with challenges when attending school. Most classroom teachers have not had formal training in dyslexia. Since there are so many different types and severities of a learning disability that could potentially be in a classroom at a given time, it is difficult for one teacher to be an expert and identify all of the needs of the students. Therefore, if your child is struggling and not achieving, it behooves you to talk with your child's teachers and building principal to begin the steps toward requesting additional help, and, if necessary, a special education referral for a suspected learning disability (LD).
- Myth: More boys than girls have dyslexia.
Fact: Boys’ reading disabilities are indeed identified more often than girls’, but studies indicate that such identification is biased. The actual prevalence of the disorder is nearly identical in the two sexes. So why are more boys sent for testing than girls? Largely, it's because of their behavior. It seems when boys in first, second, or third grade can't do classroom assignments or homework, they get frustrated and act out their frustration. Parents and teachers notice that behavior and then try to figure out why they are behaving that way -- by sending them for testing. But often, when girls in the early grades can't do the work, they tend to get quiet, move to the back of the room, and try to become invisible. So they don't get noticed as early. Often, their dyslexia is not discovered until much later.
- Myth: Public schools don’t admit that dyslexia exists.
Fact: Some schools may try to deny the existence of dyslexia despite years of research and hard evidence, however, as more people including parents and educators are becoming aware of how common dyslexia is, some states are beginning to pass state-wide dyslexia laws. These laws may require schools to screen children for dyslexia. Other states require college courses intended to educate teachers about dyslexia.
- Myth: Schools test children for dyslexia.
Fact: Most public schools do not screen students for dyslexia because federal funding does not require them to do so. A school, however, may test a child with dyslexia to see if he qualifies for special education under the guidelines for specific learning disability (LD).
- Myth: If a child is not eligible for special education services or an IEP, then that child doesn’t have dyslexia.
Fact: Dyslexia comes in many degrees from mild to severe. Most children with dyslexia will not receive special education services unless they score very poorly, usually under the 10th percentile. Unfortunately, even children with mild dyslexia can easily fall behind in school.
- Myth: Only children with an IEP can get classroom accommodations.
Fact: Children with 504 Plans can get the same classroom accommodations as children with IEPs. Also, teachers can give classroom accommodations to any student, regardless of whether that student has an IEP or a 504 Plan or not.
- Myth: There is not enough money in the education budget to pay for accommodations or additional teacher training.
Fact: Most classroom accommodations don’t cost anything, nor do they require any special teacher training.
- Myth: Teachers can’t make accommodations for a dyslexic child because they can’t change the curriculum.
Fact: Accommodations do not alter the curriculum. Accommodations are a slight change in the way a teacher will present new ideas, has students practice new skills, or tests the new subject material. Accommodations change methods of teaching, not classroom material.
- Myth: It isn’t fair for a teacher to make accommodations for one dyslexic child in a classroom when these accommodations are not given to every student.
Fact: A fair approach to teaching means providing each student with what he/she needs in order to succeed. A student has to be willing to utilize the accommodations made for him in order to succeed so ultimately, a child with accommodations made for him still has to work just as hard to succeed as any other student.
- Myth: If a teacher doesn’t count off for spelling for a dyslexic child, then that child will never learn how to spell.
Fact: By virtue of a diagnosis of dyslexia, a dyslexic child has great difficulty learning to spell in the traditional way, so marking off for spelling will not teach him how to spell. They need to be taught spelling using alternative methods, such as the Orton-Gillingham approach. Unless it is specifically a spelling test (and then Dr. Pierson would recommend reducing the number of words that a dyslexic child would have to spell to demonstrate that he has learned a particular spelling pattern), a dyslexic student’s papers should be graded for content only, and not spelling.
- Myth: Some schools are reluctant to use the “D” word and don’t allow their teachers to say the word “dyslexia” while on campus.
Fact: Some schools are in fact reluctant to use the term “dyslexia” because it has become taboo by “over-zealous and demanding parents” and many consider it a medical versus an educational diagnosis; however, as more school personnel are learning about dyslexia and how common it actually is, more are starting to recognize it and look for the warning signs in students.
- Myth: Most reading and resource teachers are highly trained in dyslexia and its remediation methods.
Fact: Unfortunately, this is not true. Recent graduate students with a Masters degree in reading have not had any courses on dyslexia. Additionally, few literary coaches and resource specialists have had training in dyslexia either.
- Myth: Most reading specialists know the latest research on dyslexia.
Fact: Unfortunately, recent research has shown that most teacher-training programs aren’t teaching the science of reading including early identification of children at risk for reading failure, daily training in linguistic and oral skills, implicit instruction in letter sounds and syllables, and teaching phonics in a sequential order that research has shown will be most beneficial to students.
- Myth: Reading specialists can always tell who has dyslexia and who doesn’t.
Fact: Few educators have training in dyslexia; diagnosis requires a special skill set in understanding the underlying phonological component of dyslexia.
- Myth: Left-handedness, difficulties with spatial (including right-left) orientation, trouble tying shoelaces, and clumsiness are associated with dyslexia.
Fact: These are certainly not core findings that we would expect in most people with dyslexia, but of course there are clusters of people within the larger population of individuals with dyslexia who are also left-handed or who have spatial difficulties. Whatever subgroups of dyslexia may exist, it is clear that the vast majority of the dyslexic population share a common phonologic weakness.
- Myth: Evidence from twin studies shows that dyslexia is caused by inherited faulty genes.
Fact: There is no indisputable way of diagnosing dyslexia, so it is difficult to find a valid, scientific study. The ‘Twin Study’ has several statistical errors and assumptions that invalidate it.
- Myth: Dyslexia can be cured or helped by special balancing exercises, fish-oils, glasses with tinted lenses, vision exercises, NLP magical spelling, modeling clay letters, inner-ear-improving medications, training primitive reflexes, eye occlusion (patching), etc.
Fact: None of these remedies have been found to be effective based on scientific evidence. Dyslexics require explicit and systematic instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, and spelling patterns and rules. Additionally, they may need strategies for vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing, as well as verbal expression and word retrieval.
More on Debunking Myths
- Read this great PBS article, Five Misconceptions about Learning Disabilities