It is important to be aware of some of the popular misconceptions and myths surrounding dyslexia and language-based learning disability. We have highlighted some of the more common myths and provided the alternative understanding.
- 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 who will accomplish amazing things as adults.
- Myth: Dyslexia does not exist.
Fact: There has been 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 20%, or 1 in every 5 people. Some people may have more mild forms, while others may experience it more severely. Dyslexia is one of the most common cause of reading difficulties in elementary school children because only 1 in 10 dyslexics will qualify for an IEP and special education that will allow them to get the help in reading that they need.
- Myth: Dyslexia is very uncommon.
Fact: 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; however 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, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Other secondary problems in reading and vocabulary comprehension may also arise.
- Myth: Dyslexia is innate, incurable, and permanent.
Fact: While dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability, early and effective 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.
- 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 15% and 20%. The most common of these learning disabilities is dyslexia.
- Myth: There is no way to diagnose dyslexia.
Fact: Professionals such as speech-language pathologists who have in-depth training can accurately diagnose dyslexia as early as age 5.
- Myth: Dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until third grade.
Fact: Professionals with extensive training can accurately diagnose dyslexia as early as age 5. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the quicker your child can get help, and the more likely you are to prevent secondary blows to their self-esteem. Parents need to be aware of the warning signs of a risk for dyslexia before 3rd grade. It should be noted that the 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.
Fact: It is often difficult to get a diagnosis for dyslexia because it is almost impossible to scientifically differentiate it from other learning disabilities, although the warning signs of dyslexia should be monitored and recorded carefully. Often, these types of specialists will use phrases in a written report such as “child has a specific weakness in phonological development” instead of saying "child has dyslexia". Don’t give up hope, though! Dyslexia can be recognized and early 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 tested by doctors because they don’t have training on reading, writing and spelling testing. There is no pill or medication that can heal dyslexia, and nothing to do with dyslexia is covered by medical insurance because it is not a medical problem.
- Myth: Dyslexia is a specific brain weakness. It is a genetically-based, neurological difficulty with phoneme awareness and processing skills (the ability to detect and process the smallest perceptible speech sounds).
Fact: Phonemic awareness is only necessary when learning to read and spell and 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 of someone who struggles to read while he is trying to read, the scan will look different than one of someone who has no trouble with reading. When the first individual is then taught to read properly, his scan will look exactly the same as the second individual’s.
- 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; they just have 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.
- 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. Children with dyslexia are likely to reach a certain point in reading ability with the inability to move beyond a 3rd-grade reading level. Despite being taught phonics, they will have extreme difficulty sounding out an unknown word. Spelling is one of the classic red flags alerting parents and teachers of a serious underlying problem. The children are 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. 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. Dyslexia does not only cause difficulties in reading but also in spelling, speech, and memorization. If a child is dyslexic, he 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.
- 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, writing, and spelling 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. 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 Vellutino from 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 eye sight.
- 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 warning sign 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 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.
- Myth: Children with dyslexia are just lazy. They should try harder.
Fact: 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 researches, 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 abnormality that has nothing to do with intelligence. Lack of awareness about this disorder among the teachers and parents, has often resulted in the child being branded as 'lazy.' 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 both academically and emotionally.
- 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., The U.S. Department of Education, The American Federation of Teachers and The National Association of School Psychologists) and their extensive research there is no benefit to retention because it has never improved a student’s academic struggles.
- Myth: Accommodations are a crutch, and the child for whom they are made will become lazy.
Fact: Accommodations are not an advantage; it is an attempt to level the playing field whether it is a standardized test and/or homework assignment. 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 showed symptoms.
Fact: An individual with dyslexia often is confronted with challenges when attending school. Often many classroom teachers have not had formal training. 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 difficulty for one teacher to be an expert and meet all of the needs of the students (i.e., with a learning disability and normally developing). Therefore, it is a good idea to have all of the information in order to educate your child’s teachers in order for them to receive appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
- Myth: Dyslexia is equally prevalent in girls and boys.
Fact: This has been a tricky one (and a moving target, somewhat). Quite honestly, it can even be difficult to pin down the prevalence of dyslexia; some say 1 in 5, others say between 5-17%. Boys’ reading disabilities have historically been identified more often than girls’, but past studies indicated that such identification was biased and the actual prevalence of the disorder was nearly identical in the two sexes (Shaywitz, Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Escobar, 1990). More recently, it has been found that indeed reading impairment is more prevalent in boys (Quinn & Wagner, 2015). Additionally, using fMRI, researchers have found differences in the brain anatomy of dyslexic boys versus girls and caution using male-based models of brain behavior for females (Evans, Flowers, Napoliello, & Eden, 2013).
- Myth: Public schools don’t admit that dyslexia exists.
Fact: Some schools may try to deny the existence of dyslexia despite the 30 years of research and hard evidence, however, as more people including parents and educators are becoming aware of how common dyslexia is, more 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 people about dyslexia.
- Myth: Schools test children for dyslexia.
Fact: Most public schools will not screen students for dyslexia because federal funding does not require them to find a cause of children’s struggling. A school, however, may test a child with dyslexia to see if he qualifies for special education which he often will not.
- 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 moderate, to severe, to profound. Most children with dyslexia will not receive special education services unless they are considered severe or profound. Although this remains true, 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 had 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: A dyslexic child cannot learn 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. A dyslexic’s 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”; however, as more schools are becoming educated 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 specialists 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, most literary coaches and Resource Specialists have had no training in dyslexia either.
- Myth: Most reading specialists know the latest research on dyslexia.
Fact: Unfortunately, recent research has shown that most colleges 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 rather than a more scattered approach.
- Myth: Reading specialists can always tell who has dyslexia and who doesn’t.
Fact: Most educators have no training in dyslexia and are unable to recognize the warning signs.
- 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 children with 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 impossible 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 hard, scientific evidence.