Dyslexia is one of the most common learning challenges faced by students today. It is estimated 20% of Americans have dyslexia. There are many things we don’t know about dyslexia, like what causes it, and even more that we just think we know. Let’s discuss some of those myths and misconceptions that do harm to those with dyslexia and prevent us from truly understanding the disorder.
- “People with Dyslexia are not intelligent.”
It is commonly believed those with dyslexia are also of lower intelligence. This is simply false. There is no correlation between intelligence and dyslexia. Not only is dyslexia as common throughout the whole intelligence spectrum, but many people with dyslexia have above average intelligence. They thrive in areas outside of the written word, like mathematics, the arts, and spatial awareness. Much evidence suggests Albert Einstein, whose last name we connect with extreme intelligence, was dyslexic!
- “People with Dyslexia cannot learn to read.”
While dyslexia makes it much more difficult for a person to learn how to read, it is extremely possible. The dyslexic brain is wired differently than other brains, but the brain is incredibly changeable. With the proper intervention, people with dyslexia can become very competent readers, though it still might require more effort and take more time for them than others.
- “You can grow out of your Dyslexia.”
Dyslexia isn’t a disorder that only affects the young. Dyslexia occurs when a person’s brain functions differently than most other brains. This is something that can be altered, but not cured. While it is more common for dyslexia to be identified when a person is first learning how to read, it persists into adulthood. Dyslexia is a lifelong difficulty that can be mitigated with early intervention.
- “People with Dyslexia are just lazy.”
This is perhaps the most unfair and harmful of the myths. It is simply not true that those with dyslexia just need to work harder to achieve academic success. The truth is they already are working harder, but cannot catch up without outside help. The dyslexic brain uses different pathways while reading, pathways far more inefficient than those used by the non-dyslexic brain. Their brains are working much harder than they should be for fewer results. If you’ve noticed a student who procrastinated at his work and doesn’t complete assignments, this “laziness” is coming from a place of low self-esteem. It feels better to place blame outside of yourself than to believe you are the problem.
- “Only boys can be dyslexic.”
While it is true that more boys are diagnosed with dyslexia than girls, this is simply an observation bias. It has been suggested that dyslexia is as likely to affect girls as boys, but that the behaviors of boys when they struggle academically is more visible. It is more common for a boy to act out when he is frustrated in the classroom. Most girls will simply try not to be noticed. The more overt behavior of boys means they are noticed in the classroom, whereas more girls with dyslexia suffer silently.
- “Dyslexia is just reading backward and reversing letters.”
Those with dyslexia do not read backward. Dyslexia is not a visual problem, but a difference in brain wiring, a language processing problem. Many with dyslexia have trouble linking the sound and symbol of a letter together, which makes sounding out known and unknown words slow and difficult. Some with dyslexia may reverse letters, like “b” and “d,” but letter reversal is very common in all children up until the age of 7. Letter and number reversal does not imply dyslexia, but those with dyslexia may do this. Again, dyslexia is not a visual problem; it is a language processing problem.
- “Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.”
Dyslexia is not a medical problem. Those who want to know if they or a family member have dyslexia will probably not get a diagnosis from a medical doctor. Most pediatricians and general practitioners have not been trained in language, spelling and writing assessments that allow someone to identify and diagnose dyslexia. You’ll probably have to seek out a health professional who has a background in language, cognition, writing, reading, and spelling.
Dyslexia is a disorder that makes much of the two-dimensional work necessary in school, business and communication exceptionally challenging. In another world where written communication was somehow three-dimensional, those with dyslexia would excel. It is important to remember it is more than letter reversal, unrelated to intelligence and has nothing to do with the right amount of effort. With early intervention, this lifelong disorder can be managed and mitigated. With the appropriate program, anyone can be a great reader.