Apr 302013

Exactly WHAT is Dyslexia?

I know why you’re confused about what is dyslexia and what isn’t dyslexia!

The reason you are confused is because some people and professionals use the definition and diagnosis of dyslexia interchangeably. They are two different things. We need to talk about the difference between the definition and diagnosis for the sake of our kids.

Understanding what IS dyslexia is critical!


Because parents and teachers need to be able to identify and give kids the right kind help! For example:

  1. Some kids have scotopic sensitivity. It is NOT “dyslexia”.
  2. Some kids have ocular motor deficiencies. It is NOT “dyslexia”.
  3. Some kids have perception problems or inability to maintain a focal point. It is NOT “dyslexia”.
  4. Some kids have neurological deficits in phonemic awareness. It IS “dyslexia”.

The first three conditions are NOT DIAGNOSABLE as dyslexia. They have to be treated completely differently than the learning disability that IS dyslexia.

The other conditions fit into the definition of the word “dyslexia.” The definition of dyslexia is “difficulty with words.” ANY difficulty with reading could be called dyslexia by the definition of the word, but that doesn’t get kids the help they need.

The condition that is diagnosed as dyslexia, is a learning disability. It is a brain-based learning disability. Neurologically speaking, a lack of phonemic awareness must be present for a child to be diagnosed with the specific learning disability called dyslexia.

If people educate themselves about true dyslexia, there is no need to be confused about what is dyslexia.  What is dyslexia and what it is not, is very clear and has been well-defined for decades.

Why the difference between what isn’t and is dyslexia is important.

Why am I so adamant about the difference between dyslexia, scotopic sensitivity, ocular motor deficiencies, and other disabilities that cause difficulty with reading?

Because professionals are preventing students from getting the appropriate type of assistance. By continually calling every kind of reading difficulty “dyslexia,” parents and teachers alike become confused about how to help a child. They become overwhelmed and then don’t seek the right solutions.

The sooner professionals start referring to other types of reading problems by their proper names, the sooner teachers and parents can provide each child with the right educational solution.

Simply put, we can communicate about a child’s reading disability easier if we know the actual reading problems that need to be considered.

“Dyslexia” is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.

“Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge” (International Dyslexia Association).

If your child has diagnosable dyslexia, he lacks phonemic awareness. He probably has memory difficulties and processing difficulties. If your child lacks phonemic awareness, we know eactly how to teach your child this skill!  We also know the type of instruction needed to help with memory and processing.

We have known how to teach kids with dyslexia to read for decades!! The proven methodology is the Orton-Gillingham method created by Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the 1930s. I used this method with my child and had no difficulty teaching him to read. That was AFTER our public school had spent five years failing to teach my son to read.

Scotopic sensitivity is a light spectrum sensitivity. It is treated by having low-glare boards, pastel papers or colored overlays, or specialized glasses and is described in “Reading by the Colors”. If a child has dyslexia, providing special papers or print surfaces will not cure the child’s dyslexia. That is because colored surfaces does not address a child’s lack of phonemic awareness.

Ocular motor deficiencies are treated through vision therapy. Therapy helps a child develop the muscle strength to smoothly sweep his eyes back and forth for reading. You can learn the latest in regard to vision therapy in “Eye Power: An Updated Report on Vision Therapy”. Providing vision therapy will not cure dyslexia. Again, it is because vision therapy does not address a child’s lack of phonemic awareness.

Focal point or perception issues, as addressed in “The Gift of Dyslexia”, are an entirely different matter from the issues above. Perception problems are rooted in attention, visual perception, and concentration for the purpose of maintaining a focal point. Teaching your child how to find and maintain a focal point, as taught in “The Gift of Dyslexia,”what is dyslexia will not cure true dyslexia. Focal point training does not address a child’s lack of phonemic awareness.

We’ve known for DECADES how to teach children with clinical dyslexia to read.

Even so, schools routinely tell parents they don’t recognize or treat dyslexia! The proven method for remediating true dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham methodology, and it has existed since the 1930s.  There is NO mystery here with how to teach a child with dyslexia to read.

True Dyslexia requires direct, explicit, comprehensive, multi-sensory instruction. Instruction is given until a child masters each of the 72 phonemes in the English language, as well as explicit instruction in syllabication, and blending and segmenting sounds for reading and spelling. The required method and appropriate programs for addressing a child’s true dyslexia are based upon Orton-Gillingham methods, and are discussed at length in “Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level“.

If you are a professional, please be sure you are referring to a neurological learning disability when you say a child has “dyslexia.”

If a child has a sensitivity to glare and light spectrum-based reading difficulties, call it what it is: scotopic sensitivity.

If a child complains of words jumping around on a page and often loses his place while reading, he probably has ocular motor developmental vision issues and requires vision therapy. 

If a child has grave difficulty distinguishing between b, d, p, and q, between n and u, m and w, or has pervasive reversals when writing, then the child may have perception issues and require focal point training.

With all of the information available on various forms of reading difficulties, I cringe whenever I hear a teacher or administrator say we don’t know enough about dyslexia to effectively overcome it. Or when they say dyslexia is too difficult to pinpoint and refer to a reading disability in a generic sense. 

There are plenty of professional, career educators who sincerely do not think we can diagnose and treat dyslexia with any degree of accuracy or proficiency. They need to become educated about dyslexia (feel free to refer your teachers to this page for their own understanding).

With all we know today, diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia is readily available. We have a lot of great programs we can choose for overcoming dyslexia.

There are methods for determining the exact cause of any child’s reading difficulty. There are proven programs and methods for helping the child read, whether the root problem is dyslexia or some other condition.

Professionals need to be precise about our wording so we can help colleagues understand and know the difference between dyslexia and other reading difficulties. We need to practice precision in pinpointing individual reading difficulties. Being precise will help parents, teachers, tutors, and other providers formulate the best, correct solutions to specific reading problems for individual students. 

If each professional can take it upon his self or her self to make a difference in the lives YOU touch, we can together help parents and students understand the different types of reading difficulties. Even better, we can help individual kids overcome reading struggles by providing the proper solutions to each reading problem.

There is no muddy water when it comes to what is dyslexia. None.

There is no mystery in regard to what is dyslexia, nor is there any mystery in how to teach a child who has true dyslexia. There are many evaluations that enable us to make accurate determinations about whether a child has dyslexia or some other disability causing difficulty with reading.

There are known solutions to each kind of difficulty with reading. We identify the actual cause of each child’s reading difficulty if we ask the right questions. There is no mystery. And there is no excuse for failing to teach children to read with all we know about reading today.

Be a mover and a shaker! Make a difference in YOUR school and the lives of your students by KNOWING what is dyslexia and what isn’t!

When you touch the lives of your students, you make your community more successful! Don’t be an antiquated educator who says “we can’t diagnose dyslexia” or “we don’t know what is dyslexia.” 

We know all we need to know about what is dyslexia to enable every child to be successful! Become fully up to date, be informed, and make a difference!

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