7 Myths About Dyslexia and the Real Truth

Kids' hands with the letters, M-Y-T-H written on each hand in marker.

As the science of reading evolves, and we learn more about dyslexia and how people learn to read, common myths about dyslexia fall by the wayside.

Dyslexia is a common and widely misunderstood learning disability that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It’s crucial to dispel the myths surrounding dyslexia to promote better understanding, support, and inclusivity for those who live with it. In this blog post, we will debunk seven common myths about dyslexia to shed light on this neurological condition and the people who experience it.

Myth 1 – Very Few People Have Dyslexia

FACT: According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia, “Dyslexia affects 20 percent of the population and represents 80–90 percent of all those with learning disabilities. It is the most common of all neuro-cognitive disorders.”

If you’re a teacher, statistically speaking, you have DEFINITELY had a student with dyslexia whether it be diagnosed or undiagnosed. Dyslexia runs along a spectrum of severity and is much more common than people realize. In a classroom of just 20 students, as many as FOUR students could be on this spectrum ranging from mild to severe cases.

Did you know that 1 in 5 are estimated to have dyslexia?
In a class of 20, 4 students could be impacted! Image of 20 students in desk with 4 students highlighted.

It is important to note that dyslexia can impact anyone. It is not limited by gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

Myth 2 – People With Dyslexia Have a Lower IQ Than Those Without

This is absolutely, unequivocally FALSE.

FACT: Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence. Many students with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence. In fact, their difficulty with learning to read often seems at odds with their overall intelligence.

Myth 3 – Dyslexia Can Be Cured

FACT: Dyslexia is a life-long learning difference.

While there is no cure, the good news is that science is conclusive about how to remediate students who have dyslexia using evidence-based practices.

The International Dyslexia Association adopted the term “Structured Literacy” several years ago to define an instructional approach to teaching literacy. It integrates multiple facets of literacy such as phonemic awareness, phonics, orthography (knowledge of spelling patterns), morphology (knowledge of meaningful word parts such as roots, suffixes, prefixes), syntax (sentence structure) and semantics (meaning).

Additionally, this instructional approach is explicit, systematic, and cumulative.

Explicit – the skills are taught directly, concisely, with a crystal-clear explanation and sufficient modeling.

Systematic – the skills are taught in a logical sequence that build from simple to complex.

Cumulative – the skills build upon one another and are revisited to ensure mastery.

Myth 4 -It’s Best to Take a Wait and See Approach Before Beginning Interventions

FACT: By the end of third grade, the majority of struggling readers won’t ever catch up.

While this is a grim statistic, it merely reinforces the fact that early intervention is KEY! We must not take a wait and see approach. We must complete universal screenings, early and often, to identify those in need as soon as possible. Then, with data in hand, we must provide targeted instruction with evidence-based practices.

Once identified, students need explicit, sequential, cumulative instruction. As we all know, waiting only prolongs the inevitable!

Taking action early can preserve the confidence and self-esteem of our young learners!

Myth 5 – Structured Literacy is Only Necessary for Students With Dyslexia

FACT: While many believe that Structured Literacy is only effective (or necessary) for students with language-based learning disabilities, it is actually an evidence-based instructional approach that takes into account how our brains learn to read.

Scientists such as Louisa Moats, Mark Seidenberg, and Stanislas Dehaene all agree that Structured Literacy is the most effective way to learn to read.

To quote from Snow and Juels’ 2005 research, “Explicit teaching of alphabetic decoding skills is helpful for all children, harmful for none, and crucial for some”. 

Myth 6 – Visual Problems Cause Dyslexia

FACT: While some with dyslexia may have trouble with vision, that is not the cause of this learning difference.

Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is not the result of visual problems. While dyslexia may affect reading, writing, and spelling abilities, it originates in the brain’s language processing areas. Dyslexic individuals often have difficulty processing the sounds of spoken language and connecting them to written words.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability not a visual disability.

Dr. Pierson adroitly explains that vision problems do not cause dyslexia in post, “Vision Therapy for Dyslexia: Smoke and Mirrors”. Fatigue from the effort of reading (not dyslexia) may cause letters to appear fuzzy or move. Fuzzy or moving letters are a symptom, not the cause, of dyslexia. Therefore, Dr. Pierson emphasizes the importance of targeting reading through instruction that is systematic, multi-sensory, and evidence based. She cautions against ‘vision therapy’ such as colored overlays or eye exercises and states that scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of such practices.

Myth 7 – You Have to Wait Until a Child Enters School to Diagnose Dyslexia

FACT: Signs of dyslexia can appear even before preschool. Dyslexia is a language-based disability. Behaviors such as late talking, or difficulty rhyming can serve as a warning sign.

Also, when it comes to dyslexia, family history is a strong predictor! Sally Shaywitz writes, “If one child in a family is dyslexic, almost half of his sisters and brothers are also likely to be dyslexic. Not surprisingly, in cases where a child is identified as dyslexic and his parents are then evaluated, in one-third to one-half of the cases a parent turns out to be dyslexic, too” (p. 99).

Since dyslexia is known to run in families, children should be monitored closely for oral language concerns BEFORE they are even taught to read. Early intervention is effective and critical, so it’s important to take action early and get academic supports in place for the child.

To learn about additional common signs of dyslexia, check out our blog post, ‘Could It Be Dyslexia?’.

Food for Thought

Now that we’ve busted a few myths about dyslexia we’ll leave you with this quote by Margaret Rawson, past president of the International Dyslexia Association (formerly National Orton Society).

The differences are personal. The diagnosis is clinical. The treatment is educational. The understanding is scientific.”

Whether the dyslexia is diagnosed or undiagnosed, we know that it affects individuals differently and need to be aware of the various warning signs. The laws vary by state, but the label of ‘dyslexia’ must always be made by qualified personnel. There is no cure for dyslexia, but it can be managed and supported with appropriate instructional practices. While the science of reading and dyslexia is constantly evolving and improving, we already know HOW to remediate. We must use this knowledge to inform our instruction and help as many individuals as possible.

Looking for additional facts rather than myths about dyslexia?

Be sure to explore these websites:

International Dyslexia Association: This site is loaded with information about dyslexia. There are resources for families as well as professionals. It includes information on upcoming conferences and professional development opportunities. The IDA has a directory of trained professionals to assist children with dyslexia. As a member, you will also receive magazine subscription.

Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan: The goal of this site is “to provide you with information about the signs and symptoms of dyslexia, as well as appropriate testing, diagnosis, and intervention for children, teens, and adults with dyslexia.” 

Understood: This comprehensive site is dedicated to sharing information on a wide range of learning challenges and offers information to educators and parents on topics such as ADHD, executive functioning, autism and dyslexia. This site addresses the impact that learning challenges can have on individuals in and beyond the classroom.

Learning Disabilities Association of America: “LDA’s mission is to create opportunities for success for all individuals affected by learning disabilities through support, education, and advocacy.”

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