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Understanding and Recognizing Dyslexia

What the Labels Mean

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Q. What does a dyslexic person see when she reads?

I am in the eighth grade and I am researching this health issue. Could you give me an example of what a person with dyslexia would see when reading?

page with blurry and distorted text

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)
Answer: There is no single pattern of difficulty that affects all dyslexic people. A dyslexic person might have any of the following problems:

A dyslexic person could have any of the above symptoms -- or none! It is possible for a dyslexic person to be able to read very well, yet find it extremely difficult or impossible to write or spell. Sometimes the writing problem is called 'dysgraphia' instead of 'dyslexia' - but we find that often these symptoms stem from the same underlying causes as dyslexia.

It is important to understand that when a dyslexic person *sees* letters or words reversed or mixed up, there is usually nothing wrong with her eyes. The problem is in the way the mind interprets what the eyes see -- like an optical illusion, except this mismatch between what illusion and reality happens with ordinary print on a page.

Q. How can you tell if a 5-year-old is dyslexic?

We have a 5 year old grandaughter. Her preschool teacher says that she might have dyslexia, but it is too early to tell. She does show all the signs, but she is extremely creative. She is finally spelling her name forward instead of backwards but she does have a problem with making d 's like q's.

When and where could she be tested and how soon should we be concerned?

small girl with book

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)

It is very normal for a young children to reverse letters when learning to write. By itself, this is no cause for concern. The teacher is right that it is too early to draw conclusions; there is no way to reliably test a child that young for dyslexia.

However, you are right to look at your granddaughter's strengths as well as weaknesses. Her unusual creativity is a quality that is part of the pattern of dyslexia. More important, it gives you insight into her learning style and needs.

The book The Gift of Dyslexia will give you more information and some tools to work with your granddaughter. After reading the book, you can begin to use clay to help her master the alphabet, and then move on to a few small words. But go slowly -- a potentially dyslexic child should not be pressured into learning to read and write before she is ready.

Another good resource is my book, The Everything Parent's Guide to Children with Dyslexia. This book is meant as a guide to parents (and grandparents) who are just beginning the process of learning about dyslexia. In addition to discussing some of the earliest signs, I have included a great deal of information about choosing the right school environment and tips for helping the child at home.

Even if your granddaughter is dyslexic, that does not mean that she will have problems in school or with learning to read. By learning about dyslexia now, and about the best approaches for teaching dyslexic children, you can help guide her parents to choosing the best school environment for her. As she grows older, you can use the methods described in The Gift of Dyslexia, such as Davis Symbol Mastery and Spell-Reading, to help her at home and to prevent her from having problems at school.

Q. What is the difference between dysphonetic and dyseidetic dyslexia?

scattered 3-dimensional letters

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)
Answer: The terms 'dysphonetic' and 'dyseidetic' are words used to describe typical symptoms of dyslexia. The person labeled 'dysphonetic' has difficulty connecting sounds to symbols, and might have a hard time sounding out words, and spelling mistakes would show a very poor grasp of phonics. This is also sometimes called "auditory" dyslexia, because it relates to the way the person processes the sounds of language.

The 'dyseidetic' individual, on the other hand, generally has a good grasp of phonetic concepts, but great difficulty with whole word recognition and spelling. This type of dyslexia is also sometimes called "surface dyslexia" or "visual dyslexia."

Typically, words are spelled in a way that you can easily decipher them phonetically, but they may be very far from being correct. For example, the word 'phonics' might be spelled 'foniks.' You might also see transpositions and even sometimes complete reversals in spelling (such as the word 'need' being written 'deen') - but the letters that correspond to the right sounds are all there.

Most remedial programs tend to emphasize phonics. This will help the 'dysphonetic' dyslexic somewhat, but does not address all underlying problems associated with dyslexia. Often, instruction in phonics will help the person learn to read, but the student will still find reading very difficult and will not read for pleasure or progress beyond reading grade-school level material.

Unfortunately, the phonics-based programs will not help the 'dyseidetic' dyslexic at all. Rather, it will only increase confusion, because the student is being drilled on something he already knows, without being given a means to develop whole-word recognition skills or learn to recognize words that do not sound exactly the way they are spelled.

Davis methods will help dyslexics who fit both types, because the underlying issues which give rise to dyslexia are addressed through Davis Orientation and Davis Symbol Mastery. A very young child who is also 'dysphonetic' would probably also benefit from specific instruction in phonics in addition to Davis methods. This does not necessarily have to be special instruction geared to dyslexic learners, as Davis methods will provide the means for the student to quickly master new concepts.

Often, older children and adults have already received substantial instruction in phonics, but still experience difficulties with reading. For these individuals, Davis methods are often the key that removes barriers to understanding and allows them to make use of their previous instruction. For this reason progress with older children and adults often seems remarkably fast, with reading gains of several grade levels within the first week.

More information about the Davis program is available at

Q. What is word blindness?

I have a 2nd grade boy who has been diagnosed with severe dyslexia. The doctor described his dyslexia as "Pure Word Blindness." I have not heard this term before. I have consulted with several special ed teachers, as well as our psychologist. No one seems to have heard of this form of dyslexia. Could you explain this term to me? As a special ed teacher, I am looking for strategies that will work for him. He does not seem to catch on to phonics, nor a sight word approach.

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)
Answer: 'Word blindness' is an old-fashioned term used to mean that your son is unable to recognize and understand words that he sees. This was the term first used to describe dyslexia when it was first described by doctors about one hundred years ago. Your doctor is probably using it to mean that your son can not remember the order and sequence of letters in a word from one time to the next. Thus, he could be drilled for hours on an easy word, but the next time he saw the word would not recognize it.

In our experience, this apparent severe dyslexia is caused by disorientation, which for dyslexic people means that they have an innacurate perception of the words. That is, they might see the letters of the words jumbled around in all sorts of different ways. There is no way that a dyslexic person who suffers from this sort of disorientation can ever remember a word, because the word seems different every time they look at it.

Fortunately, we can can correct this problem of distorted perceptions quickly and easily with Davis Orientation Counseling. Once the student has a consistent perception of the letters and words, we can begin to help them attache meaning to the words through Davis Symbol Mastery.

Q. Can someone have dyslexia without reading problems?

I am an avid reader. I never did well in English Composition class and I don't spell very well. I have always described my short-term memory as mirror (I reverse numbers, etc). My long term memory is very good, however. Even though I have found no major problems with my "strange" way of thinking, it would help explain things about myself.

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)
Answer: The symptoms you describe are consistent with dyslexia. Ron Davis refers to dyslexia as a 'self-created' condition. By that he does not mean that it is a person's fault that they have dyslexia, but rather that the particular symptoms stem from an individual's life experiences. Many dyslexic people are, in fact, very good readers, but struggle tremendously with spelling or writing.

It is also very possible for a person to have only mild symptoms of dyslexia, or to have severe symptoms but only experience them occasionally. If these symptoms are significant enough to cause problems for the person -- in school, the workplace, or other aspects of their lives - then it would be appropriate for the person to seek help to correct their problems.

Many people with only mild or occasional symptoms have found that the book The Gift of Dyslexia has provided them with valuable insight into the way they think and learn, even if they did not feel they needed to get further help with areas of difficulty.

Q. Will my child dyslexia from me?

I have dyslexia. I was just wondering what is the chance that my daughter has it. She is 1 year old right now. Her dad does not have dyslexia.

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A. (By Abigail Marshall)
Answer: There is no way to know at this age whether your daughter will develop symptoms of dyslexia. Although there may be a genetic influence, dyslexia is similar to any other mental aptitude or ability (or weakness). Your daughter may or may not have inherited the tendency to develop dyslexia, but even if she has this tendency, she may never actually have problems usually associated with dyslexia.

Researchers who have studied identical twins have found that where one twin is dyslexic, the other will have dylsexia about 55 to oo70 percent of the time, depending on the type of dyslexia. This research shows that there is a strong genetic influence, but that environment and life experiences also play a role in the development of symptoms.

If you are particularly concerned about dyslexia, The Gift of Dyslexia describes some of the signs of dyslexia in toddlers and pre-school children. It is important to be alert to your child's strengths as well as areas of weakness; many dyslexic children show early aptitudes for visual-spatial tasks, such as working with puzzles, building blocks, or taking things apart. Of course, not every child with these skills will turn out to be dyslexic.

If you do suspect that your child is potentially dyslexic at a very young age, you will want to find out more about how dyslexic children think and learn best. Understanding your child's learning style will help you in choosing pre-school and school settings that are geared toward her needs.

Cite as:
Understanding and Recognizing Dyslexia: What the Labels Mean. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Davis Dyslexia Association International, Dyslexia the Gift Web site: http://www.dyslexia.com/library/information.htm
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This Page Last Modified: Wednesday, 01 August 2012.