The Cause of Dyslexia: Anatomy of a Learning Disability

  1. The individual encounters an unrecognized stimulus.
    This could be a word (written or spoken), symbol, or object that is not recognized.
  2. The lack of recognition causes a feeling of confusion.
  3. Confusion naturally and automatically stimulates or triggers disorientation.
    The individual uses disorientation to mentally examine the stimulus in an attempt to bring about recognition and resolve the confusion.
  4. Disorientation produces false sensory perceptions.
    The different views and perceptions the individual is examining mentally are being registered in the brain as actual perceptions.
  5. The disorientation and resulting false perceptions brings about the assimilation of incorrect data.
  6. The incorrect data causes the individual to make mistakes.
    The individual cannot recognize the incorrect data as incorrect because it is registered in the brain as actual perception.
  7. The mistakes cause emotional reactions.
    No one likes to make mistakes. The individual is simply experiencing a human reaction.
  8. Emotional reactions bring about a condition of frustration.
    The frustration is a result of the cumulative effects of the mistakes and emotional reactions.
  9. Compulsive solutions are created or adopted to solve the mistakes.
    A solution will be a method of knowing something or a method of doing something. It will have worked at least once, and it will be compulsive. These solutions usually begin to appear around age eight or nine. Now instead of the confusion triggering a disorientation, it will trigger the compulsive solution.

The disability aspect of a learning disability is composed of the compulsive solutions the individual acquires. These compulsive solutions are what disable the learning process.

To effectively unravel this sequence, the underlying reasons for the need to formulate and adopt compulsive solutions must be addressed. These are disorientations and the feelings of confusions that trigger them.

Because disorientation and confusion are both internal and subjective responses, the individual, himself or herself, is the only one who can truly do something about it.

Davis Orientation Counseling gives these individuals a way to recognize, control, and effectively deal with their disorientations and eliminate the false perceptions.

Davis Symbol Mastery provides a way to resolve the confusions so that the compulsive solutions are no longer necessary.

Orientation corrects perception.

Symbol Mastery corrects dyslexia.

Citation Information
Davis, Ronald Dell. (1985) The Cause of Dyslexia: Anatomy of a Learning Disability. Retrieved April 1, 2023 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Kevin

    Hi I’m Kevin. I’m dyslexic ( I think) from what little I knew of dyslexia and some problems I had experienced, I connected the two. I was nearly illiterate when I decided to become a writer. Or my drain decided. Took a few years for the rest of me to get onboard.

    I’ll nearly sixty now. Can report to major symptoms from the end of school until my early fifties.

    I’m not sure if what I have is dyslexia any longer. I’m having ever increased difficulty separating true from not true.

    I’ve written on reality and possibilities that exist fleetingly yet never become reality. That’s crippled me recently.

  • Dina R

    How do I make myself understand a person that is dyslexia she said. She looks and speaks like a very normal person.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Dyslexic people are “normal”. It seems that you may have a mistaken impression of what dyslexia is. It is not a defect or a disease and does not affect a person’s appearance in any way. Perhaps this new video focused will help you better understand:

  • JD Mayfield

    I do not agree with the description “disoriented”. Technically it may be accurate, however in the common view I think this pulls up a whole different story like you are drugged and have no idea what is going on. This is not like that. It’s just that all sorts of opposites kind of… flicker back and forth. Like when reading a map, East and West or North and South in some way reverse with frequent periodicity, so you have to constantly be very careful to error-check frequently. I am sorry, but I kind of take offense at the word “disoriented” here because it is not only inaccurate, but to the ears of the masses seems like something completely different from what it is.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      The dictionary defines disorientation as “Loss of one’s sense of direction, position, or relationship with one’s surroundings.
      A temporary or permanent state of confusion regarding place, time, or personal identity.” See

      I can’t think of a more precise term in the English language to describe this particular mental state. What word would you suggest?

      • Holly

        Disorientation applies to persons sense of where they are, who they are, what must be done and so on. A disoriented person becomes confused.

        A confused person is not disoriented , they are using rules to understand something, however, applying the rules does not work as expected. It’s frustrating.,

        What a dyslexic sees:
        In lower case, the letter d can be rotated to look like b. If either d or b is flipped horizontally, the letter looks like p or q. I called this the bad letter because I never was sure which one was in the word i was reading.
        Since I see both d and b as equally likely, I literally see the letter flicker between b and d or blur so I see a ball on either side of an upright line. Each letter is supposed to be distinct from other letters as a rule. Confusion comes from looking at one letter that could be 3 other letters. This confusion also applies to M , W,,N in upper and lower case.

        • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

          Holly, in the book The Gift of Dyslexia, Ron Davis defines disorientation somewhat more broadly than your definition: “the loss of one’s position or direction in relation to other things; a state of mind in which mental perceptions do not agree with the true facts in the environment;in some people, this is an automatic response to confusion. During a disorientation the perceptions are altered.

          So the first part of the Davis definition is in line with what you wrote, but the second part broader, and explains why a person might get the false sensation of letters moving or wavering on a page, or look at a b and see a d.

          Confusion is defined and explained as follows: “an overwhelming feeling of blankness. Confusion causes disorientation in dyslexics.”

          When you describe seeing the letter flicker between b and d or blur, you are describing the effects of disorientation. The actual printed letter on the page is standing still – it is not moving, turning, blurring, etc. But when mental confusion triggers disorientation, the result is an altered perception: that is, the mind really does register flickering or blurring, even though that is not the true state of things.

    • Deni W.

      Yes, JD, but that’s what YOUR symptoms are like. For others, it actually CAN be a disorienting condition. Disorienting is not a derogatory term, but rather just a state of confusion as to what is actual and perceived.

  • Carissa

    Is it possible to be dyslexic without turning numbers or letters around? My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia last year. I never would have considered dyslexia for me as a child and I was never diagnosed but I struggled in school with reading and math horribly. The put me in special classes for reading in school. I grew up even until now just accepting that I’m just not very smart and have had a complex over it my entire life and don’t excel to cover up some embarrassing things that I couldn’t explain. I have been reading this entire website and the characteristics and I can identify with just about everyone of them. And I got into a dyslexic support group for my daughter but I notice that I am very much like the dyslexic people in my support group. I think I need to be test but was wondering your opinion if it’s possible to be dyslexic but not turn letters around?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes — the difficulty with visual perception of letters and words is a common but not universal symptom of dyslexia. When older children and adults experience difficulty with flipping or transposing letters, it is a symptom of disorientation — but the disorientation is simply a reaction to confusion. Not everyone experiences the disorientation in the same way — and some people might experience disorientation in ways that they are not aware of.

  • Karen


    I have a 5 year old who has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. I was just wondering if it’ll be easier for her to cope with reversal of letters, numbers and words if she is left-handed. She is currently right-handed.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Your child’s handedness cannot be changed. Reversals of letters and numbers are very common among young children and developmentally normal at age 5.

  • Lisa RH

    It is possible that my 6 year old son that I adopted when he was almost 3 months old is dyslexic. How do we test/ find out for sure ?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Lisa — yes it is very possible that your son is dyslexic, and he can be evaluated or screened to determine if he is showing characteristic signs. At age 6 it is hard to get a definitive diagnosis, because many problems can simply be developmental — many 6-year-olds just aren’t quite ready to read. However, early support can be given and learning techniques we use will work for all children, dyslexic or not. These have been successfully implemented in primary classrooms, often on a schoolwide basis, in order to reach all children early on rather than waiting for some to fail. We have a home kit geared children ages 5-8 at — and Davis Facilitators can help guide parents to learn to work with their kids with a Davis Reading Program for Young Learners.

  • Emmah

    I have a 12 year old son who is dyslexic and when i found out just about a year ago .Wanting to help him so much i started researching more about it only to discover I am the one with the gene .My question has more to do with me trying to raise awareness to other people from my country which is Zimbabwe where they do not provide training or specific ways to teach our children on skills development . Most families might have children with dyslexia and not even know rather the children a said to be dull and stupid my son was labelled as such .I thank you for such websites which have made it easier for me to understand .

  • Chilisa

    I have had dyslexia all of my life. I like this. It is interesting; however, I also think Dyslexic people are wired to read some of the old languages: reading up to down or backwards…right to left and or turning the ox which is right to left then the next line left to right. I am learning to control my brain. I am an intellectual and a emotional being. We need to be balanced. How I accomplish this is to remain calm. If I can not do so I take a small break then continue.

  • Wil

    Yes I am dyslexic, left handed but also ambidextrous….retired 76 year old pharmacist. In my early years of education, it was impossible, to read, write, or spell. I failed the 5th grade, which was a blessing, and this gave me more time to progress. Beginning the 8th grade, with my introduction of higher mathematics and science classes, I became an A and B student. In those particular classes. But to this day, my spelling, writing, and especially my reading, requires careful, very careful, examination for correctness. Very interesting how we progress over time.

  • Lucille

    Is dyslexia hereditary?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes — developmental dyslexia (dyslexia that manifests in childhood) is an inherited tendency tied to genetic factors.

      Because it is a tendency it is not directly inherited, but rather there is a much higher likelihood of dyslexia when there is a genetic predisposition. For example, research suggests that among identical twins there is about a 55-70% correspondence.

      Dyslexia may be influenced by a combination of several different genes, and they are not the same in all families or for all types of dyslexia. So there really isn’t any one gene for dyslexia – rather the genes influence the rate of development of different types of brain structures and neurons, so the genetic combination influences the way the brain develops.

      For more info, see:

  • Cate D

    Percentage wise, are there more left-handed people or right-handed people that have dyslexia? I am left-handed & am dyslexic. It’s just a theory that I have.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      There seems to be higher rates of left-handedness or ambidexterity among dyslexics, but I can’t give you specific statistics.

    • Robert

      I am left-handed & dyslexic. I never thought there might be a connection. The stages that I notice that Davis has Identified are what I experience. However I was also abused as a child. Many time it related to learning, I was forced to sit and “think” of an answer to a question I had no idea what the answer was. It was especially troubling when asked to sound out a word or look it up in a dictionary. I had no clue how even after it being “taught” to me. In the end I was punished for not having the answer that I felt I had no way of finding. I though the abuse was what caused my feeling of confusion, then disorientation. However, it didn’t completely explain my problem with knowing my right hand from my left, to this day I have to stop and think about it if asked.
      There also is the fact that I can do very well in school but do experience a lot of painful feeling and confusing thoughts. Even now I am wondering if I’ve used too many word, should I not comment, etc…
      Any how interesting

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