What is Dyslexia?

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects a person’s phonological processing, making reading and writing challenging for the individual. People with dyslexia experience difficulty in identifying speech sounds and/or learning how they relate to letters and words.  While not every person with dyslexia experiences the same symptoms and difficulties with reading, dyslexia is a deficit in phonological processing.

For example, people who are dyslexic may also struggle with reading comprehension, writing, spelling, and even math. Young dyslexics also tend to struggle with other things unrelated to reading, like attention span, sequencing (remembering things in order), motor control, and left and right confusion leading to wider issues affecting social interaction, memory, and dealing with stress. Dyslexics can end up struggling with everyday activities that most people take for granted because of the far-reaching issues stemming from dyslexia.

In order to understand how dyslexia affects our students and young readers, we need to take a look at phonological processing. Phonological processing is using all of the sounds of a language in order to process both spoken and written language. Phonological processing is a broad category that includes phonological awareness, working memory, and information retrieval. People who are diagnosed with dyslexia may struggle with one or all of these pieces of phonological processing.


Brain in the center of the image with descriptors of dyslexia surrounding the central image. Some of the descriptors of dyslexia include; difficulties with telling the time, losing place in a text, handwriting difficulties, times tables or the alphabet, sequencing, problems with note taking, organizational problems, and difficulty getting ideas on paper.


Recent Research

While science is constantly evolving and creating new insight into dyslexia and its effects, researchers have not yet determined what exactly causes dyslexia. What they do know, however, is that dyslexia is genetic; in other words, a child is more likely to develop dyslexia if one of their parents is dyslexic. Furthermore, if that child has any siblings, there is a 40% chance that the sibling could also have problems reading.

Researchers are getting closer to understanding exactly which parts of the brain are affected. When a person is reading, both hemispheres of the human brain are active, but the left hemisphere does most of the work. Pathways are created during the reading process, and each has a specific function. For instance, there is a pathway that facilitates ‘sight recognition’ (recognizing a word just by looking at it rather than breaking it down by individual sounds), which leads to another developed pathway that allows the reader to remember the meaning of that recognized word. This results in a series of connections leading to speech, articulation, and pronunciation. All of these processes happen simultaneously throughout the brain for a fluent reader.

For someone with dyslexia, these internal pathways and connections form differently. There is little understanding as to why these differences occur, but researchers have found that the left hemisphere of the brain in a dyslexic person lacks the necessary connection to facilitate the pathways which allow a reader to become fluent. Instead, the right hemisphere begins to overcompensate and work harder to create those connections that are needed to read and comprehend. Below is a graphic that shows the activity in a brain of a non-dyslexic reader versus that of a dyslexic reader.


Side by side comparison of brain scans. Normal reader brain scans show strong activity pattern in the left hemisphere and then dyslexic brain scan shows a weak activity pattern in the left hemisphere.



If you struggle with dyslexia, know that you are not alone! Dyslexia is much more common than one might initially believe. Research has found that nearly 18% of the population is dyslexic. That is almost 1 out of every 5 people! Our resources at the Colorado Reading Center can help relieve some of the struggle and stress that may be caused by dyslexia. We provide resources to help readers, young and old, develop the essential skills for reading success.

People of all ages can suffer from dyslexia. However early interventions with young students, typically between Kindergarten and fifth grade, have been shown to be most effective. There are plenty of resources including books and videos to help understand the possibilities of overcoming Dyslexia, and there are numerous organizations such as the Colorado Reading Center that offer professional services for dyslexia remediation.


Language Isn’t Logical, But We Want It To Be

If you think back into history when you were just beginning to read and spell, there was most likely a moment when you asked yourself: “Why do we spell words the way we do?” You probably asked yourself this during a moment of frustration while trying to master a challenging word.

A student may read the word “love” as /loav/, or they may spell the word “of” u-v. In one sense these are great errors to be making, especially on their first attempt. They are demonstrating their knowledge of language up to this point and trying to work rationally from what they know. These types of errors show that they have internalized some orthographic rules (that is, the conventions of the English language) and are trying to apply them.


Another question is why are these answers wrong? Why isn’t love spelled “luv,” or enough “enuf?” English is a living language, which means it is in constant flux. For example, the word love was taken from the Latin word lubere, digested by Old German into luba, rung through Old English as lufa to emerge in our current variation: love. New words are being added all the time. In addition to that, English is a real melting pot of a language that pulls from lots of languages (many of which don’t get along with each other). A language like Latin is defined and doesn’t need to absorb or evolve over time. English in 500 years will no doubt be just as uncanny as the language of Shakespeare is to us today.

There have been attempts to create a more rational language that has fixed logical orthographic rules. Esperanto is one example of this. English has a lot of spelling challenges that relate to homophones and which mainly serve our understanding of language more than our spelling abilities.


For English speakers we are stuck having to learn a good deal of orthographically inconsistent words, or as we say: “words that just don’t play fair.” We have to learn to embrace, and possibly love, the hodgepodge that is our language.   

How then should a student be corrected when they spell a word incorrectly like u-v? What should we do when they read “of” as “off?” There is an underlying skill that allows students to recognize unfair words. It is called visual memory.

Visual memory is the ability to hold an image in our mind’s eye. This could be an image of an object, a person’s face, or in the case of reading: symbols like letters. It is the ability to recognize, discriminate and reproduce mental images of symbols, and more specifically, letters and words.


Knowing now that this skill is at work when we read, we can do more than just practice the word that was an error. We can directly stimulate and develop this skill. One way to help reinforce an unfair word that a student struggles to remember is to have them create an image of the word in their mind. You can have them draw the letters from their memory on the table with their finger, or in the air in front of them. This type of visual memory practice will help to create and reinforce the neural imprint the student is making of the word. Once the student has a strong matching imprint of how the word should look in their mind, they will experience more success recognizing it, reading it, and spelling it. Little by little, they will build their word knowledge to encompass all the words needed for the English language. If you still think we should have more rational spelling rule in our language, then I encourage you to read the following. 

Below is a well-known humorous example for the need for complex spelling rules:
The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as EuroEnglish (Euro for short). In the first year, ‘s’ will be used instead of the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard ‘c’ will be replaced with ‘k.’ Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced by ‘f’. This will make words like ‘fotograf’ 20 per sent shorter. In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent ‘e’s in the languag is disgrasful, and they would go. By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ by ‘z’ and ‘W’ by ‘V’. During ze fifz year, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’, and similar changes vud of kors; be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil b no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru.

When is Adore, Not a Door?: Homophones and Homographs

Some readers may be familiar with the riddle: when is a door not a door? If you are unfamiliar with it, well, a door is not a door when it is ajar. All joking aside, riddles and puns permeate our language. They require a strong grasp of the English language, and more specifically with homophones and homographs.

A homophone is a word that has the same pronunciation, but a different meaning. There are variations of homophones. “Here is the pen vs I hear you” is an example of a heterograph, where the spelling and the word meaning are both different, but they sound identical. The infamous “to, too, two” would also fall into this category. There are also examples of homophones where the spelling is different, but the pronunciation and meaning are the same (ex. There are many “gases” in our atmosphere, or he “gasses” up the truck with diesel).

There are two subgroups of homophones: homonyms and homographs.

Homonyms are when the meaning is different, but the word is pronounced the same (ex. I “tire” of this, or the “tire” is flat). Homonyms do not have to be spelled the same, which adds another level of confusion. One great example of this is in: their, there, they’re. (ex. Their car is over there where they’re going.) Each of these words has a distinct meaning and spelling; however, they are identical in pronunciation. If a homonym does have a different spelling and a different meaning, but the same pronunciation, it is distinguished as a heterograph. For example, I lie down and you told a lie are homonyms, but not heterographs. But “I ran laps at the track, and had a lapse in judgement” are still homonyms and more specifically, heteronyms.


What this group has in common is that they all have the same pronunciation. But what happens when we have a word that has the same spelling? This is called a homograph. A homonym can be a homograph, just like in tire/tire. But what happens if the words share the same spelling, but have a different pronunciation and meaning. Well these are called heteronyms. An example of this would be row, as in “I have to row a boat, and my family had a row at Thanksgiving.”


English, being the linguistic melting pot that it is, contains a good deal of homophones and homographs. One main reason for so much confusion of these in our language has to do with spelling. It can be frustrating for students “two no win too” use or spell certain words. Add a learning difference into the equation and it can be a recipe for disaster. 

Fortunately, once students have lexical knowledge of a word, the spelling piece can be reinforced with repeatedly imaging the word to make it part of their visual memory.

Colorado Reading Center has updated its website

Colorado Reading Center is proud to announce the release of our new updated website.  The website has a new look and improved navigation to help in finding information on our Academic Therapy Programs.

Let us know how you like the new design.