What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it harder for people to learn to read. Experts believe that roughly 15% to 20% of the population has symptoms of dyslexia.

If you have dyslexia, you may read more slowly or have trouble recognizing words. Often, people with dyslexia read at a lower level than expected. People with dyslexia may struggle to break words into sounds or relate letters to sounds when reading.

It’s important to understand that dyslexia is not a disease. It is a condition relating to how the brain stores and accesses information while reading. Having dyslexia doesn’t suggest lower intelligence. In fact, research has found no link between intelligence and dyslexia. Some highly intelligent and successful people with dyslexia include Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen Spielberg.

Who gets dyslexia?

You are more likely to have dyslexia if other family members also have it. Dyslexia typically appears in children and seems just as common in boys as in girls.

Dyslexia is often found when children begin learning to read. But the learning disorder may not be detected early. Because not all teachers know how to recognize dyslexia, some children are never diagnosed. These children struggle with reading problems throughout school and may be considered lazy.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes dyslexia?

The exact cause of dyslexia isn’t clear. But some dyslexia is genetic (inherited on genes). A child has higher odds of having a reading problem if a parent or sibling has it.

Like some other learning disabilities, dyslexia develops from problems in the part of the brain that processes language. Research shows differences in brain structure, function and chemistry between people with and without dyslexia.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

As a child ages, dyslexia signs may include:

  • Difficulty spelling even simple words.
  • Problems identifying letters similar to each other, such as “d” and “b” or “p” and “q.”
  • Reluctance to read aloud in class.
  • Trouble sounding out new words.
  • Associating sounds with letters.
  • Trouble learning how sounds go together.
  • Mixing up the position of sounds in a word.

Having one of these signs does not mean that a person has dyslexia, but if they are having trouble learning the basic skills for reading, then they should be tested to see if they need specific help.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Although dyslexia is due to differences in the brain, no blood tests or lab screenings can detect it. Instead, careful evaluation (testing) of common signs identifies someone with this reading problem.

Testing for dyslexia should look at:

  • Decoding (reading unfamiliar words by sounding them out).
  • Oral language skills.
  • Reading fluency and reading comprehension.
  • Spelling.
  • Vocabulary.
  • Word recognition.

When should I have my child tested for dyslexia?

Typically, early testing is best for learning disabilities. Your child can learn new reading strategies sooner when the learning disorder is diagnosed early. Many children show reading problems prior to third grade, but the reading demands increase with age and it is important to diagnose any learning disorder as early as possible.

Your child’s school may recommend an evaluation for learning disabilities with a certified educational psychologist. Ask the school administration for help finding one available to you.

Management and Treatment

What treatment options exist for dyslexia?

Currently, no medications treat dyslexia. Instead, educational interventions can teach effective new ways to learn and read.

Children with dyslexia may work with a trained specialist to learn new reading skills. Sometimes, slowing down a lesson gives a child with dyslexia more time to cover topics. Work with your child’s school to ensure your child gets the education he or she deserves.

How can I help my child with dyslexia?

Be an advocate for your child. You and your child’s school can develop an Individualized Education Plan (called an IEP). This document sets personalized expectations and lesson plans for your child at school.


How can I prevent dyslexia?

You cannot prevent dyslexia. But you can manage it by finding different strategies to learn and read.

You should:

  • Talk with a healthcare provider if you notice any early signs of dyslexia.
  • Work with your child’s school to develop an individualized education plan.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for dyslexia?

When dyslexia remains undiagnosed, children struggle to succeed in school. Identifying dyslexia by second grade gives children more time to find different ways to learn and read.

Misconceptions about dyslexia have led some to believe that people with dyslexia are not smart. Although untrue, this assumption can have negative effects on children. A child with dyslexia may suffer self-esteem issues or believe they are not intelligent. Positive support from parents and teachers can help a child overcome these obstacles.

Living With

What does living with dyslexia mean?

Having dyslexia means reading is hard for you, not that you are incapable or lazy. Finding techniques to help manage dyslexia is critical to successful learning and self-esteem. Understand that having dyslexia does not reflect poor intelligence.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you or your child’s teacher suspects your child has a learning disability like dyslexia, you can get help. Talk to your healthcare provider, your child’s teacher or the school’s administration to discover ways to help your child learn to read.


International Dyslexia Association


Learning Disabilities Association of America


National Center for Learning Disabilities


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)


National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)


Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2020.


  • American Dyslexia Association. Dyslexia. (https://www.american-dyslexia-association.com/Dyslexia.html) Accessed 10/15/2020.
  • International Dyslexia Association. Dyslexia at a Glance. (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/) Accessed 10/15/2020.
  • International Dyslexia Association. Frequently Asked Questions. (https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/) Accessed 10/15/2020.
  • National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dyslexia Information Page. (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Dyslexia-Information-Page) Accessed 10/15/2020.

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