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What is dyslexia?

The following two widely-used definitions are key to understanding dyslexia:  

 International Dyslexia Association

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

“Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding. In individuals with adult-onset of dyslexia, it usually occurs as a result of brain injury or in the context of dementia; this contrasts with individuals with dyslexia who simply were never identified as children or adolescents. Dyslexia can be inherited in some families, and recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose an individual to develop dyslexia.”


To summarize:

    • Dyslexia is brain-based (neurobiological) and may be inherited.

    • Dyslexia specifically impairs a person’s ability to read regardless of intelligence or access to education.

    • Dyslexia is not a general learning disability or developmental disorder.

    • Difficulty with phonological processing (manipulation of sounds) and/or rapid visual-verbal responding are common underlying problems.

    • Common manifestations include difficulty with decoding, fluent word and passage reading, and spelling. 


Can dyslexia be cured?


Although dyslexia cannot be cured, individuals can become independent readers with appropriate assistance and Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) instruction provided by a highly trained specialist. Early identification and intervention support is important, although it is never too late to learn.

Does dyslexia run in the family?

Yes. Dyslexia is often hereditary. Recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose a person to dyslexia. If a child shows signs of dyslexia their parent, sibling, or grandparent may have dyslexia as well.

What type of literacy instruction is recommended for people who have dyslexia?

All students benefit from Structured Literacy. The elements of Structured Literacy include phonology, sound-symbol association, syllables, morphology, syntax, and semantics.  Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) is the term used to describe the more intensive Structured Literacy that is often necessary for students with dyslexia. It has its roots in Orton-Gillingham and the science of reading. MSL evidence-based forms of instruction incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile methods simultaneously to help students understand the structure of the language in a very systematic and explicit way. Instruction can be enhanced through the use of other appropriate resources and technology tools. The Wilson Reading System® is an intensive Orton-Gillingham-based MSL program. 

Can the term ‘dyslexia’ be used when determining special education eligibility or in an IEP evaluation?

Yes. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued guidance to clarify that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP evaluations. See the “Dear Colleague” letter.

Do states’ college- and career-readiness standards affect students with dyslexia or other disabilities?

Yes. The intent of college- and career-readiness standards is to ensure that all students, including those with dyslexia or another language-based reading disability, graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life. The International Dyslexia Association’s fact sheet on State Standards and Students with Disabilities, authored by Barbara Wilson, highlights key issues related to students with disabilities and provides guidance to parents and school staff who are assisting students with dyslexia.

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