Dyslexia: What is it and how do we spot it?

Dyslexia is very complex and one of the most misunderstood learning disabilities. We are going to spend a few weeks defining it, debunking myths, and detailing ways to support students who have dyslexia. Dyslexia impacts 20 percent of the population and is one of the most common learning disabilities.

At 28, my son lives every day with dyslexia and I’ve been in the trenches with him every day since the following words were uttered by his preschool teacher

“I’m concerned about your little guy, he has a really hard time with rhyming and he often confuses letters.”

Thus began our winding, very bumpy, dyslexia journey. My son battled every single day and, with limited knowledge, I battled right beside him! He had teachers who were supportive and found ways to meet his needs. He also had teachers who barely followed his accommodations. I was so determined to make a difference for him and for children like him that I went back to school to get a master’s degree in education. I can assure you that I didn’t learn enough in my university coursework to support students with dyslexia. I’ve researched, read, and worked with individual students to just meet them where they are and I know there is so much more to learn. I do know one thing for sure, if I had only known then, what I’m about to share with you, our journey might have been different. It is my hope that this information will help you too!

What is Dyslexia?

A google search will show a plethora of definitions from the very broad

“dyslexia is a learning difficulty that impairs a person’s ability to read and write.”

to the more comprehensive International Dyslexia Association definition adopted in 2002

“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 growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Most, but not all, states use this definition and have laws regarding dyslexia. Some states also have laws requiring teacher training on dyslexia.

The most important thing to understand about dyslexia is that it is NEUROLOGICAL and has nothing to do with intelligence or motivation.

Types of Dyslexia

As educators, we spend our days learning about our students and their needs. It’s important to understand the different types of dyslexia so that you can better understand its origins and can recognize signs of dyslexia in our students and provide targeted, systematic, and explicit instruction to meet their needs.

  1. Phonological – this is the most common type of dyslexia and it occurs when students have difficulty matching sounds to their symbols and also have difficulty decoding words.
  2. Rapid Naming – students struggle to rapidly name colors, numbers, and letters. 
  3. Double Deficit – as the name implies, students have difficulty with both phonological and rapid naming. This form of dyslexia is also common
  4. Surface – this occurs when a student can sound out new words but can’t recognize a familiar or sight word. It isn’t uncommon for students to have both surface and phonological dyslexia.
  5. Visual – students struggle to remember what they saw on a page. This involves visual processing and makes it very difficult for students to learn letter formation and spelling. 
  6. Primary – this type is genetically inherited
  7. Secondary – brain development issues in the womb causing neurological impairment may cause this form of dyslexia
  8. Acquired – this type of dyslexia occurs when there has been a traumatic brain injury or disease that impacts the area of the brain responsible for language processing. My son had this form of dyslexia caused by a traumatic birth. He didn’t just have one area to deal with, he had varying degrees of phonological, rapid naming, surface, and visual dyslexia.

Other Learning Difficulties Associated with Dyslexia

There are several learning difficulties that a person with dyslexia may also experience. They may experience one, two, or even all of these. In my son’s case, he had all of them.

  • Left-right disorder – this is characterized by the inability to tell your left from your right. When asked by his neurologist to write his name in the air with his eyes closed, my son, who was right-handed by choice, couldn’t write his name with his right hand. When asked to do the same with his left hand, he was able to do so easily. 
  • Dysgraphia – students have difficulty writing and have other issues with fine motor skills. 
  • Dyscalculia – performing math calculations, problem-solving and number-related concepts are difficult
  • Auditory processing disorder – students with this disorder have difficulty processing various speech sounds. This may make them seem like they aren’t paying attention or don’t have a clue what you are saying, but in reality, they are working hard to process what was said.

Dyslexia combined with these additional difficulties can make it very difficult for students to learn to read and write. It isn’t impossible, but it takes a lot of support from teachers, specialists, and parents.

Signs of Dyslexia

Some of the most common signs of dyslexia include the following:

  • Difficulty learning letter names and corresponding sounds
  • Confuse letters that look similar (b, d, p, and q) or sound similar (f and v, b and p, or d and t)
  • Rhyming is a challenge
  • Have a hard time remembering sequences and following multi-step directions
  • Difficulty separating individual sounds in words and blending them to form a word
  • Can’t remembers  words and apply spelling rules
  • Struggle to read familiar words like cat and other words without picture clues
  • Spelling is often incorrect or inconsistent 
  • Reading very slowly and having difficulty completing assignments
  • Avoiding reading, getting frustrated or upset when they do read

It may seem cliche, but knowledge is power, and I hope that you walk away from reading this blog a little wiser and more committed to digging a little deeper and looking a little closer at the children in your classroom who might be struggling with reading, writing and even math. Can you see any of these signs in them? You have the power to help them turn their trials into triumphs!

Stay tuned, we’re going to separate dyslexia facts from fiction.


Definition of Dyslexia (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/.

Types of Dyslexia (n.d.) Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://neurohealthah.com/blog/types-of-dyslexia/ .

Dyslexia FAQ. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://dyslexia.yale.edu/ 

Signs of Dyslexia at Different Ages. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.understood.org/

What to know about dyslexia. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/.

Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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