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2.2 Common Myths About Dyslexia

To further understand what dyslexia is, it may be helpful to debunk some common myths about dyslexia, understand what dyslexia is not, and consider typical features of dyslexia and impaired reading, spelling or language usage over multiple school years and into adulthood.

Neurological research shows that dyslexia is a real condition and that scientists have been able to locate unique identifiers, not only in different areas of the brain and how they function, but also in the variation of important chemicals in the brain and in the way brain cells communicate with one another. These advances in neuroscience also show that, with appropriate reading interventions, the unique identifiers in the brain can be altered to resemble the reading patterns seen in the brain of a person who does not have dyslexia. In addition, neuroscience is showing new evidence that aligns with earlier work on the importance and possibility of earlier identification (even before a child is able to read) in individuals with a high risk for developing dyslexia.  High risk factors include a family history of dyslexia or a weakness in critical pre-reading skills (e.g., letter identification, letter–sound knowledge, phonological awareness, and rapid naming). See Chapter 3 for more information about early identification of reading risk.

More than ever, the causes of dyslexia are well known, but some myths still persist. Dyslexia is related to reading difficulties, not difficulties that arise from intellectual functioning or seeing print in reverse. The following are commonly held myths regarding dyslexia and the students who are at risk or are identified as having dyslexia.



Myth: Dyslexia is a visual problem. Students with dyslexia see and write letters and words backward.

Truth: Dyslexia is not primarily a visual problem; it is a language-based problem. Many children reverse their letters when learning to read and write. Reversing letters is not a sure sign of dyslexia, and not all students with dyslexia reverse letters.

School Success

MythIf you perform well in school, you must not have dyslexia.

Truth: Some students with dyslexia perform well in school. These students work hard, are motivated and have the accommodations necessary to show their knowledge.


Myth: Smart students cannot have dyslexia; students with dyslexia cannot be very smart.


Truth: Dyslexia is defined by an unexpected difficulty in learning to read. Said another way, dyslexia is a paradox — the same person who struggles to read accurately and/or quickly may be very intelligent.


Myth: If a student has dyslexia, he or she will automatically receive special education supports through an Individual Education Program (IEP). An IEP is the only way to get the appropriate instruction and accommodations needed.

Truth: Dyslexia comes in many degrees, from mild to severe. Some children with characteristics of dyslexia meet the eligibility requirements for special education in the Specific Learning Disability category, and some do not. All students should receive appropriate services through a comprehensive multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Students who do not respond to these interventions may be eligible to receive interventions through special education. Students identified with characteristics of dyslexia may also be considered for potential Section 504 eligibility. (See Chapter 8 for more information.)

Short-Term Problem

Myth: Most students with dyslexia will eventually outgrow dyslexia.

Truth: Dyslexia, the result of a processing difference in the brain, will last a lifetime.

Reading Ability

Myth: Students with dyslexia cannot learn to read.

Truth: Most students with dyslexia learn to read, but they do so with greater effort. Many struggle with reading fluently. Frequently, reading tends to be time-consuming and laborious.


Myth: Only boys are affected by dyslexia, or there is a significant difference between the number of boys and girls identified with dyslexia. 

Truth: Students of both genders can have dyslexia. The slightly higher percentage of boys being identified with dyslexia is not significant.


Myth: Students who have dyslexia have poor reading comprehension skills.

Truth: Students with dyslexia tend to have comprehension skills, but this can be masked by:

(1)The amount of mental effort required to decode, limiting access to the ability to think critically; and

(2) A limited amount of reading, leading to a gap in the student’s vocabulary and background knowledge as compared with students who read large amounts of appropriate text.

Reading Difficulties

Myth: All reading difficulties can be attributed to dyslexia.

Truth: The hallmark of dyslexia is a word-level reading problem that is unexpected in a child who seems to have all the requisite skills (intelligence, verbal skills and motivation) that are necessary to become a reader. There are other ways students can struggle with reading: for example, students who are able to decode the words but don’t understand what they are reading (hyperlexia). There are many other profiles and conditions that may impact learning to read. Dyslexia is not the only reading difficulty.