Last Updated: November 2, 2023

Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that causes individuals to read at a lower level than expected, despite having normal levels of intelligence. People with dyslexia often have trouble processing or manipulating sounds and difficulty spelling.

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What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects reading. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, spelling, subvocalizing words, or reading aloud. It is important to note that dyslexia does not point to a lack of intelligence, cognitive impairment, or motivation, and most people affected have average or above-average intelligence, despite reading at lower-than-expected levels.[1][2][3]

Dyslexia can occur alone, but it frequently overlaps with other learning disabilities or language difficulties, such as reading comprehension problems, specific language impairments (SLI), handwriting difficulties (dysgraphia), math learning difficulties (dyscalculia), developmental coordination disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).[4][5][6]

What are the main signs and symptoms of dyslexia?

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia can vary significantly among individuals. A common sign of dyslexia is a difficulty in reading at the expected speed for a given age. People with dyslexia often confuse the order of letters within words or mistake visually similar letters (e.g., "b" and "d", “u” and “n”). People with dyslexia may also struggle with phonological awareness (the ability to hear and distinguish sounds), resulting in difficulties with rhyming, spelling, and recognizing words in written text. These challenges may in turn impact their ability to comprehend sentences while reading.[7][8][4]

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

The process of diagnosing dyslexia varies by age, but is generally done through an evaluation by a psychologist/psychiatrist. Initially, information is gathered from teachers, school psychologists, doctors, speech-language therapists, educational assessment specialists, and results from reading tests (e.g., reading fluency).[9] Another diagnostic approach, called response to intervention (RTI), assesses how quickly the child responds to initial interventions. Children who quickly respond to these interventions are usually not dyslexic, and their reading difficulties are often due to other factors.[10]

Additionally, there are tests that can be performed at a young age to identify potential reading problems at early stages; they are aimed at assessing oral language skills, word recognition, decoding and spelling skills, phonological processing, vocabulary knowledge, and reading comprehension. Some of these tests showed promising results and include predictive assessment of reading (PAR),[11] dynamic indicators of basic early literacy skills (DIBELS),[11] and the AIMSweb test (the Achievement Improvement Monitoring Screening test).[9]

What are some of the main medical treatments for dyslexia?

Dyslexia is not classified as a disease, so it is more accurate to refer to interventions rather than medical treatments. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and each person with dyslexia requires a tailored education plan that caters to their specific needs. Some examples of interventions include phonemic awareness techniques, which are aimed at improving the ability to recognize letter sounds, and as activities that teach the connection between letters and sounds through writing and reading from a text.[10]

Another popular reading intervention is the Orton-Gillingham (OG) program, a structured literacy approach that utilizes multisensory techniques (e.g., tracing letters in sand, sounding out individual letters) to break down reading and spelling into smaller skills. It’s widely used and generally well-liked, although the degree to which it benefits students can vary.Therefore, medical professionals are encouraged to verify the suitability of such plans before implementing them in teaching plans.[12]

Additionally, children may receive special assistance through individual or group sessions with learning or reading specialists. The use of audiobooks and text-to-speech reading tools is also common to support students in educational settings.

Have any supplements been studied for dyslexia?

Multiple studies looked at the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in children with dyslexia. Although some of these studies showed improvements, the evidence remains limited due to the inconsistency of results and variations in methodologies employed.[13]

One 1988 study found a correlation between dyslexia and low zinc levels in children between the age of 6 and 14.[14] Although various online sources recommend increasing zinc levels through dietary adjustments or supplements, there is a lack of evidence regarding the benefits of zinc supplementation specifically in people affected by dyslexia.

How could diet affect dyslexia?

The majority of dietary recommendations for individuals with dyslexia mainly focus on general suggestions for enhancing brain health or mitigating symptoms associated with related learning difficulties, such as ADHD. Some evidence suggests that a deficiency or an imbalance in omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) may play a role in both the predisposition and development of dyslexia.[15] However, the evidence regarding the benefits of increasing omega-3 intake through diet or supplements for individuals with dyslexia is weak and inconsistent. Furthermore, some studies suggest that this deficiency may not be caused by a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but rather by an inability to convert them into HUFA.[16]

Are there any other treatments for dyslexia?

Recent studies are assessing the potential of specific video games to improve reading skills in kids with reading difficulties. The findings indicate promising outcomes, with improvements observed in both reading skills and engagement levels. However, it is important to note that these studies lack robust methodologies, and the criteria used to identify children as dyslexic are either weak or not clearly specified. Therefore, more research is needed to support the use of any specific video games in intervention plans for children with dyslexia.[17] [18]

In addition, reading in a quiet environment, utilizing audiobooks alongside the written text, and breaking up longer texts into smaller sections are all strategies that can be employed by people with dyslexia to facilitate reading and improve reading skills.

What causes dyslexia?

The exact cause of dyslexia remains uncertain, but researchers are exploring both genetic and neuroimaging pathways to understand the pathophysiology of dyslexia, which could help in designing more accurate diagnostic and treatment strategies.

Research suggests that children with an affected parent inherit the condition at a rate of 40-60%, indicating a genetic component in dyslexia. Ongoing studies aim to determine the specific genes associated with dyslexia and explore how other factors, such as genetic heterogeneity or phenotypic differences, may influence the findings.[19]

Additionally, anatomical and brain scans show variations in the formation and development of the brains of people with dyslexia. Researchers are trying to bridge the gap between genetic discoveries and neuroimaging results, in order to determine the impact of gene polymorphisms on specific brain regions in individuals with dyslexia.[20][21]

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Update History
2023-11-02 00:30:02

Small language tweaks


We slightly reworded our description of the diagnosis of dyslexia, as well as our depiction of the popularity and efficacy of the Orton-Gillingham teaching method as a treatment for dyslexia.

Reviewed By

  1. ^Dyslexia, Brain Foundation
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  13. ^Zelcer M, Goldman RDOmega-3 and dyslexia: Uncertain connection.Can Fam Physician.(2015-Sep)
  14. ^Grant EC, Howard JM, Davies S, Chasty H, Hornsby B, Galbraith JZinc deficiency in children with dyslexia: concentrations of zinc and other minerals in sweat and hair.Br Med J (Clin Res Ed).(1988-Feb-27)
  15. ^Richardson AJ, Calvin CM, Clisby C, Schoenheimer DR, Montgomery P, Hall JA, Hebb G, Westwood E, Talcott JB, Stein JFFatty acid deficiency signs predict the severity of reading and related difficulties in dyslexic children.Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids.(2000)
  16. ^RichardsonFatty acids in dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD, can nutrition help?(2002-01-01)
  17. ^Ronimus et al.Supporting struggling readers with digital game-based learningEducation Tech Research Dev.(2019-06-01)
  18. ^ChePa et al.Criteria and Guideline for Dyslexic Intervention GamesIJACSA.(2022)
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