Developmental Dyslexia: Symptoms, Causes, Types and Treatment

Developmental Dyslexia: Symptoms, Causes, Types and Treatment
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Medically Reviewed By:
Mark Arredondo, M.D.

It’s important to diagnose dyslexia in the early years of school, as appropriate intervention provided early can make a significant difference in a child’s longer-term academic and personal development. 

Here’s everything you need to know about developmental dyslexia.

What is developmental dyslexia? 

Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that affects the way children process written words. These difficulties are unexpected in light of the child’s generally adequate cognitive abilities and may occur even though the child has had good reading instruction. 

What causes dyslexia? 

Dyslexia is constitutionally based, meaning it mostly reflects how the child’s brain developed naturally. It’s not caused by environmental factors, lack of intelligence or inadequate teaching methods, though these factors may influence the course of a dyslexic child’s development of literacy. 

Dyslexia symptoms  

Dyslexia typically appears as unexpected difficulty learning to read. Children with dyslexia struggle to decode new words and to recognize sight words, and they read slowly. They may also have trouble with comprehension because of their difficulty reading the words on the page even though they may understand the text if it is read to them.

Spelling difficulties are common among children with dyslexia, often persisting even after reading skills improve with intervention.

Furthermore, children with dyslexia may also have trouble with writing as a consequence of difficulties putting the words on the page.

Types of dyslexia 

There are three common types of dyslexia:

  • In phonological dyslexia, children have difficulty pulling apart the sounds in words, impeding their ability to associate letters with sounds in order to decode and spell. 

  • In rapid naming dyslexia, children have trouble quickly naming simple arrays of letters, numbers or objects, with the greatest impact on reading fluency. 

  • Children with double deficit dyslexia have difficulties with both skills, making it a more complex and impairing form of dyslexia. 

Is there a test for dyslexia? 

 Although there’s no simple test for dyslexia, skilled professionals, like those at Boston Children’s Hospital, use a variety of tests to determine whether a child has dyslexia. 

It’s important not only to diagnose dyslexia, but also to describe its specific characteristics for each child. With this information, the evaluator can offer guidance to the school regarding approaches that are likely to be successful.

Schools in Massachusetts, for instance, are now required to screen for dyslexia in the early grades to identify children who require more in-depth diagnostic assessment. 

Is dyslexia a disability?  

 Yes. An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as: 

  • A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities

  • A person who has a history or record of such an impairment

  • A person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment

Individuals with dyslexia are considered as having a disability under the ADA because their condition affects a major life activity—reading—that is crucial for academic and professional success. 

Dyslexia treatments 

The primary treatment for dyslexia is a specially designed reading program that is typically provided daily one-on-one or in a small group. Assistive technologies also help with reading and writing skills and can help children with dyslexia participate in the general education curriculum despite their disability. 

Early intervention, tailored to the individual's needs, is key to helping those with dyslexia overcome challenges and succeed academically. 

Living with dyslexia

For some individuals, dyslexia is a lifelong condition. However, with the appropriate interventions, many people with dyslexia learn to read and write well. 

Interventions that are well matched to the child’s profile of strengths and challenges are key to providing them the support they need to thrive academically and build their self-confidence. Whatever the child’s age, dyslexia need not define their potential or opportunity. With the appropriate support, they can lead successful and fulfilling lives. 

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