Several years ago, my mother sent me a Halloween card. The front depicted two ghosts; instead of saying “Boo”, they said “Oob.” The bottom of the card read “Dyslexic Ghosts” and the inside of the card read “Halloween Happy” rather than “Happy Halloween”. While the card was meant to provide some levity, it really got me thinking about the myriad of misconceptions and myths that exist today about dyslexia. Need more evidence? Check out these t-shirts and bumper stickers all poking fun at dyslexia and perpetuating myths about the reading disability.
My intent with this post is not to come across as a stodgy person who can’t take a joke; rather my intent is to show how commonplace myths and stereotypes about dyslexia are! So commonplace in fact, that they’ve become fodder for jokes in t-shirts, bumper stickers, and greeting cards.
I plan to write multiple posts, in which I dispel the myths about dyslexia. I assume that many of my readers are parents, without formal training in education. Rest assured that many of the misconceptions about dyslexia are held by professionals and educators in the field. In fact, a 2010 article that I authored shows exactly that! In a research study of over 300 teachers, nearly 75% of participants incorrectly identified dyslexia as a visual impairment in which a reader sees letters and words transposed, reversed, or jumbled! Even popular media has misconceptions - watch this clip from where Theo meets with a learning specialist for a diagnosis with dyslexia.
There are far too many misconceptions out there about dyslexia. Dyslexia is NOT seeing words backwards / transposing or reversing letters / words / numbers. It is not a deficiency in visual processing. Dyslexia is a language-based reading disorder, meaning that people with dyslexia struggle with the sound components of language. In fact, dyslexia is neurobiological. The brain of an impaired reader operates differently than the brain of a non-impaired reader, as shown by the image below (note that underactivation of the portions of the brain specializing in language and the overactivation of less appropriate brain areas).
I encourage you to look at the linked resources for more information on what dyslexia actually is - and to join me in vocalizing the truth about dyslexia. When I meet parents who tell me "my ch
ild is dyslexic", I often say to them, "What does that mean to you?". If I hear these misconceptions above, that when I steer them to my favorite resources above. Let me be clear that I believe these misconceptions about dyslexia are perpetuated by the disconnect between the research community and those working every day with children - teachers, pediatricians, etc. It's all well and good that the worlds of medicine, neuroscience, and reading research have come together to collaborate on dyslexia - but until we effectively deliver these practical messages to teachers in the field - our work has not met its true impact. Let's be real - it is very unlikely that we will ever have schools where we put children in MRI machines to get brain scans (and would we even want that?) so we need to find meaningful ways for the real meaning of dyslexia to influence teachers, families, and children. More to come later...