The Truth About Dyslexia

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia (or specific reading disability) is a language-based learning disability characterized by a difficulty in reading in people who otherwise possess the intelligence and motivation considered necessary for accurate and fluent reading. In practical terms, dyslexia means we are smart, but we read slowly.

Is dyslexia a learning disability?

Yes. In fact, as many as 80% of all individuals identified as learning disabled are dyslexic. Because dyslexia is so common in the learning disabled population, it is the most studied specific learning disability.

In addition to dyslexia, other learning disabilities include:

  • Dyscalculia, a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving math problems and grasping math concepts.
  • Dysgraphia, a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.
  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders, a group of sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, a neurological disorder, which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions .

How common is dyslexia?

15% of the U.S. population, or one in seven Americans, has some type of learning disability, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Can you grow out of being dyslexia?

No. Some people think of school-aged children when they think of dyslexia. But, dyslexic kids grow up to be dyslexic adults. Where our parents and teachers may have helped us when we were children, now we need to help ourselves.

How do I deal with being dyslexic?

First of all, accept it. As we accept that using a wheel chair or being blind is part of a person’s life, being dyslexic is a part of our lives. No less than being a man or woman, or being black, brown, white or yellow –- dyslexia is a part of us.

With the right tools and support dyslexic people can succeed in school and move on to happy, successful and often distinguished lives.

Where does dyslexia come from?

Dyslexia is a brain-based, genetic trait. We inherited dyslexia and it will likely travel to some of our children.

Research supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that dyslexia affects the temporal parietal lobe.

Brain activity while reading of a non-dyslexic person (left) and dyslexic person (right)

To the right are two brains. These two brains are reading. The image on the left is the brain of someone who is not dyslexic. The image on the right is the brain of Headstrong’s president and founder, Ben Foss (who is dyslexic). Note how the brain on the left shows more red and yellow stuff than Ben’s brain? That stuff is activity. The other brain shows more activity while reading as compared to Ben’s brain.

How does being dyslexic affect me?

It means your brain is working harder to do the same amount of work than people who are not dyslexic. When you read, your posterior brain regions are relatively under active while your anterior brain regions are relatively overactive .

Again, in practical terms, it means we read slowly. But the impact that dyslexia has on our lives is much greater. When people of average or above average intelligence have a hard time reading, they often feel ashamed. The shame surrounding learning disabilities is deeply rooted: nearly half of parents would rather their child suffer with an undiagnosed learning disability than live with the stigma of having a learning disability.

Just to get this straight, almost half of parents would rather their children—who are of average or above average intelligence—silently struggle with their learning disability in order to avoid a stigma. A stigma that exists only because learning disabilities have been misunderstood and mistreated. The misunderstanding begins when many people can’t figure out why an intelligent person can’t read at their expected level. The mistreating begins when dyslexic students are simply encouraged to ‘try harder’.

In our nationally broadcast documentary, Headstrong: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder, a young student tells Ben Foss that he is going to ‘try harder’. Ben replied, “When you say to me you are going to try harder, I am going to focus more, that sounds to me like you’re a person in a wheel chair saying ‘I am going to go up these stairs by trying harder and focusing more’. And instead, I think you need to learn to talk to people and say, I need a ramp!” In other words, we need to use the tools and accommodations that are available to us to help us succeed. Learn more about this in Act.

What does dyslexia mean for society?

The social impacts of dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities are huge.

  • The dropout rate for students with learning disabilities is 35%—twice the national average.
  • Less than two percent of people with learning disabilities get a four-year college degree.
  • Over 30% of all welfare recipients are estimated to be learning disabled.
  • Over 40% of prisoners are estimated to be learning disabled.
  • 35% of US Entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

The figures above illustrate how learning disabilities are impacting our society—not just those directly affected, not just parents trying to help their kids, not just teachers trying to get children through the school system. As a society, learning disabilities come at a cost to all of us.

What can I do about being dyslexic?

This is where Headstrong comes in.

  • Learn—We need to empower ourselves with knowledge about dyslexia through audio books and films. You’ve already made the right move in starting this process. Explore the other pages in this section to find out more.
  • Act—We need to understand our rights; demand the accommodations we deserve from our schools and employers. We need to equip ourselves with the best tools to be independent.
  • Connect—We need to connect with other people who are dealing with the same issues as we are. Share your experiences, both successes and failures. By doing so, we can help the millions of other people like us.