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Five Things to Know about Teaching Children with Dyslexia

It's estimated that one in five people worldwide have dyslexia, a learning disability. Educators can learn how to respond.

Dyslexia is a condition that affects an individual’s development of literacy skills, particularly reading, spelling, and writing. According to estimates, it's the most common learning disability, affecting one in five people worldwide. It is neurobiological in origin and not related to a deficit in intelligence, lack of effort, or environmental factors. And, contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is found equally in males and females.

Because all states are beginning to expect schools to screen, diagnose, and intervene for students with dyslexia, educators need to understand the disability in order to effectively teach students who are diagnosed with it. So, what do we know about dyslexia?

Fact 1: Our brains are not wired to read

Brain research in the last thirty years has helped confirm early theories and extend our understanding about the development of reading skills. We know that spoken language is innate and most children learn through exposure to their first language. Reading, on the other hand, must be learned. There is no location in the brain specifically for reading; areas used for other skills such as speech or language comprehension are activated, and efficient neural pathways are developed for reading skills.

Fact 2: Early identification is possible

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity has documented that dyslexia can be diagnosed at a young age in order to provide early evidence-based instruction. Brain imaging reveals that learners with dyslexia activate different and less efficient pathways when reading. Schools don’t have the ability to diagnose reading difficulties with neuroimaging, but parents and teachers often recognize many of the signs of dyslexia. For example, young readers with dyslexia often demonstrate difficulty with letter-sound connections, rapid automatic word recognition, and rhyming.

Teacher and student looking at book together, back view

Fact 3: Targeted instruction can be successful

Students with dyslexia can learn to read and write. Strategies based on current understandings of brain circuitry enable educators to design effective learning experiences and interventions. By using this knowledge, educators can help students with dyslexia break the reading and spelling code.

Some of these strategies include:

  • Sequential phonics instruction linked to spelling, in which teachers start with base knowledge (e.g., consonant and vowels) and build to more complex structures to form words (e.g., blending various types of vowels and consonants).
  • Multisensory instruction that incorporates multiple ways to learn and/or reinforce instruction. Teachers use touch, sound, movement, and other senses to connect students to the material.
  • Controlled texts to build fluency, in which students learn from text that contains only structures they’ve previously learned or will be learning with the text.
"Perhaps there will come a day when the Dyslexic is no longer seen as a disabled person but is looked upon more as a different kind of information processor, whose out-of-the-box brain is a decided asset to the world."
Thomas Armstrong, PhD, Educator and Author

Fact 4: Dyslexia comes with many gifts

The definition of dyslexia needs to also recognize that those with dyslexia possess many strengths. Some researchers argue that individuals with dyslexia have talents important in our current world: mechanical abilities; visual-spatial and visual-motor skills; creativity; innovative ways of thinking; entrepreneurship; intuition; imagination; and holistic thinking. Informed and understanding educators can look for and encourage the talents found in their dyslexic students.

Fact 5: Educators can learn how to work with dyslexic students

Overwhelmingly, educators do not feel prepared. However, institutions of higher learning have responded. Lesley University, for example, has created two courses that explore current brain research, assessment protocols, and proven effective intervention strategies that participants can immediately take into the classroom.

Visit the Lesley Center for Advanced Professional Studies for more information on our two dyslexia courses and how they can be combined for a micro-credential.

You may also be interested in our Reading Specialist M.Ed. program.


Armstrong, T. (2010). The power of neurodiversity: Unleashing the advantages of your differently wired brain. Da Capo Press.

Martinelli, K. (2019). Understanding Dyslexia. Child Mind Institute. 

Shaywitz, S. & Shaywitz, J. (2020). Overcoming Dyslexia. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing.