Dyslexia: Not a “One Size Fits All”

written by: Eagle Hill School
Dyslexia has become the hallmark term for learning disabilities—it’s often mistakenly used to describe any sort of learning issue. Not only is this a false representation of the spectrum of learning disabilities and differences, it also doesn’t do justice to the variety of dyslexia that exists.

Dyslexia is not a “one-size-fits-all” disability…it ranges in severity and scope and is often confused with other disabilities such as “dysgraphia,” which is the inability to write coherently.

While there is currently only one “true type” of dyslexia defined, scientists and researchers have been working to define more nuanced subtypes. Here are two of the more widely regarded subtypes of dyslexia that exist and how they are distinguished from each other.

Phonological Dyslexia

This type of dyslexia is what people most likely are referring to when they use the word “dyslexia.” This subtype manifests itself as trouble with breaking down words into their smaller parts and components, making it difficult to sound out bigger words, or comprehend them properly.

This type of dyslexia can become even more difficult to deal with when reading because of the trouble readers have with matching phonemes of words (the smaller parts mentioned above) with the corresponding letters on the page. When this happens it can become almost impossible for children to decode the words they are reading. This proves to be a frustrating experience for teachers and educators, but more importantly, for the child with dyslexia who just can’t seem to sound things out.

The most common trait that teachers, parents, and researchers see with phonological dyslexia is children having trouble sounding out new or unfamiliar words. Because of this phenomenon, fake words are often given during testing to see if a child is able to sound them out and break them down phonologically. This is typically a good indicator, among other things, as to whether or not a child might be struggling with dyslexia.

Surface Dyslexia

Surface dyslexia, also referred to as “dyseidetic dyslexia,” most commonly manifests itself as extreme difficulty with recognizing entire words. This differs from phonological dyslexia primarily in that people who suffer with surface dyslexia may be able to sound out words, but have trouble with reading or spelling words that have irregular spelling that does not break down phonologically; an example of this type of word would be “colonel.”

There are many hundreds of these types of words that exist, making everyday reading that so many take for granted a challenge to those who suffer with dyslexia.

A Wide Range

In addition to these main two subtypes, people often refer to many other types of dyslexia, some of it not even dyslexia at all; for instance, “math dyslexia,” which is actually an entirely separate issue called dyscalculia.

People may use terms such as “visual dyslexia” or “directional dyslexia,” but these are often closely linked to the two types noted above. As research into what causes these issues continues to grow, there remains some contention surrounding exactly how many types of dyslexia there are—currently there is still only one official kind.

Despite this, it is still important to have your child evaluated on a personal basis, as dyslexia requires case-by-case treatment and personalized learning plans. Because it can range in its impact and severity, it’s important not to oversimplify dyslexia, but instead to spend time understanding how it affects your child’s learning.
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Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

The contributors of Learning Diversity come together to engage our readers from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and mathematics, athletics, and residential life. Embracing learning diversity means understanding and respecting our students as whole persons.


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