You Can’t Have Dyslexia Because You Can Read

Many people — even educators — believe that dyslexia always equals difficulty with reading. However, as we learn more about dyslexia and other learning difficulties, it becomes clear that reading issues are just one piece of a larger puzzle. Students with dyslexia often struggle with other challenges, such as executive function. Even if they are reading at grade level, students with dyslexia remain at-risk of falling through the cracks. We must dispel the myth that dyslexia is “cured” when a student learns to read at grade level.

Here are just a few examples of this dyslexia reading myth from the parent advice board Mumsnet:

“[My daughter] is in year 7 and her teacher thinks that she may have dyslexia based on her spelling and writing abilities. She can usually spell high-frequency words but has a hard time learning to spell new words…The thing that I am confused about is that she can read really well. Could she be dyslexic but be able to read well?… I am confused!”

“All the dyslexics in my family are/were excellent readers.
The writing, memory and organisational skills are a nightmare.”

“I am dyslexic and had read all the books in primary school before I made it into the juniors. My writing is good, but if I get tired then I get a ‘block.’ Memory and organisational skills are terrible though – and if I have a form to fill in then I go into blind panic! Mine wasn’t spotted till university.”

I’ve had people say to me: “You can’t have dyslexia because you can read well.” And then I have to explain that my particular issues are related to spelling and executive function.

When I was diagnosed as dyslexic in 1st grade, I did have trouble reading. I received excellent help from my school until 6th grade when I caught up with my peers and began reading above grade level. At that point, I was considered “cured” and I was sent on my way without any additional help or even an IEP. Predictably, I fell apart in 7th grade. I knew how to read, but I couldn’t organize my work, plan how to complete long-term projects, or solve math problems strategically. My school did not recognize that dyslexia affects more than reading.

Fortunately, as research shows that students with dyslexia often have significant difficulty with executive function, teachers and schools are giving students support beyond reading instruction. The more we help others understand that dyslexia is different for every person and can present difficulties beyond reading, the more we can ensure that students receive the help they need.

Tell me in the comments if you have run into similar issues with people thinking that dyslexia is simply about difficulty with reading.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager