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Young girl with dark hair and a yellow long-sleeved shirt selecting a book to read from a shelf.
Young girl with dark hair and a yellow long-sleeved shirt selecting a book to read from a shelf.

Can Dyslexia Be Cured?

From Myths to Facts

Dyslexia is a common learning disability that impacts a person's ability to process language-based information. An estimated 7% of people in the United States are affected by the condition.

While quite common, dyslexia is often misunderstood. Elizabeth S. Norton, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University and director of the Language, Education and Reading Neuroscience (LEARN) Lab, shares important facts about this condition.

Understanding Dyslexia

“Dyslexia is a specific difficulty with reading that starts in childhood, even though a person has adequate intelligence, vision, spoken language skills and opportunity to learn to read,” says Norton. “People with dyslexia may read single words more slowly or less accurately than their peers.”

Research shows that dyslexia is caused by differences in the brain that are present even before people learn to read. “Our best understanding is that there is not one single gene or brain difference, but dyslexia is essentially a brain that is not set up optimally to learn to read,” Norton explains.

Even though dyslexia occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels, there is a genetic component. Parents with dyslexia are more likely to have children with dyslexia.

Norton notes that certain assumptions about the abilities of people with dyslexia are often inaccurate. “It is a very common misconception that people with dyslexia read or write letters backwards, or that words move around on the page in front of them,” she says. “Almost all young children write letters or words backwards at some point. The huge majority of people with dyslexia do not have these visual symptoms.”

Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia

While dyslexia may look different in different people, some of the common symptoms include:

  • Inaccurate or slow word reading
  • Inaccurate spelling
  • Difficulty identifying and moving around the sounds in spoken words, which is called phonemic awareness
  • Difficulty making strong and automatic links between sounds and letters
  • Difficulty remembering letter patterns
  • Lack of comprehension or understanding of what is read

Dyslexia can also happen alongside dysgraphia, which is a difficulty with writing and handwriting, as well as dyscalculia, which is difficulty with mathematical reasoning. And, it can happen alongside problems with speech.

“By definition, dyslexia is difficulty with reading or written language. However, people with dyslexia might have trouble identifying parts of spoken language, like sounds, to be able to match them with letters,” she says. “If they don’t spend a lot of time reading, they may learn fewer new words than their peers who are learning more words from reading text.”

Treatment for Dyslexia

Experiencing symptoms does not necessarily mean you have dyslexia. Formal testing of reading, language and writing skills is needed to confirm a diagnosis.

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition with no simple cure like pills, muscle exercises or special glasses. Yet people with dyslexia can overcome many of the symptoms with lessons, practice and patience. “A person’s reading can get better with high-quality instruction that helps them with the parts of reading they struggle with, coupled with a lot of practice reading,” says Norton.  

Some people can reach the typical range of reading ability, but other people remain slower or less accurate readers throughout their lives. Fortunately, many technology-based solutions are available, like audiobooks or text-to-speech functions in software, to help those who still find reading difficult.

Dyslexia and Mental Health

Challenges in reading at school or in the workplace can affect self-esteem and be associated with mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

“Dyslexia often co-occurs with mental health conditions like ADHD and anxiety,” says Norton. “Dyslexia can sometimes cause children to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety as well, and make them feel like they aren’t smart or good at learning.”

If mental health problems surface, they should be assessed and treated.

Who Can Help

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with dyslexia, the best course of action is to have a full evaluation from a professional like a neuropsychologist who can reveal strengths and areas of difficulty. Once challenges are known, they can be addressed directly.

“Children who are behind in reading compared to their classmates should make sure they are continuing to learn new words and ideas that they’d normally get from reading,” explains Norton. “This could come from audio books, language-rich discussions with family, and direct teaching.”

Norton’s best advice for people living with dyslexia is to not feel dumb or embarrassed, but instead to learn about the science of dyslexia and seek out resources that can help.

According to Norton, local chapters of the following groups can often help parents advocate for their child or provide referrals to professional evaluators and tutors: