Most people assume that being able to read well is part of being smart. However, about 100 years ago, doctors realised that some people, even very intelligent people, have a difficulty in learning to read and write. This difficulty is called dyslexia.

No one is born to be able to read, we all have to learn it.

Almost every person starts to speak without having to learn. When you were a child, just being around people who talked was enough for you to start talking too. You didn’t have to go to ‘speech school’ or take ‘speech lessons’. People’s brains are designed to make conversation happen almost automatically.

Reading, however, is different. No one is born with this skill. When you read, your brain has to do many things at once including combining letters with sounds and arranging these sounds in the correct order. The brain then connects letters, words and paragraphs in a way that allows you to read them quickly and understand what they mean. It also needs to connect words and sentences to other types of knowledge. When you see ‘cat’ on a piece of paper, your brain not only has to read the word ‘cat’, but it also has to make the connection that ‘cat’ means a furry, four-legged animal that meows.

Why do I have dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an invisible problem. It is not an illness like chicken pox or the common cold. At school, teachers can see how hard you work, but they can’t see all the steps your brain has to take to make sense of the words on the worksheet.

Many children with dyslexia worry that something is wrong with their brain. It’s a pretty scary thought. However, thanks to recent research, we have a lot of scientific evidence that the brain of a dyslexic person is normal and healthy.

However, when you have dyslexia, your brain takes longer to make some of these connections and does so in more steps. In particular, it has trouble matching the letters you see on the page with the sounds those letters and their combinations make. And when you have a problem with this step, all the other steps are more difficult.

Dyslexia is not uncommon. You may know other children in your school who also have dyslexia. Although dyslexia is not contagious, sometimes several people in a family may have dyslexia with a genetic basis. Older children and adults can also have dyslexia.

A new way of learning

The younger you are when you realise that reading is difficult for you, the sooner – with the help of teachers and parents – you will find ways to learn that will make life easier. Although dyslexia is not something you will grow out of, there are many things that teachers and parents can show you to help you read better and even enjoy reading.

In fact, you may have come up with some strategies yourself to help you when reading. Children with dyslexia often learn to use other skills to help them understand what they are reading or studying. You may already be particularly good at:

  • Observing – looking for clues in pictures or other types of illustrations
  • Listening – paying attention to what your teacher is saying or what other children are reading aloud
  • Memorising – remembering what you hear when someone reads or speaks to you

Using such creative skills is not cheating! Your parents, your teacher and perhaps others in your school, such as a reading specialist, can take other steps to improve reading and writing. Some of these steps may include:

  • Starting with a reading programme to help you learn what sounds make up each word
  • Allowing you to work in a quiet place
  • Allowing you to listen to books recorded on tape or CD while reading a book
  • Allowing you to do some written work on the keyboard
  • Giving you extra time to complete your work

The good news about dyslexia

One of the things we know for sure about dyslexia is that it is one small area of difficulty in a sea of strengths. Having trouble with reading doesn’t mean you’ll have trouble with everything. In fact, most children with dyslexia are very good at many other things, and people with dyslexia are often very creative and usually develop clever skills that help them understand words and sentences that give them trouble at first. People with dyslexia often think of unexpected ways to solve a problem or challenge.

We don’t fully understand whether this kind of creativity is due to the extra work dyslexics have to do to succeed in reading, or whether they are simply creative by nature. What we do know, however, is that many, many people with dyslexia, even those who really struggled with reading and writing in primary and secondary school, went on to university.

Dyslexia can sometimes cause frustration or sadness. But with the right help, you can learn to read – and even enjoy reading – and you can be anything you want to be.