Myth: Dyslexia is the Same for Everyone

Hello everyone. I came across a great article – Seven myths about dyslexia put to rest – that does a good job of debunking the most common dyslexia myths. You should really read the whole thing, but what I really want to focus on is Myth 3:


Though it may not feel like it to many of us, reading is a very complex task that involves many sub-skills and processes. It requires identifying and ordering letters, mapping letter patterns to sounds, and accessing knowledge stored in memory (among other things).

This means that the process of reading can fail in a variety of ways, so as researchers we will almost never say “dyslexia” or “reading impairment” without first discussing what kind of problem we mean.

Does the reader have trouble with new words they have never seen before? Do they mistake “broad” for “board” more often than others their age? Do they read “have” as though it rhymes with “save”? Do they have trouble understanding what they have read? These are different problems, which don’t necessarily go together.

Part of the frustration of having dyslexia is how inconsistent it is. No two people with dyslexia have the exact same issues or react to treatment in the same way. Students already feel different from their peers, and it can be hard to feel different even from other students who also are dyslexic. Furthermore, this needs to be combated so that the wider world has a better appreciation of what dyslexia really is. A one-size-fits-all dyslexia intervention would be quite ineffective at meeting the needs of students. This is an incredibly important point that does not get addressed enough.

Another aspect of dyslexia that is often overlooked is that people with dyslexia skills can fluctuate wildly from day to day. Within a single document, I have been known to misspell the same word two different ways and then spell it correctly. This type of inconsistency doesn’t seem logical to people and yet, this is the reality for many of us. And to students with dyslexia these fluctuations can seem like failures. It can feel like you progressed yesterday, but today you’re suddenly behind again. This can be so frustrating and hard to cope with, especially as a child.

As educators, we need to take the time out to normalize the not normal. It is normal for students with dyslexia to have different experiences. It is normal for a student with dyslexia to see his or her skills fluctuate day to day and even minute to minute.

With my students, I’ve found that naming this phenomenon has really helped make it feel normal. We call it the “Dyslexic Wave” – though I would encourage you to call it whatever name resonates with your students. I tell my students, “We’re all on the same ocean and will all make it to land eventually, but sometimes you’re at the top of the wave and sometimes you’re at the bottom. If you feel like you’re at the bottom, don’t worry, you’ll be at the top again soon.” This helps the students vocalize their experiences. So they can say, “I’m at the top of the wave today in math,” or “I’m at the bottom of the wave for reading right now.” This strategy increases students’ metacognition, or self-awareness, around how their dyslexia effects their learning.

If you would like to learn more about metacognition, check the first lesson in Unit 1 of the SMARTS curriculum: What is metacognition? I would love  to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments. It would be especially great if you could share some interesting strategies that you use with your students!



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