Developmental reading disorders

What are they?

There are many types of developmental reading disorders, with the one most commonly known being dyslexia (impaired decoding and/or fluency skills associated with poor sound knowledge). Reading disorders usually surface at a young age, and are the result of differences in the way the brain processes language.

Reading disorders vary from person to person, so while one individual may experience many symptoms, another person may only experience a few.

Signs to consider

Individuals with the following concerns are at risk for dyslexia, or other reading disorders:

  • Problems decoding words
  • Slow reading (fluency)
  • Poor spelling
  • Language-based difficulties (i.e., word finding, pronunciation)

The symptoms

Individuals affected by reading disorders may experience the following:

  • Trouble with handwriting
  • Difficulty reading quickly
  • Problems reading with correct expression
  • Problems understanding the written word
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty recognizing known words

The causes

There is no single known cause of reading disorders, but research shows that disorders are related to the brain’s inability to recognize and decipher sound/language aspects of printed words.

According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), it is estimated that up to 20 percent of the population has some symptoms of reading disorders. Reading disorders can be inherited in certain families, and recent studies have identified genes that may put someone at a higher risk to develop a disorder.

Treatment of developmental reading disorders

Reading disorders cannot be cured, but people with a reading disorder can overcome certain problems to improve their reading.

The best methods to diminish the effects of a reading disorder involve early instruction in language and reading (structured literacy) to improve basic reading and comprehension skills. Those with reading disorders can still learn how to read and improve comprehension, but they require early, intensive instruction. Depending on the severity of their deficit, some people with reading disorders benefit from use of assistive technology (for example, audiobooks, text-to-speech programs, and speech-to-text programs).

Please refer to the International Dyslexia Association’s website for more information on reading disorders.

Last reviewed: 
January 2018
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