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Dyslexia Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it hard to learn to read and understand written language. Even students with average or above-average intelligence can have dyslexia.

A common assumption about dyslexia is that letters or words seem reversed, like the word “was” appearing like “saw.” But the major problems for students with dyslexia are phonemic awareness, phonics, and rapid word recognition. To a person with dyslexia, words may look like this:


Dyslexia is not a visual problem. Dyslexia occurs because of subtle problems in information processing, especially in the language regions of the brain.

Dyslexia often runs in families and can only be formally diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by a reading specialist or psychologist. Pediatricians often know the signs of dyslexia and can guide families and teachers in recognizing the problem.

A child with dyslexia may have difficulty:

  • learning to talk or pronouncing longer words
  • rhyming
  • learning the sequence and letter names of the alphabet
  • learning to identify syllables (cow/boy in cowboy) and phonemes (b, a, t in bat)
  • reading and spelling words with the correct letter sequence (“top” vs. “pot”)
  • learning to read and write his or her name
  • learning the sequence of the days of the week
  • learning colors, shapes, and numbers
  • with handwriting and other fine-motor coordination

Students with dyslexia may need:

  • specialized instruction and special arrangements for tests
  • extra time for tests, homework, and taking notes in class

What Teachers Can Do

Students with dyslexia may avoid reading because it can be stressful and tiring. As a result, they can end up missing valuable reading practice and fall behind their classmates. This can hurt their self-esteem. Recognizing and appreciating their strengths — in math, sports, drama, art, creative problem solving, etc. — can provide critical emotional support.

Other helpful strategies for students with dyslexia are:

  • providing extra time to practice reading
  • connecting them with trained tutors
  • giving reading assignments in audio formats
  • offering customized learning aids and computer software

With the proper assistance, most students with dyslexia can learn to read and develop strategies that allow them to stay in regular classrooms.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013