Dyslexia Awareness Month

October 2021

child affected by dyslexia reading a book, digital illustrationAs a classroom teacher, I saw students struggling to learn to read, and it brought me back to growing up with my family. While I loved to read as a child, I watched my younger sister struggle to learn to read. My parents didn’t know what to do. She was well-spoken, quick- witted, and even tested into gifted services - but she couldn’t read or write. Growing up in the 90s, dyslexia was not discussed or recognized like it is today.  I was sympathetic to her struggles, but it wasn’t until years later that I began to ask myself why those struggles existed for her and not for me. These questions became my passion, and I have seen what a difference a teacher or a parent makes to a student who is struggling to read. I understand the uncertainty many teachers or parents may feel about how to best support children with dyslexia.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. The International Dyslexia Association states that over half of all students in special education have specific learning disorders, with over 80 percent of those specific learning disabilities in reading. In addition, there are countless other students with symptoms of dyslexia that will never qualify for special education services. There is an abundance of research around dyslexia today, and educators and policymakers are taking important steps to advance the knowledge of dyslexia and to create support services for these students. It is imperative that educators understand the struggles of students with dyslexia. 

If you have a student, family member, or personal struggle with dyslexia, explore the resources below. 

What is dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as: 

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. (International Dyslexia Association)

In 2020, Louisiana legislation stated their revised definition of dyslexia as: 

An unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader, most commonly caused by a difficulty in phonological processing, which affects the ability of an individual to speak, read, and spell. “Phonological processing” means the appreciation of the individual sounds of spoken and written language. (Act No. 206)

Although the definition of dyslexia varies, a few characteristics are agreed upon in all definitions: 

This usually means the student has had adequate and appropriate reading instruction. The individual has a normal intelligence level, he or she is often bright and well-spoken, which makes their poor reading and writing unexpected.

Individuals with dyslexia have a hard time decoding unfamiliar sounds and words which makes it difficult to read and spell. 


How widespread is dyslexia?

By Carolyn Cowen

table explaining how wide spread dyslexia is in the United States

About 13-14% of the school population nationwide are identified as having a handicapping condition that qualifies for Special Education (SPED) services.

One half of all students who are identified for Special Education are classified as having a learning disability (LD). About 85% of those students have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing.

Up to 15-20% of the population as a whole may have symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, weak spelling, and poor writing. Not all will qualify for Special Education, but most benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language (AKA, Structured Literacy Instruction). 

Carolyn D. Cowen, M.Ed., Social Media Editor/Strategist: Copyright © 2016 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). We encourage sharing of Examiner articles. If portions are cited, please make appropriate reference. Articles may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale. Permission to republish this article is available from info@interdys.org.


Red flags

Early screenings and early intervention are essential for students with dyslexia. Dyslexia screenings assess if there are symptoms of dyslexia in a student which qualifies them as “at risk.” It is important that classroom and special education teachers know the warning signs of dyslexia:

  • Poor processing of phonological awareness skills
  • Slow, labored reading
  • Poor spelling 
  • Needs extra repetition to master certain sound/symbol relationships
  • Family history - dyslexia is hereditary


Tips for working with students with dyslexia:


Because these students don’t naturally pick up on patterns in the English language, they need explicit instruction.  A student can memorize words from a spelling list, but if they learn the rule, they can apply it much more usefully when reading and writing. 


Each student is different. Know the warning signs of dyslexia to plan intervention appropriately. A student struggling to comprehend a passage needs different intervention than a student struggling to decode.


Don’t shy away from phonics in your instruction. It won’t hurt any students, and struggling students desperately need this instruction. Review your understanding of phonics rules and instruction.


Ask: “What am I assessing?” If it is content knowledge rather than reading ability, find creative ways to assess their knowledge such as orally answering rather than writing. You may be impressed with their knowledge of the subject!


Find creative ways to expose slower readers to a wide range of vocabulary. Finding audiobooks students enjoy will expose them to grade-level vocabulary.  Because they are reading slower than proficient readers, poor readers need exposure to new content and words. Teach new vocabulary in daily conversations because poor decoding skills can make grade-level vocabulary difficult to acquire without intentional instruction. 

Most importantly, encourage and support students.


References (and good resources!): 


Written by: Mitzi Berryhill

Mitzi Berryhill is a current graduate assistant and doctoral candidate at Louisiana State University. She taught ELA and History as a classroom teacher for four years. During this time, she earned an MEd in Dyslexia Therapy from the University of Southern Mississippi. She also received her certification as a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT). Mitzi then began working as an interventionist and private tutor before beginning her PhD journey.

Mitzi plans to focus her research on teacher resources for working with students with dyslexia. She also plans to use her platform to advocate for families and educators to have access to the current research and best practices in the field of dyslexia. 

To continue the conversation: mberr32@lsu.edu