Dyslexia Is Not a Brain Disease

In August of 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed two new bills that are intended to make it easier to identify students who have dyslexia, which is defined as a neurologic disorder that makes it hard for children to learn to read. Yet dyslexia is not really a brain disease. Scientists have known since the 1920s that dyslexia is the result of using “sight words” instead of phonics for teaching children to read English. We need to use effective methods to teach reading, instead of telling healthy children that there is something wrong with their brains.

Is Dyslexia Really a Learning Disability?

Dyslexia is a label that is commonly applied to children who seem perfectly normal, except that they have not learned to read in school. Yet the word dyslexia was not originally intended for that purpose. It was originally used in cases in which adults had lost their ability to read as a result of a brain injury, such as from a stroke or from a blow to the head. This loss of reading ability generally went along with other signs of brain damage, including other problems with vision or language. If a child who otherwise seems perfectly normal is not learning to read in school, we should be cautious about using medical terms like dyslexia, which imply that the problem is in the child (and specifically in the child’s brain and nervous system), rather than in the school.
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