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4 Contradictory Signs of Dyslexia

signs of dyslexia
A literacy instructor works 1:1 with a student in a bright and friendly classroom. This is the featured image for a blog post about the contradictory signs of dyslexia.

It is so important to recognize the signs of dyslexia in our students early on. That way, we can begin intervention as soon as possible. We can not stress enough how imperative it is that you are looking carefully and keenly during those early years.

As students get older, if they’ve had difficulties without the proper intervention that they need, it impacts all areas of school and life, as well as social-emotional development. The cascading effects and the secondary consequences truly impact everything. For both the academic piece, but also for the preservation of self-esteem, the earlier we can catch it, the better!

So, what do we do when some of those signs are contradictory? You may be witnessing wonderful things in your student in certain areas, however, they may be struggling in other areas - and that contradiction can make identifying dyslexia quite difficult. 

How do we define dyslexia?

When we’re talking about dyslexia, it’s important to root ourselves in the definition. There is an agreed-upon definition of dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA):

“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.”

Remember, the characteristics of dyslexia exist on a continuum. While the characteristic markers remain consistent, the range with which they impact an individual differs in severity (even within a family). The impact that dyslexia has on each individual with dyslexia is unique. 

With that said, it becomes easier to see how sometimes the deeper signs of dyslexia can almost begin to feel contradictory. This is what can often trip educators up in identifying an issue. Often, despite incredible work in one area, a child can still face challenges in another area. 

Here are four contradictory signs of dyslexia that can make diagnosing difficult: 

#1: Dyslexia is not an issue with cognition.

Despite the learning challenges that come with dyslexia, dyslexia is NOT linked to intelligence. Our students with dyslexia are often very smart and very bright. For that reason, many of them fall through the cracks or fly under the radar. 

Students with dyslexia can comprehend the spoken word, stories, movies, and they can engage in high-level conversations.

However, they struggle to understand the written word and they’re not able to express what they’ve read in the same manner they can when someone has read something to them. 

#2: Many students with dyslexia are highly creative, outside-the-box thinkers. 

The dyslexic brain is amazing. We’ve seen instances where children with dyslexia are highly creative, outside-of-the-box thinkers, and can even think in 3D. 

For more on the brain, check out: 4 Things to Know About the Connection Between Working Memory and Visualization

However, despite having all of those great problem-solving abilities and creativity, they struggle to harness them into their reading and writing output. 

#3: Older students with dyslexia can articulate advanced ideas.

Many older students with dyslexia have advanced ideas and can easily articulate them to you in conversation. 

However, despite having advanced ideas they may have retrieval issues. They have the idea floating around but they struggle to pull the right words to effectively explain it. This struggle with retrieval is why graphic organizers and word banks can really come in handy for children with dyslexia. 

#4: Often, the oral output is very high.

We see many of our students who can learn quickly and retain a lot of information in the areas of math, science, and social studies. They are able to have rich conversations based on what they’ve learned and they have a high rate of oral output. 

However, their written output is at a much lower level and they’re not utilizing those high vocabulary words and sentence structures in their written work. We see a large variance in their oral language versus their written language. 

Why does it matter?

Because dyslexia exists on a continuum, dyslexia looks different in different individuals, and there are sometimes contradictory signs of dyslexia, diagnosis can often be delayed. And, when a diagnosis is delayed, so are the interventions. 

As we know, delayed intervention can affect all aspects of a child’s life including academics and it can have a social-emotion impact on that student. 

For even more on the sometimes contradictory signs of dyslexia, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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