Dyslexia Statistics: Questions from a Superintendent

A Superintendent from a large district recently reached out to Brainspring with the following question….

“I was looking for some statistics regarding the rate of dyslexia in children ages 5-21.  Can you point me the right direction?  No one seems to have a real percentage. I just keep seeing 15-20% thrown around with no research behind that number. Thank you for any help you can provide.”

Dyslexia Statistics

The common statistic, 1 in 5 or 20%, comes from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.  Yale has been conducting longitudinal studies on dyslexia since the early 1980’s. Their studies have included thousands of students, making the Connecticut Longitudinal Study one of the largest studies on dyslexia to date.  Dr. Sally Shaywitz is the Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.  In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia, she writes, “The Connecticut study indicates that reading disability affects approximately one child in five”.  Dr. Shaywitz recently testified before Congress about dyslexia because she is thought to be one of the premiere experts on dyslexia.


Additional information comes from a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH), which has done extensive research on reading instruction and difficulties.  The NICHD has over 40 research sites including: Yale, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and The Mayo Clinic.  The NICHD assembled a panel to evaluate reading research.  They set out to review over 100,000 studies!  This panel is known as The National Reading Panel.  Their extensive report, written in 2000, is known as the Science of Teaching Reading.


 According to the NICHD “About 40% of the population have reading problems severe enough to hinder their enjoyment of reading. These problems are generally not developmental and do not diminish over time, but persist into adulthood without appropriate intervention. Because the percentage is so large, an arbitrary cutoff point of 20% was selected for the purpose of labeling children as disabled in basic reading skills. The difference between a child who has a learning disability in reading and a child who is simply a poor reader is only a difference in the severity of the problem.”   


 Even though the last fact includes an arbitrary number for dyslexia, it does not diminish the severity of the problem.  It’s important to think of dyslexia on a continuum; similar to the Autism Spectrum.   Approximately 40% of children struggle with reading and about half of those struggle so severely it can have a negative impact on the quality of life.  Imagine not being able to read your mail, prescription labels or instructions of any kind.  The good news is that reading instruction that is effective for dyslexic students is also beneficial for those who struggle less severely.  And the recommendations for dyslexic students are some of the same recommendations for emerging readers.  Therefore, educators who are trained to remediate dyslexia are trained to help a wide variety of reading difficulties and can even help head-off reading difficulties of emerging readers.


In a classroom of 30 students, there may be as many as 6 dyslexic students.

In a school with 500 students, there may be as many as 100 dyslexic students.

And in a district of 10,000 students, there may be as many as 2,000 dyslexic students.


Brainspring’s Educator Academy helps teachers bring Orton-Gillingham based multisensory instruction to the classroom. Our nationally accredited Phonics First® curriculum helps transform struggling readers into skilled learners with an effective, fun, multisensory approach.

For more information please visit brainspring.com or call 1-8007323211


Grossen, B. (1997). A Synthesis of Research on Reading from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. University of Oregon. Retrieved from: The National Right to Read Foundation. http://www.nrrf.org/old/synthesis_research.html#ref

Shaywitz, S. M. D. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia. New York: Vintage Books.


Visual-Spatial Learners

If you’ve ever done a google search on psychology related subjects, you may have at some point stumbled upon the image below. It’s creative, colorful, intriguing, and packs a load of information into a single image. It immediately provokes introspection.  When I first saw the image, it left me questioning my own cognitive processes. Am I more logical or creative? I’ve never been good at math, yet language-oriented subjects have always come intuitively to me. I have difficulty drawing and creating something spectacular from imagination, yet in my years of crocheting, I’ve built upon my skills to create things that are considered unique and impressive.

Once you start to reflect upon your own thinking, behavioral and learning processes, you may find that things aren’t as straight forward as they seem. Perhaps you’re creative, yet logical. You can make wonderful music, but you’re also a math whiz. You’re a visual-spatial learner, yet you process things sequentially. You may see how the two hemispheres play equal roles in your cognitive operations. On the other hand, you may be able to identify that either the right or left hemisphere clearly dominates your way of processing.

The Human Brain

According to Gyarmathy, the two hemispheres of the human brain are significantly different in their functioning and everyone is capable of both types of functioning. The processing within each hemisphere is never isolated, and the coordination of the two is essential.   “The two types of information processing are needed to a different extent for the processing of different stimuli, the accomplishment of different tasks and the solution of different problems. The link is made by the corpus callosum. If it functions efficiently, information is accessible to both types of processing.”

“The left hemisphere is characterized by sequential, step-by-step processing. It can handle sequences, relations and parts. It is associated with functions in which seriality and sequentially is essential: speech, writing, reading, counting and logical analysis all require correctly assembling and joining up smaller parts of an informational whole.”

“The right hemisphere functions in a different way. It processes information holistically and simultaneously. This is why this hemisphere is associated with visuality, spatial abilities, understanding and enjoying music, imagination, emotions and humour. Everything that we grasp as a whole. We do not recognize a face bit by bit: instead, we simply perceive at once whom we see. The right hemisphere processes spatial-visual stimuli without analysis or taking relations into account.”

Atypical Dominance in Dyslexia

Gyarmathy writes that atypical dominance plays a significant role in dyslexia. The reason for this can be traced back to pre-natal development. Brain cells compete for survival during development and the winners are generally the brain cells of the left hemisphere. This is why the majority of the population is characterized by left hemisphere dominance. The brain cells of the right hemisphere prevail in dyslexics, thus resulting in an atypical dominance that processes things differently than the majority of people. For example, their brain is much more suited to process simultaneously present stimuli and images, rather than linking together sequential letters or words.

Another result of the stronger right-hemisphere dominance is that a dyslexic brain analyzes less details. There is room for imagination to fill the gaps. “For these individuals who form an image holistically, treat relations only roughly and take only a limited amount of detail into account, the letter “d” can appear to be a “b” or a “p”, or even a “q”, since they only see a line and a circle, but their brains are not sensitive to minute analysis. A long word with something sticking out here and there, could be “grandpa” as much as “spaceship.”

The benefits to right-hemisphere dominance are many, and they should not be undermined by tendencies of academia and society to favor logic and analysis.  Dyslexics can inherently see things in alternative ways, while seeing the big picture first then filling in the details later. Numerous studies show that the right-hemisphere dominance characteristic of dyslexics can be a root of creative thinking (Aliotti, 1981; Sheng-Ying Lii, 1986; West, 1991; Shaw 1992). New York Times recently mentioned a study in which “dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.”

Visual-Spatial Learners

Individuals with dyslexia are often referred to as “visual spatial learners”. This means that they primarily store and access information in picture form, words and wrote memory are secondary sources at best. Hands-on learning experiences can he highly beneficial too. A field trip to the grocery store can help integrate a lesson on nutrition. A hands-on experiment on a scientific concept or formula will not only show to the learner how it works in real life, but create a long-lasting memory of that knowledge.

For visual-spatial learners who need more imagery in their lessons, things like picture-based presentations, such as with sight words, and hands-on learning are essential to their success. These students need lots of imagery in their lessons, and something as simple as transforming a word into a photo can finally turn on that light-bulb in their minds.

Understanding the various roles of right and left hemisphere can help teachers become more aware of how it relates to differing learning processes, and can shed some light onto the challenges that come along with working with this atypical yet incredibly brilliant minority in the classroom.

Georgia Diamantopoulos

Georgia is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Shelby Township.

Eva Gyarmathy (2014) Dyslexia in the Digital Age: Difference, not Disability

Letter Reversals and Dyslexia

Why do some students reverse b and d when writing and reading?  Why do other students read words such as “was” as “saw”?  Samantha Brooks takes a deeper look at reversals and dyslexia.

Parents and teachers may become alarmed when looking at their child’s writing and see that they are confusing letters such as b/d, p/q or m/w.  It is no wonder they feel a sense of panic, as reversals have become strongly associated with dyslexia.

According to Sally Shaywitz, MD, one of America’s premiere pediatricians and expert researchers on Dyslexia, one of the most enduring misconceptions is that dyslexic children see letters and words backward. Furthermore, Shaywitz explains that reversals are an invariable sign that a child has Dyslexia. Dr. Shaywitz points out that because of the beliefs on the correlation between reversals and Dyslexia are so prevalent, many dyslexic children who do not make reversals are often undiagnosed. Again this leads to the misconception that for a Dyslexia diagnosis, a child must reverse letters in writing or “see” words backwards.

It is very important for educators and parents to understand why such reversals occur.  To uncover this mystery, we must understand what we are asking children to do when we are teaching them to read.  In our system, learning to read is based on the alphabetic principle.  This means that a child must attach a label or name to a letter. The child must also understand that sounds are represented by letters, which are joined together to form words.  The 26 letters of the alphabet consist of a series of sticks, circles and curves that are combined to make up these letters.  Up until this point, the child knows that an object is an object no matter if it’s upside down or turned about. This is not so with letters.  Direction now matters.

Current research tells us that the root of dyslexia lies in the way the brain processes sounds.  There is no evidence to suggest that dyslexia is directly correlated to seeing letters and words backwards.  Backwards writing and letter reversals are very common in the early stages of writing, when the orthographic representation (forming letters and spelling) is not fully developed.  Some children with dyslexia continue to reverse letters longer than children without reading difficulties. However, this is likely due to delayed development in reading rather than a separate issue with how the child “sees” and replicates letters in their writing.

 Helpful Tips 

  • Address one discrimination at a time and over-teach one of the letters before introducing the other.  For example, if you are addressing the b/d reversal, over-teach writing of the “b” before introducing the “d”.
  • Use multi-sensory materials while teaching the letter(s).  Be sure the child says the letter name and sound while tracing the letter (“b” says /b/ while tracing the letter-repeat multiple times). This creates a neurolinguistic pathway in the brain that will aid in memory.
  • Use visual and oral scripted auditory cues to cue correct letter formation.  A common auditory script cue is to teach the “b” as a “bat before a ball” to cue that the stick is formed first while writing the letter.  The “d” is cued as a “ drum stick”.  Placing a visual cue on the student’s desk or in front of the classroom can also help. Laminating a copy of the b/d posters and using an expo/dry erase marker to practice writing the b-“bat before ball” and d-“drum…stick” will strengthen the correct recall for letter formation.

DOWNLOAD Brainspring’s b-bat and d-drum posters!

Check out another Multisensory Monday tip for b/d reversals HERE!

Samantha Brooks, MSE, Dyslexia Therapist

Samantha Brooks is an Instructor with Brainspring Educator Academy.


Dyslexia & Learning a Second Language

Learning a New Language

I’m planning a trip to Central America, and instead of daydreaming about serene beaches, I’m fearfully anticipating that blank, confused, lost-for-words expression that will come over my face when some local starts to converse with me. To work through this fear, I downloaded a Spanish lesson audio course and uploaded it onto my iPod. I’ve been listening to it as I drive. I’ve been hoping that by doing this I’ll get the gist of the grammar quickly and learn to put together some phrases with the help of the years I spent studying another Latin language, French. Perhaps I’ll even be able to speak with good pronunciation, given that my native language is Greek.

What I do know for sure is that I won’t get far in my Spanish learning if I don’t stick to the lessons. I wouldn’t be as proficient in Greek if I didn’t make the effort to daily practice speaking, reading, and writing. Though Greek was my first language, language attrition is often inevitable, and incomplete learning of a heritage language is very common.

Second Languages & Struggling Readers

Having been on both sides of the classroom as an ESL teacher in Greece, as well as a student of a second language, I can say with certainty that learning a second language is a challenge. So I’m left wondering, what is it like for a struggling reader? For some, learning to read English may seem  like a tough enough mountain to climb. Would attempting to hike another be too ambitious? Students that struggle with dyslexia should not be held back from attempting to learn second languages. Fortunately, there are some languages that have reader-friendly writing systems that can ease the process of learning a second language.

Writing systems can be categorized by orthographic depth: shallow (also called transparent) and deep (also called opaque). This categorization refers to how likely orthography is to “support a word recognition process that involves language phonology” (Katz).  English, Hungarian, and French are opaque writing systems and are irregular in terms of showing a one-to-one correspondence between phoneme and grapheme. According to Port, their transparent counterparts include Spanish, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, and Albanian whose writing systems are more consistent in showing one-to-one phoneme/grapheme correspondence. The following diagram shows some of the contrast found in grapheme to phoneme correspondence between English and Greek consonants.

             Ratios      English (grapheme)        Greek (grapheme)         IPA (phoneme)
 En 3:1  vs  Gr 1:1         kid, cat, kick               k                 k
       2:1   vs  n/a        church, pitch            n/a                tʃ
       1:2   vs  1:1            thistle              θ                 θ
       1:2   vs  1:1             them              δ                 ð
       3:1   vs   n/a    Josh, Gino, edge             n/a                dʒ
       2:1   vs  1:1     telephone,  fun              φ                 f
      2:1    vs   1:1          kicks, box               ξ                 ks

Although consonants in Greek have a high correspondence ratio, their vowels do not. For examples, the phoneme /i/ can be written in six different ways: ι, η, υ, ει, οι and υι. This makes Greek often considered  a language with intermediate depth along with German, Hungarian, and Portuguese.

To make another contrast, Helmuth states that “Italian has 33 ways to spell its 25 sounds while English has approximately 1,120 ways to spell its 40 sounds.” This irregularity is attributed to how English has evolved as well as the influence of borrowed words.  The writing systems of languages are very influential in how dyslexia is manifested. Paulesu, a knowledgeable scholar in the field of Italian vs English dyslexia, suggests that mild dyslexia may be “aggravated” by opaque orthographies like English or French, so that mild dyslexia may not be obvious in an Italian reader, while it would be in an English reader. The neurology of dyslexic readers remains the same across languages, but according to Dulude, English speakers have a high prevalence of dyslexia as compared to speakers of other languages. Dyslexia is primarily an issue of phonemic awareness and converting graphemes to phonemes, so languages with transparent writing systems are the ones whose speakers have relatively low rates of dyslexia because it is easier to convert graphemes to phonemes when there is an almost on-to-one correspondence. Dulude also references Japanese, where there is a perfect one-to-one correspondence of grapheme to sound, and mentions a study in which a college student who is natively bilingual in Japanese and English has severe reading problems in English but no issues in Japanese.

In a 2008 study performed by Serrano, a group of Spanish-speaking dyslexic children were compared to two control groups and measured by pseudohomophone reading, a homophone choice task and phonological awareness task. Accuracy and performance time were measured. Results showed a deficit on all tasks by the dyslexic group, with the speed problems being more evident and relevant than accuracy problems.

What is even more striking is the way in which opaque orthographies can affect the reading speed of even non-dyslexic adult readers.  According to Frost, “in non-dyslexic, fully grown readers, there is a reading speed difference between languages with transparent orthographies and languages with opaque orthographies.”

The ways in which, and extent to which, dyslexia manifests varies widely from language to language. Based on the studies mentioned, orthography plays a crucial role in the way both dyslexic and non-dyslexic readers perform in literacy. Opaque orthographies are more likely to produce difficulties in terms of accuracy and speed of literacy. For a student with dyslexia who is deciding to learn a second language, the writing-related features of languages should be kept in mind when deciding which one to choose. Learning a second language can open many doors in terms of travel, working abroad, and creating a rich personal life. A second language can provide the potential to create new friendships and have meaningful conversations that can expand your world view and insight. On a more practical level, learning a second language can help a student to simply feel confident navigating daily activities while traveling. These were all some of the things that inspired me to teach English, and I hope they can also be of inspiration to those considering learning a second language!


Georgia Diamantopoulos

Georgia is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Shelby Township.

For more information about Brainspring’s Tutoring Services please visit https://brainspring.com/tutoring-services/



http://www.haskins.yale.edu/sr/SR111/SR111_11.pdf (Katz)

The Graphical Basis of Phones and Phonemes by Robert F. Port


Dyslexia speed problems in a transparent orthography; Serrano F1Defior S.