What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is not a neutral word. To some, the word stigmatizes; to others, it liberates. Why does this seemingly simple word spark such divergent opinions and passions? What exactly is dyslexia?

To explore these questions, Blue Moose Literacy’s inaugural blog series will investigate the origin, characteristics, and complexities of defining dyslexia as we lead up to International Dyslexia Association’s 70th Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon on November 7-10.

Like any good logophile, we’ll begin our look at dyslexia by considering the morphology and etymology of the word dyslexia. Dys- stems from the Greek prefix denoting “bad” or “difficulty,” while lexia comes from the Greek lexis meaning “word” or “reading” (Etymonline). Lexis derives from the Proto-Indo-European root, leg, meaning “to collect” or “to gather words, to pick out words.” Therefore, taken altogether, the term dyslexia literally means a difficulty gathering words.

The term dyslexia originated in 1887 by a German ophthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin, after following six patients with “word blindness,” a term coined nine years earlier by Adolph Kussmaul, a German neurologist. Word blindness, which remained prevalent in medical journals for years to come, was an unfortunate misnomer suggesting that the disorder was a type of visual processing disorder.

Berlin’s coinage, “difficulty with words/reading” proved to be a much more accurate term than word blindness as research has revealed that the unexpected challenges some people experience with printed language is not visual in nature, but neurobiological.

Dyslexia, according to the IDA’s definition adopted in 2002, 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.”

Stay tuned for our next post as we continue to explore the fascinating origins of this neurobiological difference.

Please plan to visit us at the Moose Materials booth at IDA’s #DyslexiaCon19 in Portland in one week! We’d love to hear your answer to the question, “What is dyslexia?” 

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