Dyslexia is a learning difficulty characterised by challenges in reading and spelling despite adequate learning opportunities, and in the absence of other cognitive (such as ADHD) or sensory disabilities (such as visual impairment) (APA, 2013; de Jong, 2020). While there is general consensus on the reading deficit experienced by individuals with dyslexia (Fletcher et al., 2019), misconceptions surrounding its underlying causes, assessment, identification and intervention strategies persist (Clemens & Vaughn, 2023). This blog explores recent survey findings that shed light on these misconceptions and their implications for accurate dyslexia assessment.
In our survey of 275 dyslexia professionals involved in the assessment and diagnosis of dyslexia, we explored their beliefs about indicators of dyslexia. The results highlight several misconceptions that are worth addressing:
- Letter reversals: Professionals surveyed believed that dyslexia is characterised by reading letters in reverse order (61 per cent) or seeing letters jump around (33 per cent). However, research has shown that letter reversals are more closely related to a specific stage of reading development rather than being exclusive to dyslexia. Studies have found no significant differences in the occurrence of letter reversals between dyslexic and non-dyslexic individuals (see for example Peter et al., 2021).
- Creativity: 17 per cent of the professionals surveyed associated dyslexia with high levels of creativity. However, a recent meta-analysis comparing creativity levels in dyslexic and non-dyslexic children found no significant differences (Erbeli et al., 2022). Creativity is not a defining characteristic of dyslexia.
- Motor skills difficulties or clumsiness: 17 per cent of the survey participants believed that being clumsy or having motor skills difficulties is an indicator of dyslexia. Past studies have reported no motor skill differences between children with dyslexia when compared to their typically developing peers (see for example Savage, 2004).
- Coloured overlays: 15 per cent of the professionals surveyed believed that dyslexic children struggle with reading when text is displayed on certain coloured backgrounds. However, a systematic review concluded that there is no evidence supporting the use of coloured overlays or coloured lenses to improve reading skills in students with dyslexia (Suttle et al., 2018).
- Specific dyslexia fonts: Another misconception held by 12 per cent of the survey participants is the belief that dyslexic children face difficulties when reading text in specific text fonts. Experimental studies have failed to demonstrate any additional benefits of dyslexia-friendly fonts over commonly used fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman in improving reading skills for children with dyslexia (see for example Galliussi et al., 2020).
Addressing the consequences
It is concerning that these commonly held misconceptions can lead to inaccurate judgments during dyslexia assessments. To ensure accurate evaluation and intervention, dyslexia and psychological associations in the UK must prioritise the integration of evidence-based knowledge in their certification modules. By actively addressing these misconceptions, professionals can better support individuals with dyslexia.
‘It is concerning that these commonly held misconceptions can lead to inaccurate judgments during dyslexia assessments.’
In the pursuit of a better understanding of dyslexia, debunking prevailing misconceptions assumes great significance. The emphasis lies on highlighting these misconceptions and their lack of empirical support, with the ultimate goal of promoting informed and evidence-based practices in dyslexia assessment and intervention.
American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Clemens, N. H., & Vaughn, S. (2023). Understandings and misunderstandings about dyslexia: Introduction to the special issue. Reading Research Quarterly, 58(2), 181–187. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.499
de Jong, P. F. (2020). Diagnosing dyslexia. How deep should we dig? In J. A. Washington, D. L. Compton, & P. D. McCardle (Eds.), Dyslexia: Revisiting etiology, diagnosis, treatment, and policy (pp. 31–43). Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Erbeli, F., Peng, P., & Rice, M. (2021). No evidence of creative benefit accompanying dyslexia: A meta-analysis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 55(3), 242–253. https://doi.org/10.1177/00222194211010350
Fletcher, J., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L., & Barnes, M. A. (2019). Learning disabilities: From identification to intervention. Guilford Press.
Galliussi, J., Perondi, L., Chia, G., Gerbino, W., & Bernardis, P. (2020). Inter-letter spacing, inter-word spacing, and font with dyslexia-friendly features: Testing text readability in people with and without dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 70(1), 141–152. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11881-020-00194-x
Peter, B., Albert, A., Panagiotides, H., & Gray, S. (2021). Sequential and spatial letter reversals in adults with dyslexia during a word comparison task: Demystifying the “was saw” and “DB” myths. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 35(4), 340–367. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699206.2019.1705916
Savage, R. (2004). Motor skills, automaticity and developmental dyslexia: A review of the research literature. Reading and Writing, 17(3), 301–324. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:READ.0000017688.67137.80
Suttle, C. M., Lawrenson, J. G., & Conway, M. L. (2018). Efficacy of coloured overlays and lenses for treating reading difficulty: An overview of systematic reviews. Clinical and Experimental Optometry, 101(4), 514–520. https://doi.org/10.1111/cxo.12676