What is a Reading Disability?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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A reading disability is a specific type of learning disability. The affects of a learning disability on specific processes are known by name. Dyslexia is a language or reading disability, while dyscalculia identifies a problem with math calculations and dysgraphia is a writing disorder that results in illegibility.

A reading disability is not always easy to identify. The individual suffers from a neurological “short circuit,” so to speak, that results in a reading disability, but through memorization or other form of compensation, a child may appear to have little or no difficulty with early reading. The problem may not become obvious until the primary grades when more intensive intervention is required. To further complicate diagnosis of a reading disability, the process of proficient reading is more complex than most people realize. Adept readers take the complexity of the reading process for granted, but those who suffer from dyslexia have a neurological issue that makes decoding, comprehension and retention difficult, if not impossible without help. In order to receive help, individuals with a reading disability must first have the neurodevelopmental issue identified.


Signs of a reading disability include slow and painful reading, confusion of letter order, difficulty recalling common “sight” words, or frequently substituting common words like “I,” “a,” “the,” “he,” and “she.” Individuals with reading disabilities often display a notable difference in comprehension of the written word versus the spoken word. Children with a reading disability who attend curriculum based or academic intensive preschool programs are often identified earlier than those who do not engage in early reading processes. The vast majority of educators believe that early identification leads to larger success in overcoming the challenges of dyslexia.

While there is no “cure” or permanent fix for a reading disability, there are specific strategies that can be taught to help individuals learn to decode, comprehend and retain written information. Though the individual may struggle with reading their entire lives — especially of complex or technical text — early identification and reading intervention strategies will make a big difference in their reading success. If a parent suspects their child has a reading disability, the best way to address it is to have the child evaluated by an educational or occupational professional. If a learning disability is identified, these professionals will be able to help arrange reading intervention strategies that will help the child learn to decode, comprehend and retain despite their unique challenges with words.


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