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Types of Dyslexia - Explained

Did you know there are different types of Dyslexia?

Dyslexia can appear in several distinct ways and can affect some people differently.

Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder which consists of several subsets of distinct neuropsychological dysfunctions. This means that two children with dyslexia may not have the same reading challenges. Some dyslexic children may not be able to match sounds with letters. Others find it hard to recognize words by sight. Some read very slowly. And some read very well but struggle with spelling. In many cases, a dyslexic child may struggle with a mixture of these skills.


Reading and spelling require a combination of several individual skills. Researchers have begun to break these skills apart into different "types" in attempt to better understand and treat this complex reading disorder. Though there are no official types published, experts in the field suspect that each reading challenge can be linked to an individual cognitive function and have started creating categories for each. Reading specialists can distinguish between these functions and isolate the core function effecting a child's reading. This allows them to treat the dyslexia head on and can result in quicker, more effective treatment.

1. Phonological Dyslexia

This is what most people think of when they hear about dyslexia. Letter reversals, dropping or adding sounds, skipping words, and other phonological mistakes are signs that someone may have phonological dyslexia. This is because students can’t break down individual sounds of language (phonemic awareness) and match them with written symbols (letters). This makes it challenging to sound out words. Someone with this type of dyslexia may spell "was" as "saw" or " party" as "pawdy."

2. Surface Dyslexia

Surface (or "symbol imaging") dyslexia effects a child's ability to hold onto letter patterns and sight words. This makes it hard to remember common words and can lead to severe issues when spelling sight words such as "why" or "their" or "could." Kids with this type of dyslexia may have particular trouble with words that don’t sound the way they’re spelled, such as weight or debt. They may also take longer to be able to recognize common words by sight. That’s because they struggle to retain an image of the words. This skill is often referred to as "symbol imaging" and can affect other areas such as math and attention deficient disorder.

3. Rapid Naming Deficit

Kids with this reading challenge may struggle to identify letters and numbers quickly. They can say the names, but it takes them longer to name many of them in a row. Some experts think this problem reflects an issue with processing speed. This can effect word retrieval, reading fluency, and flexibility when reading or writing. A child with this type of dyslexia may give slow and inconsistent responses (occasionally reads and writes well and occasionally struggles greatly).

4. Visual Dyslexia

Media can misrepresent dyslexia by suggesting that kids "see" the letters differently. When in actuality, visual dyslexia can refer to a range of things. Sometimes, this term is used to describe surface dyslexia where a child struggles to retain an image of a word. More accurately, this term describes a child who may struggle with visual tracking and coordination. While he or she may be able to sound out words and recall sight words, they may struggle to track the words along a page, especially if there is unusual font or distracting images. This type of dyslexia may even effect handwriting as it become challenging for a child to visually plan the size and direction of his/her letters.


Dyslexia is a complex disorder often formed from a combination of these sub-types. It is not uncommon for a child to have challenges with phonemic awareness (phonological dyslexia) as well as issue with symbol imagery (surface dyslexia). No team has released a formal, diagnostic list of these types. Instead, leading experts have begun to popularize key phrases and distinctions to help identify these differences. This is because reading a complex processing requiring a perfect balance of several skills. This is why reading specialists need to know the types of dyslexia your child has. Using this information, they can come up with effective and lasting strategies to help. A full evaluation is the best way to identify those issues. It is important to note that there are several groups of thought regarding the different types of dyslexia.



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