Dyslexia in the Classroom

Dyslexia affects somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of the total United States population and as many as 80 percent of students with reading disabilities, according to the University of Michigan’s Dyslexia Help. While dyslexia can affect people of all ages, it’s particularly impactful to young students.

High school students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities are more likely to fail or earn lower grades in courses than their peers, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) reported in 2014. Students of all ages with dyslexia and other learning disabilities are also more likely to be held back a year, experience heightened disciplinary actions, or even struggle to graduate.

By addressing dyslexia and similar learning disabilities early on, parents and educators can help students avoid academic frustrations, find success in the classroom, and, ultimately, avoid the employment issues that many adults with learning disabilities face.

What is Dyslexia?

As the NCLD explains, dyslexia is one of the most common specific learning disabilities and is related to reading. Students with dyslexia are unable to process written language optimally and have psychological difficulty reading and differentiating phonemes in text, discerning among different sounding words and ultimately have difficulty with spelling, comprehending text, decoding words and learning vocabulary among other issues.


Dyslexia and other learning disabilities are not related to intellectual disabilities or emotional problems, but they have been tied to poor nutrition, trouble with young brain development, and poverty.

While dyslexia only refers to difficulty with reading, there are other terms for similar disabilities for writing and mathematics. Dysgraphia refers to a disability that makes writing accurately, consistently, and with correct spelling and grammar difficult. Dyscalculia is a learning disability related to difficulty with mathematics for everything from classroom calculations to real-world money counting. The NCLD also points to auditory and visual processing deficits as similar learning disabilities affecting students abilities to read, write, learn, and fully participate in the classroom.

Half of all students with learning disabilities experienced school disciplinary action, one-third have been held back for at least one year, and students with learning disabilities are as much 5 to 21 percent more likely to perform below average academically than able peers, NCLD reported.

Although significantly fewer students with dyslexia and learning disabilities are dropping out of high school than as recently as ten years ago, the number of students with these issues is likely much higher than reported. The NCLD notes that about 2.4 million or 5 percent of school-age children have identified learning disabilities but the number is likely as much as 15 percent higher.

Early identification by parents and educators is a critical step for helping students with learning disabilities thrive.

Dyslexia and its related disabilities are more likely to affect males, the NCLD reported but the exact reasoning is unknown. Children who are experiencing homelessness, living in foster care or have a low household income are also significantly more likely to have learning disabilities. These factors are associated with poorer health and academic success.

Students with dyslexia and learning disabilities will succeed the best when teachers or parents pick up on the warning signs of difficulty reading, comprehending or other signs of academic woes and work together with school administrators to create an academic plan.

What Can Teachers Do?

Although dyslexia and similar learning disabilities affect such a high number of U.S. students, there are a number of activities and lessons that teachers can adopt to help improve fluency, comprehension, and learning.

Young students may benefit from constant reading of small signs and posters, the inclusion of more rhyming books on the reading list, and fun phonetic-matching games, Michigan’s Dyslexia Help suggests. Teachers can help older students by including more diverse reading and writing each day, giving students more time for tests and answering questions, providing greater access to textbooks, and using more challenging vocabulary and word retrieval games such a Scrabble. Teachers, students, and parents can work together with school administrators to create an Individualized Education Program with specifics.

There are hundreds of approaches that teachers can take to aid and challenge students with learning disabilities to ensure better comprehension–from including long-term study partners to modeling self-monitoring during reading. Technology has also emerged as a useful tool.

Text-to-speech softwares give dyslexic students a secondary form of independent reading while tablets and word processors help dysgraphic students write how they want to. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity points to smartphones, iPads, smartpens, dictation software, and simple word processors as important classroom tools for students to live with their disabilities.

New tools and teaching technologies have allowed the number of students learning in general education classrooms versus special education classrooms rise in recent years, the NCLD reports.

By not classifying students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities as special needs students, which is declining consistently across the U.S since 2006, these students can be put in the best situation to thrive. Students with learning disabilities can have their learning slowed by special education classrooms where other students have severe intellectual or behavioral issues. General education classrooms with certain study aids and IEPs can allow students with dyslexia to succeed along with their peers and stay on pace for graduation and college. The change in classification is due to a shift from academic achievement to potential ability, according to the NCLD.

What Can Parents Do?

Aside from working with teachers and the school to ensure that dyslexic students have the tools they need in the classroom to find success, parents can take a number of other steps.

One parent told Yale’s Center for Dyslexia and Creativity that her child, who is now an adult lawyer, did best with the help of a tutor and, later, a dyslexia expert. These people helped her child understand what aspects of academic frustration were due to the disability and which were typical of academics, therefore helping the student understand how to overcome them.

Michigan advised parents to be firm and loving in their treatment of the students. Dyslexic children need to work harder and repeat work often in order to learn, but it’s also important to know their limits, take breaks, and have fun with the work.

After K12

Although there are a number of techniques that help students overcome the difficulties of dyslexia and other learning disabilities in elementary and high school, the challenges don’t disappear after graduation. Many college students and working adults face difficulties caused by their learning disabilities frequently.

Luckily, as U.S. News & World Report explained, colleges have been making a greater effort to help students with learning disabilities thrive in the college environment. Whether it means more time for exams or meeting with academic specialists, an increasing number of schools are focused on helping all students thrive.

Having dyslexia or learning disabilities doesn’t stop college graduates from pursuing their dream jobs either. According to Michigan’s Dyslexia Help, there are highly successful adults with dyslexia in every field. Many people are able to overcome their learning disabilities by pursuing a career that they’re sufficiently passionate about, while others go into fields, such as mathematics or science, where the work that they have trouble with is less prominent.

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