What Really Causes Dyslexia?

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What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a barrier to learning that is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Children who present with this learning difficulty may also have trouble with reading comprehension and a general disinterest in reading that can result in poor vocabulary and general knowledge.

What Causes Dyslexia?

In the scientific community, it is well recognized that Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin. A general consensus exists that Dyslexia is caused by an impairment in the brain’s ability to process phonemes – the speech sounds that make words different from each other; NOT by problems with vision, physical hearing or intelligence. In fact, most children who experience this difficulty are quite intelligent, yet, they fail to achieve academic results to match their intellectual potential.

Brain scans have revealed that Dyslexia affects the areas of the brain that process language. This confirmation begs the question – why are we trying to address a reading barrier by encouraging more reading rather than addressing the root cause of the problem?

Dyslexia at its Root

In order to understand the root cause of Dyslexia, we need to look at how the capacity for language develops on a neurobiological level. From the time they are babies, children’s brains are primed for language development by, first of all, hearing their native tongue.

They learn to identify and distinguish between sounds and later begin to string them together into words. If everything goes according to plan, we can expect to hear their first words (typically ‘mama’ and ‘dada’) around the age of one year. From here, we would expect their vocabulary to expand fairly quickly and evolve to the use of short sentences by age two.

But, what happens when all does not go according to plan? Frequent ear infections, an overall lack of auditory stimulation, or in cases where the brain is simply ‘wired’ differently, language delays may become evident and later translate to delays in literacy development.

Naturally, we then need to return to the root of the problem in order to thoroughly address it. If the brain is not able to accurately process, identify and distinguish between speech sounds, it follows that the child will have trouble matching these sounds to their letter symbols and a reading disability will likely be the result.

How do we Intervene at the Root rather than Alleviating the Symptoms?

Firstly, we need to be on the lookout for the early signs of Dyslexia. Early intervention is key and contributes to a successful outcome of any intervention that is applied. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention offers fantastic resources for parents to aid in tracking all developmental milestones.

The early signs of Dyslexia include:

  • Speech delay
  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty telling the difference between sounds, especially sounds which sound similar
  • Problems remembering the names of letters, colours or numbers
  • Difficulty with rhyming
  • Difficulty following instructions and/or multi-step instructions

Countless research studies have indicated that intensive and rigorous auditory and phonics training is highly effective in remediating reading difficulties such as Dyslexia. Structured assessment and intervention by a Speech and Language Therapist or computerized interventions such as Fast ForWord are good starting points.


The sooner dyslexia is treated, the more favourable the outcome. However, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn to improve their language skills.

To find out more or to be referred to a reputable specialist near you, we urge you to get in touch with us by dropping us an email at info@indigolearning.co.za or giving us a call at 081 488 5182.