What exactly is dyslexia? The strange thing is that nobody seems to know. The word is from the Greek “dys” (trouble) and “lexia” (reading). So we have a Greek term that is clearly intended to sound like a medical problem, but it just means “trouble reading.” Maybe we don’t need a medical degree to understand this.

Mayo Clinic dedicates a page to this supposed disorder, but what does the page say? “Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language.” The page then goes on to list “symptoms” as if this were a physiological problem, but the symptoms are nothing you’d expect a medical doctor to diagnose. Examples:

  • Learning new words slowly
  • Reading well below the expected level for age
  • Inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word
  • Avoiding activities that involve reading

The site WebMD has a similar page that describes dyslexia as, “a learning disorder that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and speak.” It then goes on to say that “It’s linked to genes, which is why the condition often runs in families. You're more likely to have dyslexia if your parents, siblings, or other family members have it.” But then it provides no specifics as to which genes are involved. Poverty also runs in families, but that does not necessarily make poverty a genetic condition. WebMD goes on to say, “Imaging scans in people with dyslexia show that areas of the brain that should be active when a person reads don't work properly.” That may be true, but well-trained musicians also exhibit different brain activity patterns when playing music, and nobody would attribute a person’s lack of musical skill (or adequate training) to an underlying medical cause.

In an article entitled, “Dyslexia treatment potentially discovered by French scientists studying the eye,” it is claimed that we have discovered a physiological source of dyslexia, but at this point it would seem to be highly speculative. The article does not discuss other factors, like for example how the researchers diagnosed dyslexia, how they excluded the effects of instruction methods, and whether their sample that they claim to be dyslexic is representative of the majority of people who have been labeled dyslexic. And the publisher of this article (The Independent) has a history of publishing (and then later removing) articles consisting of incorrect pseudo-scientific speculation.

Charles Schwab, founder of the financial company that bears his name, claims to have this disorder and also claims to have a son that has it. I had a personal email exchange with him years ago in which I asked if he could provide me with the clinical basis of dyslexia being regarded as an actual physiological disorder, but he provided none. One would think that a person of his resources would have some clinical data on the subject.

There are dozens of groups on social media that are apparently dedicated to dyslexia. There are international groups, state groups, local groups. Some parents and groups have taken to ironically describing this disability as a “blessing” or a “gift.” There even is an entire web site, dyslexia.com, that describes dyslexia as a “gift” right in its own logo. There are “academies” dedicated to dealing with the problem. If you want to find parents whose children have reading problems, the best way is to go looking for “dyslexia.” There seems to be little question among the affected public that if your child has a reading problem, there is something wrong with your child.

But what if it’s mostly a lie? Certainly there are people with varying degrees of eye problems that are causing them reading difficulties. Ditto for neurological disorders, including brain disorders. But these people probably constitute a tiny fraction of the population – far too small to account for the incredibly large number of people who believe themselves or their children to be sufferers.

“Dyslexia” is a convenient term that school districts use to confuse parents of children who aren't being taught to read properly. Shifting the blame from the teacher to the child is the districts' best defense for concealing their staggering failures. If I were an incompetent music tutor producing few successes among my students, I would certainly placate parents who’ve spent their time and money on me by telling them that their children just don’t have musical aptitude. That would be much more helpful (to me) than admitting my ineptitude and giving them a refund. It is even more helpful (to me) to declare that my students suffer from a supposed disorder called dysmusiki, frightening parents into thinking they need more of my services and winning myself a subsidy from the state that triples my income. With an incentive like that I’d want all of my students failing!

To understand your own “dyslexia,” find a friend who enjoys reading and have that person read these to you:

To understand your children’s “dyslexia,” read these: