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The Different Reading Disabilities Explained

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Learning to read with impairments in phonological processing, fluency or speed, and reading comprehension can be difficult. Struggling readers can get frustrated with their inability to keep up with their peers, which can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

Children who suffer from reading disabilities need all the support they can get. That’s why in this article we will go over the common types of reading disabilities, and some ideas for treating them. With the right kind of support, these children will be able to cope and sometimes even overcome these learning obstacles.


The most common reading disability is dyslexia, with an estimated 5-10% of the world population affected by it. This learning disability is characterized by difficulty with phonemes and a phonological deficit. This means they will have trouble matching the letters on a page with the sounds they make. Being unable to find the right sound causes the child or adult to spell words incorrectly, have difficulty learning a second language, and have difficulty with reading fluency.

It must be said that being dyslexic has nothing to do with intelligence. Even though people who suffer from dyslexia may read slowly, they typically are creative, motivated, and have a strong ability to reason. Many successful people are said to be dyslexic, including Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, and Jim Carrey.


There are some early warning signs to look for if you suspect your young child has dyslexia:

  • They start talking at a later stage than other kids their age

  • Difficulty remembering or naming numbers, letters, and colors

  • Reversing sounds in words

  • Confusing words that sound similar

  • Low phonological awareness; trouble learning nursery rhymes or rhyming in general

  • Difficulty spelling

  • Difficulty matching words with their meanings

  • Problems remembering sequences

There are several types of dyslexia:

  • Dyseidetic/visual dyslexia: This type of dyslexia is characterized by trouble decoding and/or spelling words. This difficulty is caused by an inability to remember or revisualize the word, especially sight words (be, but, do, have, etc.) He or she will often reverse words or letters when reading. This represents a problem with visual processing and word sequencing.

  • Dysphonetic/auditory dyslexia: When the learner has difficulty with decoding and/or spelling words because he or she is unable to associate the right sound with the right symbol, this is auditory dyslexia. This means the child has a deficit in auditory processing and linking the sound to the visual cue.

  • Dysphoneidetic/mixed dyslexia: This type occurs when the learner has trouble with both visual and auditory processing.


Dyslexia is caused by genes. So if someone in the family has it, it will mean the child is predisposed to be dyslexic. And if you have it, your child has a 50% chance of having it.

Specifically, dyslexia is caused by the brain processing written words differently than non-dyslexic brains do.

For reading, dyslexic brains rely on Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, while strong readers rely on the area between the Occipital and Temporal lobes. This area at the back left of the brain allows the reader to recognize words quickly, while the area in the front of the cerebrum isn’t as effective. This explains the difficulty dyslexic readers have quickly processing words.

Treatment options

Early intervention can be key when it comes to preventing dyslexia. Some children have a mild form of the disability which they can overcome with the right instruction. But, every child experiences dyslexia differently. Some will struggle with it throughout their life.

However, this doesn’t mean those with severe dyslexia can’t go to college or find success in their life. With the right tools, your child can learn how to cope with a dyslexic impairment. Let’s take a look at some forms of treatment that can help your child cope with dyslexia, and hopefully overcome it.

Reading Programs

Oftentimes a tutoring program or special education program can help a child overcome the difficulties of dyslexia. Finding an experienced reading specialist can give your child the extra help they need to learn phonics and sight words, word recognition, increase their phonological processing speed, reading comprehension, more effective writing, and improve their overall reading skills.

Your specialist or tutor may use the Orton-Gillingham technique or multisensory instruction to help your child learn to read. The Orton-Gillingham technique helps poor readers match letters and sounds, as well as learn the sounds of letters within words. And using multisensory tools can also give your child another dimension to help them improve both their writing and reading abilities.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

Schools are required by law to set up IEPs for children with learning difficulties. These are learning plans specialized for each child’s specific learning disabilities. It will take into account your child’s needs and how the school plans to meet those needs. The plan will be updated yearly to factor in any progress or difficulties encountered during that year.

The IEP may include special education provided by the school’s learning or reading specialist to help with reading instruction. These may be one-on-one sessions or group sessions with other special needs students. Your child may also be provided with special accommodations in their classes, including audiobooks, more time to complete tests, and the opportunity to use text-to-speech in their classes.

Emotional Support

Dealing with dyslexia can leave a child feeling anxious, angry, and depressed. They may have trouble expressing the way their issue makes them feel, and it is up to the parent to help them learn to talk about their feelings.

As a parent, be sure to avoid making grades a priority or using words like “lazy” and “hopeless”. Avoid perfectionistic thinking and instead celebrate small successes after setting realistic goals. It can also be helpful to join a support group to normalize dyslexia and help your child feel less alone.


Alexia, also known as acquired dyslexia, is a reading disorder that leaves the person unable to understand written material. These individuals are typically able to write, spell, and understand speech, but can have trouble reading. This can even include the inability to read something they just wrote.


There are two categories of alexia: Peripheral alexia and central alexia. Those with peripheral alexia have a visual blockage and include the types hemianopia, neglect, and attentional alexia. Central alexia is a general language disorder, and the person is unable to read well, and may also have problems with speech and writing.

The types of central alexia include:

  • Phonological alexia: The most common form of alexia, this disorder leaves the person unable to read words they are unfamiliar with. They also have trouble sounding out written words.

  • Deep alexia: This is a more severe version of phonological alexia. Additionally, those with deep alexia can confuse the meanings of words for those with related meanings. As an example, the word “cat” can be confused with the word “dog”.

  • Pure alexia/alexia without agraphia/letter-by-letter reading: Those with pure alexia can name individual letters, but have trouble reading the words themselves and word sequences.

  • Surface alexia/orthographic alexia: Those with surface alexia have no issue with regular words like “cat”, especially single syllables, but will struggle with word recognition of irregular words, such as “patient”.


Alexia, though rare, is caused by injuries, damage, or trauma to the brain. It is most often associated with stroke victims and other neurological issues.

Specifically, the alexic person acquires brain lesions that disconnect the parts of the brain that makes visual associations with the ones that interpret language.

Treatment options

Those with alexia will get treatment options recommended by their speech-language pathologist and/or ophthalmologist. What type of treatment they get will depend on what case of alexia the person has, and how severe it is.

Here are a few options you may encounter:

  • LiPS (Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program): LiPS has been used in many studies to help patients identify sound sequences within words. This helps them find the differences between words by learning to sound them out.

  • Read Right Therapy: This form of therapy features written text that moves across a screen, from right to left. The patient can control how quickly the words move and the topic of the text. This form of treatment is most helpful for those with hermianopic alexia.

  • Tactile-kinesthetic: As previously mentioned, multisensory treatments can help those with reading difficulties. Using tactile-kinesthetic includes the use of touch and movement to determine letters and words.

  • Multiple Oral Reading (MOR): With MOR, the patient will re-read a specific text for half an hour daily, for a week straight. This reading intervention technique will help improve reading fluency.


A child with hyperlexia can read much earlier and at a much higher level than other kids their age. The hyperlexic child excels at decoding language, which enables them to read very early. They can be very good at spelling long words before the age of two and will be blazing through whole sentences the following year.

However, these children may have trouble understanding speech. They also may struggle with comprehension deficits. Hyperlexics differ from children who are gifted readers because they will have below-average oral language skills.


There are a few signs that may indicate that your child is hyperlexic:

  • Is fascinated by things like letters, numbers, fonts, languages, anatomy, and geography

  • Difficulty speaking or communicating

  • May have some behavioral problems like poor eye contact, trouble giving and receiving affection, withdrawal, and repetitive behaviors

  • Low language comprehension skills

  • Will teach themselves to read or with little teaching

  • Will like books more than toys or games

There are several types of hyperlexia. They are:

  • Hyperlexia I: This type, though rare, includes neurotypical children who are reading very early. Oftentimes they are able to read at a 7th-grade level upon starting kindergarten.

  • Hyperlexia II: This includes children who are autistic. Kids with hyperlexia II are obsessed with letters and numbers and things like birthdays, license plate numbers, or the solar system. They will show behavioral problems like avoiding eye contact, withdrawal, and easily feeling sensory overload.

  • Hyperlexia III: This type of hyperlexia can show some of the autistic behaviors mentioned above, but they will typically go away. Those with hyperlexia III can have amazing memory and comprehension skills but will have difficulty speaking.


Hyperlexia is often associated with autism. However, as you can see from the types listed above, not all hyperlexics are on the autism spectrum. And not all autistic children have hyperlexia (it is estimated only between 6 to 14% are affected by it).

Therefore, the causes of hyperlexia are still unknown and more research is needed.

Treatment Options

Your child’s hyperlexia treatment plan should be tailored to their exact needs. He or she may need learning assistance over a few years, or it may have to extend into the foreseeable future.

  • Speech therapy: To help improve a child’s expressive language, spoken word comprehension, and social interaction, working with a speech therapist can help. He or she will use things like visual timetables/schedules, pictures, visual prompts, association games, cause and effect predictions, and social stories.

  • Occupational therapy (OT): OT can help your child improve their fine motor skills, impulse control, motor planning, and more.

  • Individualized education programs (IEPs): As we’ve mentioned above, those with learning disabilities are allowed IEPs when entering school. These plans will lay out a designated path for your child’s specialized learning needs. Learners will get extra help in difficult subjects and with the skills they lack.

The Right Support Makes All the Difference

Dyslexics struggle with matching letters and sounds. Alexics struggle with injury-related reading issues. Hyperlexics may struggle with speaking and/or reading comprehension.

Whether your child suffers from reading disabilities like dyslexia, alexia, or hyperlexia, having your support will make all the difference. Whatever obstacle he or she faces, it is important to be patient and understanding while your child encounters reading problems.

We here at RiteCare Childhood Language Centers of California hope to help your child realize his or her full potential. We offer free speech, language, and literacy therapies that will improve your child’s communication skills and help overcome reading disabilities. You have our support.

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