What Causes Dyslexia?

One of the most common questions that families ask is: “What causes dyslexia?” They are sometimes surprised when we explain that dyslexia is caused by connection difficulties in the brain’s language centers.

The first sentence of the International Dyslexia Association definition of dyslexia states that dyslexia is “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin….You can read the IDA’s complete definition of dyslexia on their website. 

The definition is important because it means that dyslexia is not caused by a child being “lazy” or “unmotivated.”  Rather, their brain is wired differently when it comes to processing the structure of words.

The Brain’s Reading Network

Researchers have identified a complex network—a sort of geography—in the brain used by efficient readers:

  • The frontal word analysis area works to process sequences of speech sounds in words (Broca’s Area).
  • The middle word analysis area is the decoding hub, linking sounds to letters (Wernicke’s Area).
  • The word form area near the back of the brain helps to package the letters of words into visual units so that words can be read more automatically (occipito-temporal).
what causes dyslexia - image of the reading systems in the brain, adapted from Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz

What causes dyslexia is typically difficulty in sequencing the speech sounds of words and associated lower brain activation in the “decoding hub.” Essentially, the brain does not easily process the pattern and structure of words, so the word form area in the back of the brain has difficulty packaging words for automatic and effortless reading. This also impacts a student’s ability to easily sound out and spell words, and therefore makes it difficult for them to read and write fluently.

Helping Your Child with Dyslexia

Great news, though! Researchers have also confirmed that our brains have a certain amount of “plasticity,” or the ability to develop new processing skills and links. Explicit instruction using structured literacy concepts paired with intensive practice and repetition can change the brain patterns of students with dyslexia or other reading and writing challenges. When they learn to use the brain’s reading network they can become efficient readers and spellers.

Jen Parra, M.Ed, CALT, SLDS
Christy Olsson, B.A., CDA, CALT

This blog article has been written by Lexercise’s expert therapy partners, Jen Parra, and Christy Olsson. 

If you suspect your child has dyslexia, you can learn more about the 20 Most Common Symptoms or take the Lexercise dyslexia test.  If you’d like to connect with Jen Parra or Christy Olsson, schedule a free consultation today.

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Jen Parra

Jen Parra, M.Ed, CALT, SLDS | Multisensory Reading Center

With over 18 years of experience, Jen's passion is helping students become lifelong readers. "Structured literacy therapy can unlock a student's potential, and it is a privilege to partner with families as a guide on this journey."