What is dyslexia anyway?

4 minute read

This post includes an audio version. If you prefer that you can listen here or on the JAL Audioblog Podcast

There are many conditions out there that I’m not aware of, so I understand that people don’t know about dyslexia. When they touch you on your environment, relatives, or even yourself, you get to know these conditions. Funny enough, dyslexia is not bad for your health or makes you sick, but it makes it hard to exist and move in this society.

More people are diagnosed with dyslexia every day, but society seems not to adapt to these people. But that not only happens with dyslexia but with many other conditions.


Since I am no physician, I would explain it in a non-technical sense. Dyslexic people have problems decoding the written word. The phase in which you recognize the patterns and build words is not functioning at optimal performance. The most basic example is reading a word like “doctor”, then in the following sentence, you find that word again, and you need to reread it! In a normal situation, we read very fast because we use pattern recognition. By just visualizing a word, you know it; a heavily dyslexic person can not or do it with great difficulty. For the rest, the brain could work perfectly.

This kind of thing doesn’t usually come alone. If you have dyslexia, you may also experience dyscalculia, dysgraphia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and others.

Side effects (In the current society)

If you think about it, dyslexia is a condition that doesn’t prevent you from working in almost any endeavour successfully, but in this society, there is a difficulty: Education.

Education these days is based on the reading. More often than not, teachers give notes and explain less and less. They rely on the student to read and understand the material and solve issues. That doesn’t sound bad, but it is almost impossible to learn that way when reading a paragraph is a pharaonic effort.

Imagine for a moment that reading for you is like reading with words and letters changing places, and you have to guess every single letter intentionally (you can try it here Dyslexia Simulator - SLD Read). And, every day coming back from school, you got several chapters to read for different subjects. If you are superhuman, you might do it for some weeks, but eventually, you will give up because you are working triple than everybody else, getting half of the results.

The education system should be adapted to cover the needs of all types of individuals.

The saddest part of all is the exams. How can you finish an exam on time if you are reading at less than half of the speed? And even if they give you double the time, you are exhausted after the effort.

What can you do?

Dyslexic people will improve in reading with time, but the problem will remain forever. There is no way that reading becomes a feasible learning mechanism. Instead, we need to give support with others tools like listening.

Listening is not easy either, but like reading, it can be practised and perfected to be used as an efficient learning mechanism. We can use listening in two ways; on one side, we can use our computers and handheld devices to convert text to audio. There are good tools that do that acceptably well. As an example, we have been using the Voice Dream app on iOS to convert notes to audio. I also use it daily to listen to many articles on the web. The same application can be used to scan and convert to audio. It is awe-inspiring how well it works. It even highlights the read text on your device screen.

I have to say that the reading capabilities of the Apple devices by default are excellent. Let me give you an example. Last weekend I was visiting Perugia in Italy. While walking around the city centre, I instruct my iPhone to read me the Wikipedia page for Perugia. Walking around was fantastic while getting informed about its history and many other details.

Thanks to Apple for the Macintosh and iPhone reading capabilities.

The second way is to get directly audio or create it ourselves. We parents can help our kids by making a recording of the lessons and setting up a process for our kids to consume those audio files. Subjects like history or biology map very well with audio files. If we record lessons in short files, they can listen to those files while walking to school or playing basketball. It is impressive how good the retention is. There is a nice side effect to that job: you will refresh your knowledge of those subjects!

I have started to think on one iOS application to help with that work. More on that soon.

I’m also dyslexic.

I’m writing all this because my son Pau was diagnosed with dyslexia many years ago. Since then, we have been working to improve his resource to handle all the hurdles that come with it. I also discovered that I’m dyslexic, but to a lesser degree than Pau. That explains many things, including my tendency to listen to audiobooks to meet my reading needs. In my bookshelf you can see small earbuds on every audiobook that I listen to. Some years it is bigger than the fifty per cent.


Here some books I have read about the topic