Although the terms reading disability and dyslexia are often used interchangeably, they differ in meaning. A reading disability is part of a larger category known as "specific learning disability," whereas dyslexia is a more specialized term for a particular type of specific learning disability in reading. Educational evaluations assess people for specific learning disabilities in reading and dyslexia.
Areas of Reading Disability
A person can be identified with a specific learning disability in reading under the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004. Three areas may be identified: basic skills, reading comprehension and reading fluency. A disability in basic skills means that a person may struggle with tasks like associating particular sounds with letters or word decoding -- called phonological processes. A disability in reading comprehension means that a person struggles with understanding text. A disability in reading fluency means that a person may have a very slow rate of reading or poor accuracy. Each of the three areas may be classified as a reading disability.
Despite grade-level appropriate instruction in school, people with dyslexia often struggle when reading a word to figure out the sounds for a particular letter or group of letters. This in turn affects the ability to read words and paragraphs fluently, to spell words and to use words in writing. Many dyslexics find their struggles increase as reading demands increase. This might include textbooks with more complex sentence structure, longer novels and longer written assignments like essays. People with dyslexia may see a word, recognize it and know its meaning but be unable to pronounce it or may struggle with retrieving words while writing.
A reading disability is a generic term for a specific learning disability in areas of basic reading skills, reading comprehension and reading fluency. Dyslexia is a specialized term for a specific set of traits in the reading process that falls under the general category of specific learning disability in reading. Someone with dyslexia may be identified with disabilities in basic reading skills, reading comprehension and/or reading fluency as dyslexia often affects all three areas. Individuals with specialized training can offer remedial techniques for dyslexia in a highly structured, multisensory approach to teaching reading.
Evaluation and Diagnosis
Specific learning disabilities in reading and dyslexia are diagnosed through an educational evaluation. No one test can identify reading disabilities. An evaluation for specific learning disability in reading includes the history of the student and family, cognitive testing and academic achievement testing in basic reading, reading comprehension, reading fluency and written expression. Evaluations to identify dyslexia may include additional assessments in phonological processes, word recognition, word decoding, spelling, rapid naming, oral expression and listening comprehension. If a school district is determining eligibility for special education, a team of professionals and parents participates in a legal process to make that decision.
Aderyn Tosturi has been an educator and writer since 1984. Tosturi holds a Masters degree in education and a doctorate in music. Her areas of expertise include dyslexia, special education, assessment, exploring technology and teaching music to students with learning differences. Tosturi is also a composer who has written works ranging from piano solos to orchestral pieces.