Different Types of Dyslexia

By The Understood Team



At a Glance

  • Dyslexia shows itself in different ways and can involve a number of reading challenges.
  • There is no official list of dyslexia types. Some types are more widely recognized than others.
  • Knowing what type of dyslexia kids have can help professionals come up with the best teaching strategies.

Kids with dyslexia have trouble reading. But their reading challenges aren’t all the same. Some may not be able to match sounds with letters. Others find it hard to recognize words by sight. Some read very slowly. Most have difficulty in more than one area.

To better understand and treat reading challenges, experts have tried to break dyslexia down into “types.” They suspect that each type is linked to different areas of the brain. Experts also suspect a link to specific combinations of genes.

This doesn’t mean a person only has one “kind” of dyslexia or another. For example, it’s not like being either a type 1 or type 2 diabetic. Different types of dyslexia are more like pieces in a puzzle. Together, they form a unique profile of what someone’s reading challenges are. This can help reading specialists create a treatment plan that suits each student’s needs.

Experts have different ideas about how dyslexia issues should be broken down. As a result, there’s no official list of dyslexia types. But here are some of the more widely mentioned “types” of dyslexia that you might hear about:

Phonological Dyslexia

This is often what people are thinking of when they talk generally about dyslexia. Students can’t break down individual sounds of language (phonemic awareness) and match them with written symbols.

This makes it difficult to sound out or “decode” words. Most kids with reading issues have some degree of phonological dyslexia. It’s also sometimes referred to as dysphonetic dyslexia.

Surface Dyslexia

This makes it hard to remember whole words by sight. We all have to read some words by sight if they can’t be pronounced using the normal rules of pronunciation. We also read many regular words by sight once we encounter them often and become fluent readers.

Kids with dyslexia may have particular trouble with words that don’t sound the way they’re spelled, such as weight or debt. They may also take longer to be able to recognize common words by sight.

That’s because their problems with decoding can get in the way. Decoding issues keep kids from encountering words often enough to begin to recognize them as a whole.

Surface dyslexia is also called visual dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. It’s not uncommon for kids to have both surface and phonological dyslexia.

Rapid Naming Deficit

Kids with this issue can’t rapidly name letters and numbers when they see them. They can say the names, but it takes them longer to name many of them in a row. Experts think this problem reflects an issue with processing speed. They also think it’s linked to reading speed.

Double Deficit Dyslexia

Experts believe that issues with naming speed are separate from problems with phonemic awareness. But some kids have both. The “double deficit” refers to a mix of phonological dyslexia and rapid naming deficit.

Kids with this double deficit have trouble isolating sounds. And they can’t quickly name letters and numbers when they see them. This usually adds up to a more severe form of dyslexia that is particularly challenging to remedy.

Visual Dyslexia

Visual dyslexia can refer to a range of things, often suggesting an unusual visual experience when looking at words. This term sometimes describes the challenge of surface dyslexia. Kids can’t recognize whole words by sight. The reason most likely is that their brain finds it difficult to remember what the word looks like.

But some people use the term to mean something else. They think reading issues have to do with the eyes. Some claim reading can be improved through eye exercises or tinted lenses. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t endorse these approaches because there isn’t enough evidence to back them up.

You may hear about other kinds of dyslexia that aren’t widely recognized as actual “types.” For example, directional dyslexia refers to difficulty telling left from right and with sense of direction. Most experts recognize this as a common problem for people with dyslexia. But they don’t see it as a type of dyslexia on its own.

Some people also refer to something called math dyslexia. This is an inaccurate name for a brain-based math learning issue called dyscalculia, which is not a form of dyslexia.

When reading specialists know the types of dyslexia your child has, they can come up with strategies to help. A full evaluation is the best way to identify those issues. Learn about ways you can help your child at home.

Key Takeaways

  • The most common type of dyslexia makes it hard to match individual sounds with written symbols.
  • Many kids have more than one type of dyslexia.
  • A full evaluation can identify your child’s specific reading challenge.

About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.


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Reviewed by

Portrait of Guinevere Eden

Guinevere Eden, Ph.D., is a professor at Georgetown University and director of its Center for the Study of Learning.