Is dyslexia really a disability

Dyslexia - what is it actually?

  • Hanna (4th grade) was always able to successfully write the practiced dictations of the first school years, but the now usual untrained texts regularly bring a lot of red ink into the exercise book.
  • Finn doesn't even read comics in the 3rd grade, but can spell on average.
  • Amielie still confuses "d" and "b" in the second year of school.
  • When David (4th class) is supposed to read aloud, everyone groans because he takes "forever" until he has "stuttered" a sentence.

Are these children, with their varied difficulties in reading and / or spelling, all "dyslexic"? How widespread is the reading and writing weakness? Is it perhaps hereditary? And who can offer help?

What is "dyslexia"?

More than 100 years ago it was observed that there were children who did not learn to read and spell; at that time one spoke of “word blindness”. In 1916 the psychologist Paul Ranschburg coined the term “dyslexia” and traced it back to “a lasting backwardness of a higher degree in the mental development of the child”. However, in the 1950s it could be proven that reading and spelling difficulties had nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, because tests had shown that the students affected usually had average to above-average IQ values. So it is not surprising that a number of famous and successful personalities are known as dyslexics: Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Thomas A. Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, Harry Belafonte, Henry Ford, Cher, Jürgen Fliege and many others. m.

Dyslexia means, regardless of intelligence, an impairment of the ability to read and / or spell according to norms. The term is derived from the Greek and is made up of legein = read and astheneia = weakness. The term "dyslexia" is more common internationally.

It is a complicated puzzle of functions on the physical (motor skills, sensory perception), social, emotional and psychological level that must be put together correctly from the first breath so that a child can learn to read and write successfully. Disruptive factors can impair this sensitive process in many places (cf. the holistic, systemic written language acquisition model in Klein / Träbert, p. 26 ff.). But risk factors for the later occurrence of dyslexia can already be identified and assessed in preschool age. The “differentiation test” (Breuer / Weuffen), for example, can provide information even for four-year-olds with a time investment of around ten minutes as an individual test:

  • The ability to differentiate optically is measured by copying a few simple characters.
  • By pointing to pictures that represent very similar sounding words, the children provide information about their phonematic differentiation skills.
  • If a child can repeat words that are difficult to articulate, they have good “kinesthetic differentiation skills”.
  • Singing a simple, well-known nursery rhyme gives clues to the ability to differentiate melodically - important for intonation when speaking.
  • The clapping of simple rhythms provides information about the sense of rhythm, more precisely: about the ability to differentiate rhythmically.

Educators, teachers or learning therapists can use the book to familiarize themselves with the process without any problems. Depending on the results of the differentiation test, a support program is proposed that significantly reduces the likelihood of reading and spelling difficulties. Such a program is never harmful, even if a child were encouraged who doesn't really need it.

Inherited or acquired?

The definition cited above speaks of “developmental disorders of partial functions of the central nervous system”. It is now known that the predisposition to develop dyslexia is to a large extent hereditary. Researchers have long had this suspicion because it has been observed that there are family clusters with regard to the occurrence of reading and spelling difficulties. In the meantime, genetic research has identified the chromosomes that are associated with certain partial functions of the central nervous system, especially with hearing and visual processing.

But inheritance isn't everything. In any case, the dyslexia itself is not inherited, only the tendency to it (“disposition”). Primary dyslexics are also those people in whose families there is no accumulation of the problem, but who suffered damage to the neuro-biological functions due to influences during pregnancy, especially in the context of the time of birth. Such influences can come from (radioactive or X-ray) rays, poisons (e.g. in medication), drugs, stimulants (alcohol, nicotine) or mechanical influences (lack of oxygen, birth complications). Embryopathy or high feverish infections in the expectant mother can be a risk factor. Infants can of course also suffer damage to the cerebral cortex from external influences; Frequent otitis media in toddlers seem to be significant for central hearing impairment and, as a consequence, for reading and spelling difficulties.

As secondary Some authors describe dyslexia as massive reading and spelling difficulties that are caused by a lack of stimuli or even harmful influences from the environment of the small children: for example, neglect (as well as overprotection!), Also serious social problems of the family (poverty, permanent unemployment, alcoholism of one of the parents ). If the growing up of the child impairs the development of the perceptual functions of the sensory apparatus under certain problematic conditions, for example because a lack of exercise, overstimulation and an unbalanced diet predominate, the disruptive effects on the acquisition of written language at school can be as lasting and serious as in primary dyslexia. This problem has increased in the last few decades and is discussed under the heading of “new childhood”. If one knows that the infant's movement and sensory experiences are directly determining for the differentiation of the brain structures, one can imagine the importance of playing outdoors in comparison to a “television childhood”.

As tertiary Dyslexia is occasionally referred to as difficulties in acquiring the written language for which the school is responsible: poor framework conditions in the initial lessons (too large classes, lesson missed), out-of-date training level of the teachers, incorrect methodology, pedagogy that is not appropriate for children, performance selection instead of support and a lack of “fit” of the Lessons tailored to the children's individual learning needs. However, children without neurobiological or social handicaps usually learn to read and write anyway.

Temporary reading and spelling difficulties due to illness, change of school, emotional stress or lack of exercise are not considered to be dyslexia. However, such learning problems can quickly become entrenched and intensified in the sense of a “vicious circle”, if not counteracted with suitable means.

How widespread is dyslexia?

When scientists speak of deficits in the context of dyslexia, for example in perception and perception processing, they should also name reference norms by which the deviations from the norm can be determined. But to this day there are no limit values ​​for the mentioned sub-functions of the sensory perception apparatus. They cannot be measured precisely, nor is their importance comparable to the various affected children. Everyone has their own dyslexia. Even the earlier common demarcation to intellectual inadequate giftedness is no longer tenable today, because there are certainly students with an IQ below 85 who are therefore considered to be “learning disabled”, but still learn to read and spell without any problems.

No wonder, then, that the rate of dyslexics is measured differently by different scientists; it is usually estimated at 5–10 percent for each year. Occasionally, a distinction is made between “dyslexic” and “severely dyslexic”. There is agreement among experts that boys are more likely to suffer from dyslexia than girls, but the latest studies, in contrast to earlier studies, only assume a small gender difference of around 1.2: 1.

Who will help with dyslexia?

  • The first point of contact for parents of school children are their teachers. On the legal basis of the LRS decrees existing in almost all federal states (can be viewed in the school secretariat or on the Internet; corresponding links here) you can discuss the possibilities for support measures and special consideration with the parents. In addition, their observations from class and their analysis of reading and spelling performance are important data in the diagnostic process. They also know whether a counseling teacher is available for the school and can otherwise give the address of the responsible school psychological service. However, if teachers only recommend practicing more without giving methodological help, or referring to it, it will all “grow out” if parents shouldn't hesitate to go to the school psychological service.
  • School psychological services (addresses here) offer their help free of charge. You can carry out the psychological diagnosis and on this basis point out ways that help the child individually. If the school is unable to provide sufficient support, it is often the school psychological opinion that is decisive for the youth welfare office to assume the costs for therapeutic measures outside of school. If the child is threatened with a mental handicap, according to Section 35a of the Child and Youth Welfare Act (KJHG), they are entitled to state aid regardless of their parents' income. Experience shows, however, that the practice of granting this help is very different at the various youth welfare offices.
  • Even if dyslexia is referred to as a “disorder” and the phenomenon even appears in the international classification of diagnoses, it is still not a disease whose treatment is paid for by the health insurances. The diagnosis of perceptual ability, however, as well as the treatment of perceptual or developmental disorders is borne by the health insurance companies. For this purpose, it is recommended to refer the pediatrician to the responsible social pediatric center.
  • If extracurricular help is indispensable, the combination of a (funded) medical support therapy (occupational, sensory integration, psychomotor therapy, etc. - prescription after thorough diagnostics) with a (privately financed, possibly funded according to § 35a KJHG) is recommended. Learning or dyslexia therapy. “Signpost services” for planning and coordinating the appropriate diagnosis and treatment are usually provided by the school psychological services; However, information and advice are also provided by the self-help organizations, above all the Federal Dyslexia Association with its regional associations.

Weakness or special talent?

There is a high degree of agreement among the specialist public that dyslexics have deficits. Weaknesses in the perception or processing of hearing and / or visual stimuli, motor abnormalities, lack of sense of rhythm, disorders in sensory integration, etc. are mentioned. This also relieves the burden on the parents of affected children, who are told often enough that they should simply practice more with their child and often suffer from feelings of guilt. On the other hand, this view can take away performance motivation from the affected children. “I cannot read / spell - I am dyslexic” - this is an argument that is often heard in students, with which they refuse to make any special effort. Anyone who has dyslexia has a weakness; the environment should probably take it into account, but “I can't do anything about it myself”. This is by no means a “lazy excuse”, but a deeply rooted belief.

How tempting sounds the theory that dyslexia is a sign of special talent! Especially in a time like ours, when school success is a significant part of future professional and career opportunities, such voices naturally find open ears. However, the literature on this and, in its wake, the corresponding course and therapy concepts must be viewed with caution. On our free education market, one-sided or even dubious offers can spread all too easily, because good business can be done with parents' concern about the future prospects of their children. The consumer protection organization "Aktion Bildungsinformation (ABI) e.V." provides information and advice on questions of professional or business seriousness from commercial providers of tutoring and learning therapy.

However, it is a different matter with the perspective of learning therapy, as represented by the Association for Integrative Learning Therapy (FiL) e.V. Therapists who work in the sense of this association first look for the strengths and talents (resources) of an LRS child. Behind this is the realization that everyone sees and perceives the world differently. Those who do not learn successfully in conventional lessons, which are largely based on spoken language, may be able to do so through the use of concrete images, through internal images (visualizations) or with the help of materials that can be touched and handled. This resource-oriented approach shows the children from the start that there are definitely ways to learn successfully, even if they may require more time and are more arduous, and thus strengthens their motivation to achieve.

Methodologically diverse teaching that addresses as many sensory channels as possible (multi-sensory) and works with so-called open teaching forms such as free work, weekly schedule, workshop lessons, etc., makes learning easier for many students at risk of dyslexia. Regardless of where they have their neuro-biological failures, under such conditions they are more likely to find starting points somewhere that will help them further. Even those who were able to gain confidence in sound analysis and synthesis in the early lessons according to Hiltraud Prem's method with enough time and in an encouraging atmosphere will have a significantly lower risk of developing pronounced reading and spelling weaknesses.

Dyslexia is a fact. They exist; it affects a significant percentage of students, but it doesn't have to be fate. There are ways of averting the risk of their occurrence in preschool age; There are approaches for early detection and support in the first year of school and for help in later years. Perhaps it actually expresses a special way of seeing and processing the world. Whether it still has to mean a negative impact on educational, life and professional opportunities today, as was the case for a long time, is not due to itself, but to our dealings with it.

Recommended reading for reading on

  • Rainer Dürre: Dyslexia - the training program for your child, Freiburg, Herder TB 2012
  • Ingrid Naegele: Every child can learn to read and write. LRS, dyslexia, spelling weaknesses - How parents can help, Weinheim, Beltz 2011


  • Peter Bechen, Werner Kinzinger, Suse Seger: LRS counselor. Reading, spelling and arithmetic weaknesses. Advice for the search for help and the way to self-help, Stuttgart, Aktion Bildungsinformation e.V. 2004
  • Helmut Breuer, Maria Weuffen: Learning difficulties at the beginning of school. Verbal language learning requirements and school success: A guide to assessing and promoting spoken language learning requirements, 7th edition Weinheim, Beltz 2006
  • Jochen Klein, Detlef Träbert: If learning doesn't work out. No more school problems and family stress, Weinheim, Beltz 2009

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Detlef Träbert has been working as a freelance teacher in Baden-Württemberg since 1996 after 18 years as a teacher. The qualified pedagogue operates his school advisory service ”Schubs” © in Cologne, from where he offers parenting lectures and workshops as well as teacher training courses and much more.

He is the author of numerous books in the educational field. Träbert is a volunteer in Aktion Humane Schule e. V. committed.


Detlef Träbert
Solinger Str. 21
51145 Cologne

Tel .: 0 22 03/9 24 55 44


Created on January 21, 2003, last changed on July 30, 2015