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Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties

With an estimated 5 to 20% of the population experiencing reading challenges, Dyslexia is the most commonly diagnosed learning disability.

Teacher helping student to write
Student reading

As common as it is – the features of Dyslexia vary widely from person to person. 

Why? Simply put: no two brains are exactly alike and there are a number of different cognitive functions that are essential for the reading process to develop smoothly. 

Each individual given a label of dyslexia may have a different combination of underperforming cognitive functions leading to the diagnosis – so, as educators know, no two individuals with dyslexia are identical.

Dyslexia and Cognitive Functions

Dyslexia can be broken down to weaknesses in the following cognitive functions:

Motor Symbol Sequencing

Eye Tracking in Scanning Text

Predicative Speech


Symbol Relations


Broca's Speech Pronunciation

Phonemic Awareness

Lexical Memory

Vocabulary Development

Symbol Recognition

Visual memory for letters and words

Auditory Speech Discrimination

Discriminating similar speech sounds

What Happens as Our Brains Read? A Quick Look at Decoding

If any of these functions are underperforming, the process of reading will be impacted. If all four are significantly weak, the individual will not be able to read beyond an elementary school level.

Discover Your Unique Cognitive Profile

Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire

Take our 30-minute cognitive profile questionnaire to start the journey into understanding your brain's strengths and weaknesses through a cognitive lens.

Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment

The Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment, administered by an Arrowsmith trained professional, will provide you with an in-depth insight into your unique cognitive profile. 

Many Definitions of Dyslexia go Beyond the Mechanics of Decoding

Dyslexia can involve cognitive functions responsible for processing what we read, understanding what we read, and remembering what we read. If any of these functions are weak, reading is impacted: 

  • Word Memory: essential for vocabulary development (Lexical)
  • Intention: following the essence of the text (Symbolic Thinking)
  • Comprehension: grasping the conceptual meaning of the text including reading “between the lines” (Symbol Relations)
  • Syntax: following the logical sequence of words and phrases (Predicative Speech)
Children reading

Our Unique Cognitive Profile Has a Significant Impact on Reading Performance

While there will be some commonality amongst dyslexic brains in terms of which cognitive functions are involved, differences occur between individuals with dyslexia in exactly which combination of cognitive functions, and to what degree of difficulty, they each manifest.   

This explains why some struggling readers respond to a phonics-based program, some to a sight word approach, and others to a whole language approach. 

The variance in cognitive profiles also explains why, despite enormous effort and funding spent on reading problems, there are still millions of people who are illiterate, who live extraordinarily difficult lives, all because the challenges of their unique cognitive profile have not been addressed.

Dyslexia and Reading Challenges Do Not Have to be Lifelong

Each cognitive function involved in reading can be identified and strengthened.

Studies show those participating in Arrowsmith accelerate their ability to read; and families report students are de-identified as having Dyslexia. Individuals develop a profound relationship with books and literature, now that they can read.

Determining which particular cognitive functions are causing one’s dyslexia, is the first and fundamental step in overcoming it. 

If you or someone you know experiences dyslexia reading issues, and you want to know why, contact Arrowsmith today.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

Teacher and student reading

Interested in Exploring Dyslexia in More Detail?

You can find more information on this topic in Chapter 13, A Closed Book, of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.


I used to be at a grade 4 reading level and now a year later I am on a grade 7 level. Before I used to read the words but never understood what they meant. Now I can both read the words correctly and understand what they mean at my grade level in school.

Grade 7 student, USA

My husband and I smile as we watch our daughter hide under the covers reading books with her flashlight.  This was the young girl who a year ago in grade 1 couldn’t recognize the letters in her name or all the letters in the alphabet and who had been identified as having a significant reading disability. The Arrowsmith assessment identified that all the cognitive functions related to reading were weak. Fast forward a year after working on strengthening the cognitive functions related to reading, and you never see Anna without a book in her hands.

Anna’s mother, USA

I have developed a new love in my life - ‘reading’. I have read 18 books in the last year!

Adult, Australia

Join Arrowsmith in Helping People to Change Their Brains, and Transform Their Lives