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Understanding and Addressing Reading Disorders 
Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.

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Book Review 
There are some children who have a terrible time learning to read.  They get excellent support from home, excellent instruction from their teacher, and they try very, very hard to learn.  But try as they might, reading is always a laborious chore for them.  Without strong intervention from a very knowledgeable teacher who really understands reading disorders, those children will have a very hard time becoming successful in school or in life.  Those children may grow up to have children of their own, and those children may inherit the same reading difficulty -- thus, you have a parent who does not read well, raising a child who has difficulty. Schools must stop that cycle.  Knowledgeable teachers and fantastic, long-term instruction provide the only hope those children have.

-- To learn more about a particular book, or to purchase a copy of that book, just click on the image of the book cover --

Overcoming Dyslexia
Sally Shaywitz
Published in 2003 by Knopf Publishing

I am one of the people who has been saying for a long time that there is really no such thing as "dyslexia." In my article "The Ten Myths of Reading," I argue that it is not true (it is a myth) that some kids are simply "dyslexic" and thus will never be proficient readers.  I still believe that, but reading Shaywitz' book is making me back off of that position slightly.


Reading is a complicated, multi-faceted skill.  If I grab a bunch of people at random and test them, I would find a continuum of reading abilities, ranging from the extremely proficient with high levels of comprehension on one end to the complete illiterate on the other end.  The National Assessment of Adult Literacy confirms this.

If I were to examine children learning to read, I would find that some children learn to read with more ease than other children do, just as some people learn to skate or learn to swim with greater ease than others (personally, I sink like a stone attached to an anchor every time I get near water).  There does not seem to be a population of people who are "different" from "normal" people -- a separate population of people who are dyslexic.  Instead, it seems to be a normal distribution of reading skills, with people at one end of that distribution labeled "dyslexic."

It has always been my contention that different children have difficulty learning to read for different reasons, but that with good instruction individualized to each child's needs, all children can learn to read proficiently.  Shaywitz' book supports this.

The contribution that Shaywitz makes with this book is to describe in some detail why certain children have difficulty learning to read (and what can be done about it).  These are children with phonological processing difficulties, and they are labeled "dyslexic." But I stand by my convictions -- the label does not matter.  What matters is that these children can learn to read if they are given much more intensive, long-term, explicit instruction in the phonological structure of speech, and the mapping between phonemes and letters.

Maybe Shaywitz and I disagree; maybe we don't.  I really don't know.  It's not that I deny that dyslexia exists -- in fact it is likely that I was "dyslexic" (or "am" dyslexic).  I had a little difficulty learning to read, and to this day, I read very slowly, but I also read voraciously.  Am I dyslexic?  Maybe.  What does it matter? I had good instruction, and now I am a sufficiently proficient reader.

I think that the presence of phonological processing difficulties is one of many reasons that some children have difficulty learning to read, but with proper diagnosis and proper instruction, it can be overcome, and "dyslexic" children can learn to read quite well.

In the final analysis, this is a very thought-provoking book, and it is extremely informative.  Everybody who works with struggling readers should read this book.  It is very well-written and it eloquently describes some of the challenges that teachers and parents face when dealing with children with severe reading difficulties, and it offers excellent advice and solutions for those challenges.  This is also a nice summary of the current neuroscience research in the field.  Non-invasive imaging techniques are confirming current theories about why certain children have so much difficulty learning to read, and Shaywitz, as one of the leaders in the field, has done a marvelous job of summarizing that work and presenting complicated neuroscience research in an understandable way.

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Last Updated 1-1-05