Reading Disorder V. Dyslexia: What is the Difference?

Enrichment Therapies

December 11, 2017

In my experience, parents often confuse the terms reading disorder and dyslexia. These terms are frequently used interchangeably, despite the difference in meaning. To help ease the confusion, I have outlined the differences between the terms reading disorder and dyslexia so you feel better educated and are able to use them accurately in the future!

What is a Reading Disorder?

Reading disorder is an “umbrella” or general term that refers to a larger category of disorders that interfere with a student’s ability to read. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, labels for reading disorders include :

reading disability
reading disorder
specific reading disorder
specific reading comprehension deficit

According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, a reading disorder “involves significant impairment of reading accuracy, speed, or comprehension to the extent that the impairment interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily life.”

A student with a reading disorder may have impaired phonological processing skills, reading comprehension, and/or reading fluency.

  • Phonological processing is a student’s ability to detect and create rhyming words, break words into syllables, identify individual sounds at the beginning or end of words, and isolate/substitute/or delete individual sounds within a word. These skills are also known as the “building blocks” of reading success.
  • Reading comprehension refers to the student’s ability to understand written content, and reading fluency refers to the student’s accuracy and rate while reading. Check out my blog from September of 2017 for more information about the difference between reading fluency and comprehension here!
  • Difficulties in any of these three skills may be classified as a reading disorder.

A test we frequently give to evaluate a student’s reading abilities is the Grey Oral Reading Test-5. On this test, a scaled score of 8-12 is considered the average range. Students A and B are examples of profiles that may suggest a reading disorder.

Student A:

This student’s reading fluency was age-appropriate. However, their reading comprehension fell moderately below the average range. This student may be diagnosed with a Reading Disorder.

Student B:

This student’s reading rate fell moderately below the average range. However, their reading comprehension and accuracy were age-appropriate. This student may be diagnosed with a Reading Disorder.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of reading disorder. According to the Decoding Dyslexia Healthcare Screening, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

Dyslexia is primarily a disorder of phonological processing and reading fluency. Students with dyslexia often struggle to identify the sounds for a particular letter or segment a group of letters. This, in turn, affects the ability to read words and paragraphs fluently, spell words, and use words in writing. Struggles frequently increase as reading demands increase.

Again, on the Grey Oral Reading Test-5, a scaled score of 8-12 is considered the average range. Student C is an example of a profile that may suggest dyslexia.

Student C:

This student’s reading fluency, both accuracy, and rate, fell moderately below the average range. However, their reading comprehension was age-appropriate. This student may be diagnosed with dyslexia if his/her delays in reading fluency co-occur with other risk factors such as:

•Difficulty with rhyming
•Difficulty pronouncing words that have multiple syllables
•Difficulty making connections between sounds and letters
•Difficulty recognizing words that begin with the same sound
•Difficulty clapping their hands to the rhythm of a beat
•Difficulty learning to write
•Difficulty distinguishing different sounds in words
•Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters
•Inserting extra letters, deleting letters, or switching the order of letters when spelling

For more risk factors or if you are looking for more information about Dyslexia. Contact us for our free Dyslexia e-Book written by our very own, Sonia Culver.

In summary, a reading disorder is a generic term for a specific learning disability in areas of phonological processing, reading comprehension, and/or reading fluency. Dyslexia is a specialized term for a specific type of reading disability characterized by difficulties with phonological processing and reading fluency.

If you are concerned with your child’s reading, we offer free screenings for speech, language, and reading skills! Interested in learning about our services? Click here for our North Liberty location or our Johnston location!

Click here to download our e-book!

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131



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