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What Exactly is Dyslexia?

This article was written as an ending to a 3 page article on Henry Winkler. It is in the October/November 2023 issue of AARP. It is bTom Chiarella.

What Exactly is Dyslexia?

“THE STRUGGLE, the humiliation, the frustration is like living with a 3,000 pound weight on your shoulders,” is how Henry Winkler describes his lifelong battle with dyslexia.  He’s hardly alone:  Up to 1 in 5 Americans have this learning disability, among them California Governor Gavin Newsom, Nobel Prize-winning biologist Carol Greider and actress Whoopi Goldberg.

Dyslexia is caused by biological differences in the brain that make it difficult to map speech sounds to letters or sequences of letters, so it’s hard to recognize written words.  In the 1950s, dyslexia wasn’t widely recognized as a condition, and many people with it grew up being labeled either “stupid, unmotivated, or oppositional,” explains Rebecca Resnik, a psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland.  “Older adults may still carry that shame.”

Actors, of course, hard to read.  Winkler says he has developed a process-a “negotiation” — for dealing with a script, which gives him a way to absorb  the words and sentences on his own terms:  “I put it down and walk around and look at it.  You negotiate it. You think. You figure out exactly how to do it.”

Dyslexia runs in families; if one parent has it, there’s a 40 to 60 percent chance a child will be born with it too. If you suspect you may have undiagnosed dyslexia, a specialist can test you and set up a treatment plan if it’s needed.

You can find a specialist in your area through the International Dyslexia Association’s provider directory, at www.dyslexiaida.org.  Or you can go to the treatment referrals on the So CA Tri-Counties Branch’s website (the home page) – https://socal.dyslexiaida.org. 

New technologies can also help: Audiobooks are easy to get, and many publications offer audio versions as well. Pen-size reading devices can scan text and read it aloud. In addition, text-to-speech software lets you confert a digital device’s text so that it’s read aloud.


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