By Cecile Selwyn

The continuing research into brain physiology and the connection to dyslexia is providing more answers in order to understand what dyslexia is, how we can diagnose it, how it is related to language and to reading, and the remediation that works.

Dyslexia is related to the susceptibility of some genes to develop differently during fetal development which is the biological condition of dyslexia. Children with dyslexia often show symptoms of other neurobiological conditions, including ADHD.  The use of cutting edge technology, including fMRI’s and scans, helps identify the genetic markers of dyslexia and gives us the opportunity for earlier interventions.

Dyslexia is not related to intelligence or motivation.  Fifteen to twenty percent of the population has a reading disability.  Dyslexics are talented in the arts or in using their hands and are very creative. Dyslexia is language-based and refers to a cluster of difficulties in spelling, reading, writing and speaking. It is a life-long challenge and has a different impact at different times in one’s life. (Lyon, Shaywitz & Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia)

The recent use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), DCM (Dual Causal Modeling) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans in measuring brain activity in all aspects of reading and language, visual and auditory processing, phonological processing, orthographic responses and spelling, rapid automatic naming, memory and fine motor skills of dyslexics and non-dyslexics point to anatomical differences and rates of activation of processes in different parts of the brain.

The parts of the brain involved in conscious activities such as learning and thinking include the cerebrum and the cerebellum, where the major actions involved in balance, coordination and writing are activated, and the amygdala and hippocampus, in the medial lobe, related to emotion and memory.

Let’s talk about the parts of the cerebrum impacted in reading.

Brain Lobes(1)

Frontal Lobe

responsible for speech, executive function, reasoning, planning, problem solving, behavior, regulating emotions and consciousness

Parietal Lobe

controls sensory perceptions, links spoken and written language to memory, gives meaning to what we hear and read, affects math and spelling

Occipital Lobe

controls sensory perceptions, visual perceptions and identification of letters

Temporal Lobe

involved in verbal memory and understanding of language

LEFT Parietal-temporal Area

involved in word analysis and decoding as well as mapping letters and words into corresponding sounds

LEFT Occipital-temporal Area

involved in automatic rapid access to word analysis and fluent reading

Gray Matter

involved with phonological awareness

White Matter

helps the nerves transfer information so that the brain regions can communicate effectively, needed for reading

Corpus Callosum

the communication bridge between the cerebral hemispheres

The Brain without Dyslexia

  • Good readers show more activation in the left hemisphere in ALL areas needed for reading: phonological processing, orthographic mapping for sound/letter connections for spelling and writing, interpretation of sounds and faster activation of the brain for rapid automatic naming responses.
  • They show less activity in the right hemisphere.
  • There are metabolic differences in blood flow and physical differences in size.

The Brain with Dyslexia

  • Dyslexics show disruptions in the rear reading system in the left hemisphere, critical for reading fluently.
  • There is more activation in the less efficient right hemisphere, thought to be a compensation method.
  • There is a different distribution of metabolic activation when working on the same tasks as non-dyslexics.
  • There is greater activation in the lower frontal area.
  • Less activity in the Left Parietal-temporal lobe required for phonological processing is seen where identifying and manipulating individual sounds and the structure of words.
  • There is less activity in the Left Occipital-temporal lobe that affects the “orthographic” mapping or understanding of letters into sounds, auditory processing and interpretation of sounds, difficulty with rapid rate of information coming in or phonology of sounds.
  • There is also less gray matter to help with transfer of information of language (phonological processing).
  • Less white matter disrupts communication of information.
  • There are anomalies in the size of the corpus callosum.
  • There is less memory storage capacity for phonological coding or naming.

The good news derived from all the neuroscience studies is that they can now be applied to the classroom to help students perform better. With proper identification, remediation can begin sooner.  There are “brain-friendly” teaching methodologies, schools can implement academic modifications and with the availability of assistive technology, the differentiated needs of the dyslexic learners are being met.

at risk reader(2)

In summary, educational neuroscience offers methods for identifying early markers for recognizing those at risk for reading. Analyzing brain imaging of students with reading disabilities shows us what the brain looks like when there are no interventions and when interventions are put into place providing specific remedial programs.  What we see is increased activation in the left hemisphere, important for reading. After one year of intervention, we see increased activity in the occipito-temporal region and decreased activity in the right hemisphere important for automatic, fluent reading.

Sharing knowledge about brain functioning is one way of demystifying dyslexia and helps with explaining how the brain functions when language processing is concerned.  It is very important for both parents and teachers to truly understand what dyslexia is and is not. Once the misconceptions are cleared up, and explicit instruction is provided, we can begin to see examples of “neuroplasticity” and changes in brain physiology.  

Learners visit our tutoring centers from a wide range of locations. Following are some of the most common:

Beverly, Boxford, Brookline, Danvers, Dedham, Dover, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Middleton, Milton, Natick, Needham, Newton, North Reading, Norwood, Peabody, Reading, Salem, Topsfield, Wakefield, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Wenham, West Roxbury, Weston, Westwood, Wilmington

Submitted by Cecile Selwyn, M.Ed Ed.S
Director of Commonwealth Learning Center, Needham


Header Image: Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2003 from The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, dyslexia.yale.edu
(1) Brain Lobes Functions image from Headway, the brain injury association, www.headway.org.uk
(2) At Risk Reader image from The Morris Center, Picture of Dyslexia PowerPoint, themorriscenter.com


  • Kim Leeman says:

    This was a very informative overview of dyslexia and at the brain. My daughter is 17 years old and she is dyslexic. She produced a video on dyslexia as an independent study, and is writing her college essay on dyslexia. Tomorrow she will present the video to a group of parents with children with dyslexia, the video has also been shown to the faculty of her school. I am going to forward this presentation to her school tutor. I think faculty members should see this, they may be more empathetic to students with dyslexia. Thank You

    • Leslie says:

      I would love to see your daughter’s video. My daughter is 14 and she is in the 9th grade at The Carroll School.

  • Mary Barber says:

    Fascinating! Thank you.

  • Ms. Randymary de Rosier says:

    I am a writer on her second book who is seeking permission to use a photo of yours. “Reading, dyslexic readers brain and efficient reader brain”. I would need a signed statement okaying it and signature. If not necessary would you please send a statement for my publishers state it is not necessary. Thanks in advance. Randymary de Rosier

    • Hi Randymary,

      Thanks for your inquiry. These are actually images we borrowed, ourselves. If you scroll to the bottom of the post, you’ll see the URLs to contact the owners/creators of each image.

      Commonwealth Learning Center

  • brayden says:

    i’m a 17 year old boy that has dyslexia, i would gladly talk about it and how over the years how i have overcome it. this article has answered some questions about why i am how i am. i have 4 different types of dyslexia out of the 8. ive written poetry about my experiences and im trying to get some published to give some attention to dyslexia.

  • Shae Sted says:

    What year was this article published? I’m looking to cite it in a paper I’m writing about dyslexia.

    Thank you!


    Please add me to your mailing list.

  • Patti Pierce says:

    I am 53 years old im dyslexic I have no problem learning to read or with reading Comprehension I am an intelligent person my problem lies with spelling by 7th grade I gave up and finally told my teachers the reason I was not doing the work was because I could not spell i world spend hours with a dictionary trying to find words i could read but not spell my brain draws a complete blank its the most frustrating thing in the world my teachers told me its impossible to know how to read and not know how to spell they insisted I was lying thank God for modern technology I can now write anything i want with no problem its like being set free my son has the same issue it did take him a long time to learn to read and he can not spell my father who is 80 can not read or write so it is definitely something that is passed on from your family although I can read and write with the help of technology I still have to stop and think about left and right i do things with my left hand even though I’m right handed that are strange like catch a ball or play pool I would be interested in being part of any study you might be doing in the future this disability has had a tremendous impact on my life and my children’s lives and now my grandchilds life

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