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Dyslexia Not Correlated to IQ

Written By Geoff Nixon . September 24, 2023

Early Years Performance of Children With Dyslexia is Often Misleading

Parents of children with dyslexia can understandably be concerned that a lack of learning progress could be related to a lack of intelligence.  In reality, the two – dyslexia and intelligence – are not related.

The misconception that children with dyslexia are not intelligent arises from a few factors:

  1. Performance Misinterpretation:  Since dyslexia primarily affects reading and writing, children with dyslexia might struggle with academic tasks. Observers might incorrectly associate these struggles with a lack of intelligence rather than a specific learning difference.  Furthermore, if children with dyslexia are compared to their peers who do not have learning differences, they might appear to lag, leading to incorrect assumptions about intelligence.
  2. Lack of Awareness: People who are not familiar with dyslexia might not understand that it is a neurological condition related to language processing, not intellectual ability.
  3. Stereotyping and Stigmatization:  Historically, there has been stigma associated with learning differences. People with conditions like dyslexia have been unfairly labeled as “slow” or “lazy.”  Once a child is labeled with a learning difference, incorrect generalizations are made about their capabilities.
  4. Overemphasis on Reading Skills:  Reading is often a proxy for intelligence:  As a result, those who struggle with reading might be perceived as less intelligent.

Yale Study Addresses Misconceptions

To counter these misconceptions, it is important to  understand dyslexia.  Children with dyslexia, like all children, have a unique mix of strengths and challenges.  To this end,  researchers have a role to play. We were particularly interested in a Yale study of 445 Connecticut children over twelve years which concludes dyslexia and intelligence are not correlated.  It’s introductory paragraph says it all.

“Contrary to popular belief, some very smart, accomplished people cannot read well. This unexpected difficulty in reading in relation to intelligence, education and professional status is called dyslexia, and researchers at Yale School of Medicine and University of California Davis, have presented new data that explain how otherwise bright and intelligent people struggle to read.”

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, led by Sally E. Shaywitz, found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a dyslexic can be both bright and not read well.

Reading Requires Cognitive Skills Not Related to Intelligence

Decoding text on a page requires lightning speed cognitive skills — auditory processing that is fast enough to pick out the phonemes in words ,phonemic awareness.  Mastery of this skill helps decoding, sequencing,working memory, etc.

This language processing skill that is lacking in children with dyslexia is completely separate from the cognitive skills and genetics that impact intelligence.  And so the findings of the Yale study are not all that surprising.

Dyslexia, Intelligence and Cover Up Risks

Actually, early on intelligence can get in the way of action.  Bright kids are able to hide their difficulties with coping strategies and often amazing memory powers to make it appear that they are reading — decoding to please their parents — when they are not.

So in the early stages IQ can matter —  it can hurt.  But eventually, readers need to develop sound cognitive skills, learning skills unrelated to smarts.  Isn’t this great news for all kids, as it suggests what we know to be true.  Everyone can learn to read well, regardless of IQ.

Turning Dyslexia Into a Positive

It is our contention that no child wants to struggle with learning.  However, when dyslexia and high intelligence combine and if the dyslexia symptoms can be reduced by a dyslexia treatment, the results can be stunning.  Dealing with dyslexia takes creativity and problem-solving to navigate early school life.Furthermore, dyslexia is a true hardship for a child and so living with dyslexia builds resilience.

The full potential of these character traits though requires a learning intervention that treats the causes of dyslexia, reducing the headwinds caused by dyslexia, learning the intelligence and dyslexia-related character traits to flourish.   Gemm Learning provides dyslexia treatments at home for children, teens and adults.

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