Debunking the IQ-Dyslexia Link and Other Myths
Do kids with dyslexia have lower IQs?
Although the answer is no, a contrary belief lingers amid the multitude of misinformation that tends to swirl around students with learning disorders such as dyslexia. Yet while students who struggle to grasp essential literacy skills are not by extension less intelligent than their peers, it is true that IQ is linked to reading ability. As a recent Edutopia video explained, IQ scores typically rise in tandem with students’ emerging reading and writing skills; as one goes up, so does the other.
For students with dyslexia-related struggles, their intellectual capabilities rise but their reading levels do not. If left unchecked, this disparity can lead to increased feelings of inadequacy on the part of the student. As underscored in the Edutopia video, students with dyslexia are “every bit as bright as other students and perfectly capable of mastering the material”—provided they get the requisite amount of intervention and support.
Unfortunately, the myth that students with dyslexia just aren’t as smart as their peers isn't the only erroneous belief out there. Let's take a look at some of the other prevailing misconceptions around dyslexia, along with how to combat them.
"People with dyslexia can't be successful"
The myth that people with dyslexia are not intelligent comes from a time in the not-so-distant past when learning disorders were neither understood nor acknowledged. In a 2018 USA Today feature story, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson spoke openly about his struggles growing up as a child with dyslexia in the 1960s, which included being subjected to frequent beatings at school as punishment for what was assumed to be stupidity.
Branson's childhood experiences led him to create Made By Dyslexia, described by USA Today as an organization whose “mission is to help change the perceptions people have about dyslexia and create solutions to help dyslexic children in schools.” Recently, Microsoft signed on to the initiative and is now helping educators support students by providing free access to Microsoft 365 Learning Tools.
Highlighting the success stories of people like Branson may be a crucial way to build confidence and inspire hope in today's students struggling with dyslexia or other language-based learning disorders. After all, as the USA Today piece noted, Keira Knightley, Mohammed Ali, and “40 percent of the world’s self-made millionaires” received dyslexia diagnoses.
"There are no advantages to dyslexia"
The reading fluency-related difficulties experienced by individuals with dyslexia are “often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities,” according to the official definition of dyslexia used by the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
For Branson, “focusing on the skills he was good at” and delegating everything else allowed him to not only appreciate his dyslexia but ultimately view it as an advantage that helped him think “creatively and differently”—something that British entrepreneur Kate Griggs calls the “brilliance of dyslexia.” In addition to co-founding Made By Dyslexia, Griggs manages her own charitable organization, Xtraordinary People, which is devoted to highlighting the creative potential and real-world examples of successful people with dyslexia.
"Students with dyslexia are doomed to struggle"
Researchers from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity have pointed out that dyslexia more often goes ignored or undetected than celebrated or praised, and this is especially true for students of color who attend public schools. Certainly, students who do not receive the necessary intervention and support may struggle in the classroom, but this is by no means a foregone conclusion of the learning disorder itself. In fact, Griggs—a successful entrepreneur in her own right—described being “fortunate enough to attend a pioneering school that supported both the strengths and challenges of dyslexic thinking” and credited the institution for helping her get where she is today.
According to the Yale Center's website, dyslexia can “affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.” This led researchers at Yale to launch the Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative in 2013 to shed light on the need for more resources, heightened action, and improved identification of dyslexia in marginalized communities.
Left unaddressed, dyslexia can have devastating consequences on students’ lives, from a sense of failure to an increased risk of—as Yale researchers phrased it—being left to “struggle profoundly” and perhaps ultimately drop out of school altogether. To turn this narrative around, the center works to highlight well-known people of color who have overcome their struggles with dyslexia, such as singer Harry Belafonte and Shark Tank star/entrepreneur Daymond John. The simple action of profiling individuals with dyslexia who have achieved success is a valuable way to push back against the long-standing myth that people with dyslexia are less intelligent than others.
Yet Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, argued that students with dyslexia need more than just examples of success stories; they also require action, support, and access to resources. And as the Yale Center’s work makes clear, the intervention and support that can turn dyslexia into a positive, creativity-affirming attribute must be provided to all students with dyslexia—not just those who, in the words of Griggs, are “fortunate enough” to receive it.
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Read this whitepaper by Dr. Pam Hook to learn how to recognize the warning signs of dyslexia at each grade and how to provide the appropriate interventions so that students become successful readers and motivated learners.