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JAMA Patient Page
April 28, 2004

Reading Disorder

JAMA. 2004;291(16):2040. doi:10.1001/jama.291.16.2040

As many as 15% of school-aged children have a learning disability. One of those learning disabilities is reading disorder, also known as dyslexia. In this disorder, reading achievement is substantially below what would be expected for the person's age, intelligence, and educational level. Many areas of the brain are involved in reading. Abnormalities in processing in these brain areas are associated with having dyslexia. It appears that persons who have dyslexia have difficulty processing sound-based components of language. They have difficulty associating symbols (such as letters) with the sounds that these symbols have.

Dyslexia does not affect thinking ability. Persons who have dyslexia are often creative in learning to compensate for their disability.

Reading difficulties may also arise from poor vision, decreased hearing ability, emotional problems, or behavioral disorders. Behavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also coexist with learning disorders.

The April 28, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article showing that reading difficulties are more common in boys than in girls.


Testing for dyslexia should be performed only by trained individuals. These specialists may be available through the school or from the community or a university-based program. Formal testing for dyslexia includes assessment of intellectual (thinking) abilities, information processing, and academic skills. Children may also receive evaluation of their sensory capabilities, such as hearing or vision testing.


Early identification of learning disabilities can help children to achieve success in learning environments. Some strategies that can help individuals with reading disorder include

  • Approaches to teaching that include audio-based instruction (audiotapes, audio texts), computer-assisted instruction, structured teaching including repetition and small-unit instruction, flashcards, and optimum position of the child in the classroom.

  • Identification, evaluation, and treatment of behavioral or psychiatric problems that can coexist with learning disabilities.

  • Alternative assessment measures (using different types of testing than traditional written tests).

  • Assistance with emotional issues (such as self-esteem) that may accompany learning disabilities.

  • Special education, if needed, though some experts advocate keeping children with dyslexia in the regular classroom.

  • A strong support system for the child and family, possibly including referral to appropriate resources within the community.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at A Patient Page on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was published in the October 9, 2002, issue.

Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; International Dyslexia Association; Nemours Foundation

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.