Is dyslexia inherited?

Is dyslexia inherited?
Published on January 10, 2010 by Robert Langston

Dyslexia is inherited, and my family tree is thick with dyslexic branches. My grandfather, father, older brother, and I all have struggled with dyslexia. Does it affect more boys than girls? Current research suggests it affects just as many girls as boys. My family seems to be a bit heavy on the male side, though. That is why I was not surprised when my wife and I started seeing signs that our four-year-old son might be having issues. It was not much, just an occasional "I don't like school" or "School's too hard." With my family history, we decided it would be better to be proactive than reactive.

So, the next day my wife walked into my son's preschool class and asked his teacher if she would meet with us concerning our son. She did not hesitate, and they set the meeting time. Our parental instincts were confirmed the day of the conference when his teacher leaned across the table and said as compassionately as she could, "It does not seem to be sticking." She was referring to his learning of letters and his memory for names. She explained that the letter of the week might be "A." They would work on this letter all week. At the end of the week, she would show him the apple they had used to illustrate the letter. She would ask, "What is this?" Instead of "apple," he would say "tractor." She told us he could describe an apple and could tell her it is something that people eat. He knows what an apple is, but he cannot recall the name of the object or the letter it starts with. Listening to my son's teacher, I was thinking, "This sounds just like me." I took the Woodcock-Johnson-Revised Test of Cognitive Ability at age twenty-three and scored on a kindergarten level in Memory for Names. Also, like my son, I have trouble with the beginning and ending sounds in words. I could tell by the tears swelling in my wife's eyes that she had been hoping that this was one family trait that would die on the vine, but as the reality of the situation set in, the tears became too much, and she had to take a break to compose herself.

I will admit I was a little shocked my wife was not better prepared for this eventuality, since she knew dyslexia runs at least three generations deep in my family, but I do understand that the reality of the moment was overwhelming for her. I also have to admit I was inwardly glad my son was like me. I know how devastating dyslexia can be, and I would be lying if I said I am not a little concerned, but my initial reaction was the same that I have expressed to countless parents who have approached me after my lectures and whispered mournfully, "My child has dyslexia." As they brace for an outpouring of sympathy, they are shocked as I announce in my biggest voice, "GREAT!" This is not the reaction most people expect, but it is how I feel. "GREAT!" I hope my son's mind is naturally wired with the same visual, spatial, conceptual, and intuitive gifts as mine.

Now, with all this said, my son may not have dyslexia like I do. In my opinion, it is too early to diagnose him with an "impaired ability to understand written language: a learning disorder marked by a severe difficulty in recognizing and understanding written language, leading to spelling and writing problems," as defined by Encarta ® World English Dictionary. Even so, my wife and I want to make sure our son has all the advantages available today, just in case the acorn has not fallen far from the tree.

At the end of our conference, the teacher indicated she would like to start the process to evaluate our son. I served on the State Advisory Panel for Special Education in Georgia for seven years, so I know she is asking to initiate the national Child Find process. Child Find is a continuous process of public awareness activities, screening, and evaluation designed to locate, identify, and refer, as early as possible, young children with disabilities and their families who are in need of Early Intervention Programs (EIP). She did a great job explaining that in our county there is a representative from the local public school system whom she could contact on our behalf to evaluate our son for initial signs of learning difficulties. First steps are basic: hearing and vision screenings to rule out problems in those areas, a parental questionnaire, and observation of the student in the classroom. The Child Find process is important in case an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is needed in the future.

Studies show that parents wait an average of twelve to eighteen months to act on their initial instinct that something might be wrong. The best advice I can give is don't wait; listen to your instinct, be proactive not reactive, and accept the help that is available.

My family has been on its journey with dyslexia for generations, and it will be interesting to see if my son sprouts as a new branch of this tree. I rejoice in the possibility that my son may have the power of dyslexic thinking within him and be gifted with a visual, spatial, conceptual, and intuitive brain. But at the same time, I hope we have come far enough that I can prune out some of the more painful limbs that have plagued the Langston men in the past, allowing him to grow even stronger than those that have come before him.

Wish us luck,


"Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees,"
-- Author unknown.