What does a dyslexic experience?

I compared information I found on how dyslexics function and what they experience, with experiences of a few dyslexics I know and with my own experience.

Spelling and grammar 

If it was just a matter of a spelling or grammar skill, something about the eyes or the ears:

  • Why wasn’t it happening all the time?
  • Why would someone be clumsy at one moment and not at another?
  • Why would you have moments when the words come by themselves and at other times you are not able to find the right words?
  • Having a pretty good memory while at the same time some information refuses to stay in your head?
  • Isn’t it odd that those symptoms don’t occur always, or in the same degree?
  • Neither do you have any idea why they happen?
  • I also know by experiences (being dyslextic myself) that force, repeat or drill doesn’t work on the contrary. Even if you are very willing, it doesn’t work as you would wish.

Perceiving and pronouncing words is difficult

Recent research indicates that people who have difficulties to learn early reading skills (called “decoding”) also have problems of hearing individual sounds in words. I can confirm that it’s difficult to perceive and/or pronounce words, especially new words of more than one syllable. It can be very difficult to repeat the word aloud, even when a word is pronounced or spelled for you. Sometimes we have the impression it’s all clear in the head but somehow the word won’t come out.

Speaking and being understood

Our words have to make a perilous journey from our brains to our mouths, so they can come out very mangled or not at all, and the listener has to make sense of it all.

Dyslexics think in pictures instead of words

There are differences in how people think. Non-dyslexics have verbal thoughts, which is thinking in words and has a linear process that occurs with a speed of about 150 words per minute. Dyslexics have non-verbal thoughts, which is thinking in pictures, where the picture grows as the thought process adds more concepts. Therefore, It’s much faster, possibly thousands of times faster (a picture is worth a thousand words). Because of its speed, it happens in the subconscious mind.

When there is no mental picture for a particular word, it causes disorientation.

While reading, dyslexics have a mental picture of the context. This way, they will read words that aren’t there. For example, they will read cat instead of kitten. Why? What happens is this sequence: they know from the context that we are talking about a kitten. When they see the word kitten, they already have the mental picture of a young cat, probably with lots of other information, as if it is playing with a ball of wool. Because they already have a mental picture with all the details, they are in a hurry to proceed, they do not pay much attention to the exact phrasing, which they considers to be superfluous ballast. End result: they see kitten and say cat.

When communicating some thoughts; it's very hard to order my thoughts, as there is to mush information in my head, don't know where to start. Furthermore, I feel the words are coming too slowly in comparison with the thoughts that are going through my head. Therefore, I need to skip words or sentences to be able to follow my thoughts, which leads to less cohesion.

Dyslexics are holistic

They receive the whole picture in a glance, not only using their eyes but all their senses. They see the big picture not only the details. This can give some problems with speaking or reading. Reading and speaking are linear processes: you have to sequentially go from left to right, piece by piece. You have to follow the sequence of the letters, the words and the sentence to be able to read.

This holistic ability can give an uncomfortable feeling when reading, you start at the beginning of a page and want to be on the end of the page at the same time, taking the whole page in one sweep.

We don’t read the whole word, just parts of a word or the beginning and/or the end of a word; the rest is a guess.


This happens without the awareness of the dyslexic. It is a loss of one’s sense of relationship with one’s surrounding; a temporary confusion while listening, reading, writing, or manipulation; a turn away form the original focus, attention, or interest; a lack of attention; clumsiness.

When I consider my own experiences and observe other dyslexics, I can only confirm that we experience a lot of confusion and disorder. Those states are not constant; they come and go unconsciously.

A few examples:

  • You are talking to a dyslexic, but he/she somehow doesn’t seem to receive the message.
  • A dyslexic child can build a fine work of Lego art, while on the other hand is very clumsy with ordinary tasks.
  • I myself can be very clumsy with ordinary tasks, dropping things etc. Yet, when I was a podiatrist and needed to work with sharp bistouries, which demand a very secure handling, I did it without any problem.
  • Often dyslexics call an object just a "thing" and don't give its proper name. They can see the picture of the object but can find the word.
  • One moment, we can spell a word correctly while the next moment we get it very wrong.
  • Often when writing a word, I can see there is something wrong with the word but can't see where exactly the spelling is wrong.
  • When receiving a name or phone number we will remember it very well at one time, while at another moment in time we can’t remember it at all even when it's repeated several times.  

Dyslexics are not aware of the importance of words

  • Because dyslexics think in pictures and use all their senses, they don’t need many words to receive a message, especially when dyslexics are talking among themselves. Therefore, they don’t pay much attention to words. Furthermore, dyslexia runs in families, so we can imagine the young dyslexic growing up in an environment with a poor vocabulary or even a dislike for words, reading and writing. Those experiences can cause very uncomfortable situations when the young dyslexic has to leave those comfort zones when he/she enters an environment in which words are suddenly very important, like when they starts going to school.

If you like to read more about “Thinking in pictures, being holistic, and disorientation” a good source is the book "The Gift of Dyslexia" by Ronald Davis.