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The History Of Dyslexia

Dyslexia The History

The following is the history of something I’ve dealt with all my life.  The fact that I can write about it in a semi-coherent manner is proof that it does not have to be the end of an academic career.  I was once told: I would never be able to do the very thing I am doing today… Writing, blogging, creating.  Granted, spell check gets a lot of work.  But it can be done. The Mental Health Humor Cartoon above I drew is still one of my favorites and it just so happens to be about what else…dyslexia.

Dyslexia defined by Google search is a: “Developmental reading disorder is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols.”  Wow, that is so clinical and precise.  Dyslexia is much more than a learning disability. Yet before the 1900’s, this childhood development was the subject of much conjecture and how children learned was still pretty much theorized.  A plethora of terms was used to describe the problem such as “word blindness” or “strephosymbolia.”

It was 1878 when German neurologist, Adolph Kussmaul, coined the phrase “word blindness” describing what we know as dyslexia today.

He had a special interest in adults with reading problems who also had neurological impairment. He noticed that several of his patients could not read properly and regularly used words in the wrong order. He introduced the term ‘word blindness’ to describe their difficulties. The phrase, word blindness, then began to be used regularly in the medical journals to describe adults and children who had difficulty learning to read. This phrase also conveyed the fact that these patients were neurologically impaired. ~ Understanding Dyslexia: A Guide for Teachers and Parents: The history of dyslexia

In 1887, a German opthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin, was the first to use the word ‘dyslexia’ but it wasn’t widely used or accepted to replace the “word blindness” as of yet.  It’s like Manic Depressive Disorder perfectly describes the condition… Whereas Bipolar Disorder took a while to catch on.  Seems the same was true for “word blindness” that perfectly describes dyslexia, where we skipped words, suffixes and endings.  “Dyslexia appeared in 1891 with a report in The Lancet medical journal by Dr Dejerne.” ~ The history of dyslexia

Ah, ha just when you think Dyslexia would go mainstream:

Dr James Hinshelwood, a Scottish eye surgeon, published an account of a patient who had reading difficulties and also a congenital defect in the brain related to eyesight. From this evidence, he concluded that the cause of reading difficulties was a malfunction of eyesight as a result of a brain defect. Dr Hinshelwood’s work reinforced the use of the term word blindness and this phrase persisted throughout the early twentieth century.” ~The history of dyslexia

The biggest breakthrough came in 1925 by Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton* (October 15, 1879–November 17, 1948) who pioneered the study of learning disabilities.

Dr Orton , an American neurologist of some significance. He was probably the first to recognize that children with reading difficulties often reversed letters. This phenomenon he called strephosymbolia. He also introduced the term developmental alexia to describe these children with reading difficulties.

It was not until the mid-1930s that the term dyslexia began to more commonly appear in the literature. The word dyslexia is of Greek origin and combines ‘dys’, meaning an absence, and ‘lexia’, meaning language. So, literally, the word dyslexia means an absence of language. ~The history of dyslexia

In order to help those of us with challenges, unity/compassion is needed.

“The definition and explanation of what children and teachers experience as ‘learning difficulties’ become a site for fruitless debates between theorists and practitioners who adopt incompatible terminology to reflect different perspectives and then cannot engage in a meaningful dialogue. This happened when sociologists of education and educational psychologists studied SEN (Special Educational Needs) assessment with different assumptions and when geneticists, neurologists, cognitive psychologists and teachers each tried to understand dyslexia by looking at a different aspect of the phenomenon. For many years the field of emotional and behavioural difficulties was the site of confused debates about the competing insights of behavioural, cognitive, psychodynamic and systemic theories”. ~ Special educational needs inclusion and diversity pg. 27

In many ways for me, dyslexia forced me to think outside the box of normal rationality as a way of living and understanding the written world.

I could comprehend anything I was told, shown or viewed… But if I read something, sometimes non-comprehension would require multiple, quadruple readings and reviewing the same text over and over again.  Problem would be, I would make up words that weren’t there or lose endings and suffixes. As you can imagine, I can really change the syntax of any sentence.

Can you imagine the anxiety and fear children dealing with dyslexia go through on a day-to-day basis? I can really relate to the video below. When I was in school, I became the class clown to avoid being called on to read or take part in any academic activities that could give away my dyslexia.


You can read more about mine, Chato Stewart’s Dyslexia story HERE.


Understanding Dyslexia: A Guide for Teachers and Parents: The history of dyslexia
Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton*
Book: Special educational needs inclusion and diversity: a textbook Copyright © Norah Frederickson and Tony Cline, 2002
The History Of Dyslexia

Chato Stewart

Chato Stewart has a mission, to draw and use humor as a positive tool to live, to cope with the debilitating effects symptoms of mental illness. Chato Stewart is a Mental Health Hero and Advocate. Recovery Peer Specialist board-certified in Florida. Chato is the artist behind the cartoons series Mental Health Humor, Over-Medicated, and The Family Stew - seen here in his blog posts. The cartoons are drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder (and other labels). [email protected]

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APA Reference
Stewart, C. (2014). The History Of Dyslexia. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jul 2014
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