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For those new to dyslexia, making sense of the vocabulary used by physicians, educators, and researchers can seem daunting. This list of commonly used terms is offered as a reference to enhance understanding about the academic, scientific, and legal words you will likely encounter.

AJAX progress indicator
  • 504 PlanEstablished under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a 504 Plan entitles public school students in grades K-12 who have learning disabilities to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that is comparable to the education provided to peers who do not have a disability.
  • AccommodationsChanges within the learning environment, instructional delivery, and/or testing methods that enable students to achieve grade-level educational goals. Examples include modified assignments, longer test periods, oral testing, and use of assistive technology devices.
  • Alphabetic PrincipleThe concept that letters and combinations of letters are symbols used to represent the sounds of words.
  • AssessmentA measurement of a student’s skills and abilities through various aptitude, achievement, and screening tests. This helps determine whether any areas of weakness exist, and if so, if intervention is needed.
  • Assistive TechnologyThe federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines assistive technology as any piece of equipment or product “that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”
  • AutomaticityThe ability to make a skill automatic with time and practice. In reading, automaticity refers to accurate and quick word recognition requiring little attention or conscious effort that therefore allows students to focus on the meaning of text.
  • Comprehension (Reading)Understanding the meaning of text that is read. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction.
  • DecodingA key skill in learning to read, decoding is the ability to match letters with their sounds in order to read words and sentences correctly. Also known as “word attack,” it is frequently described as the ability to “sound out” new words.
  • DyscalculiaA brain-based (neurological) disability that makes it difficult to learn or understand mathematics appropriate for an individual’s age and intelligence, despite adequate instruction. An estimated six percent of elementary school students in the U.S. are affected. Difficulties vary and affect(...)
  • DysgraphiaA brain-based (neurological) disability resulting in extremely poor handwriting or the inability to perform the fine motor movements required for handwriting.
  • Dyslexia (International Dyslexia Association)A specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is(...)
  • Dyslexia (National Institutes of Health/NIH)A brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among(...)
  • DyspraxiaA brain-based (neurological) disability, also known as developmental coordination disorder, which results in lifelong impaired gross and fine motor coordination, memory, judgment, processing, and other cognitive skills. An estimated 6 to 10 percent of children show some signs of dyspraxia.
  • EncodingThe process of using letter/sound knowledge to write.
  • EvaluationA process of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information from parents, teachers, and testing to identify the factors contributing to a student’s difficulty with learning to read, write, and spell. Evaluations are used to identify the primary reasons for a child’s literacy difficulties,(...)
  • Executive FunctionA set of skills responsible for attention and self-regulation that enables students to retain information, plan, organize, manage time, complete tasks, and regulate behavior. 
  • FluencyThe ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression, which allows students to focus on the meaning of what is being read (comprehension).
  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)According to Wrightslaw, FAPE is “an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child's unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit, and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.”
  • GraphemeThe written form of a phoneme. The letter or letters representing one sound. (Example: the phoneme /f/ is represented by two graphemes f and ph.)
  • Graphophonemic KnowledgeAn understanding of the relationship and patterns between letters and their sounds.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)A detailed plan that outlines the instruction, supports, and services a school will provide to meet the specific educational needs of a student with a disability.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the United States, and ensures special education and related services to those children.
  • InterventionAn educational program used to supplement or replace an existing program for the primary purpose of increasing reading levels.
  • KinestheticA participatory learning style that involves physical activity, such as touch and movement.
  • Learning DisabilityAn umbrella term used to describe a number of disorders that affect a student’s ability to learn.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)Under the IDEA, Least Restrictive Environment is the requirement that students with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with nondisabled peers, and are not removed from general education classes unless, even with support services, education in general(...)
  • MetacognitionAwareness of one’s own learning; the ability to know, understand, and explain what you are doing and why.
  • MorphemeThe smallest unit of meaning in a word. For example, the word "predict" has two morphemes: "pre" and "dict", with each part holding meaning. 
  • MorphologyThe study of  the structure and forms of words. The study of word elements (prefixes, suffixes, Latin and Greek base elements).
  • Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)An umbrella term that encompasses both Response to Intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and supports.
  • Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) InstructionAn instructional approach that simultaneously uses several senses, such as sight, hearing, and touch to help students understand the structure of language in a systematic way. Skills and knowledge are reinforced through visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile senses to help students learn(...)
  • OrthographyThe study of the rules that govern the English language.
  • Orton-Gillingham ApproachA multisensory, structured language instructional approach intended primarily for use with individuals who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing due to dyslexia or other language-based learning disabilities. It was developed by Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator/psychologist Anna(...)
  • PhonemeThe smallest unit of spoken sound in a language.
  • Phonemic AwarenessThe ability to listen to a word or syllable and hear its separate sounds, such as being aware the word cat has three separate sounds /c/ /a/ /t/. This is the key component of phonological awareness that is most closely linked with reading acquisition.
  • PhonicsThe study of sounds; a method of teaching reading by developing learners’ phonemic awareness in order to teach the correspondence between sounds and the spelling patterns (graphemes) that represent them.
  • Phonological AwarenessAn umbrella term for an auditory awareness of language. The ability to hear and manipulate individual phonemes (the smallest units of sound in a language). An understanding that spoken language consists of parts, such as separate words, separate syllables, and separate sounds, or phonemes.
  • PhonologyThe study of phonemes, or the smallest units of sounds.
  • Response to Intervention (RtI)A multi-tiered approach to the early identification and support of students with learning disabilities that is used by many schools to help students who are struggling with academics. The three levels of intervention are: Tier 1: high-quality instruction and universal screening in general(...)
  • ScreeningAn informal, universal assessment of all students to determine whether they are meeting benchmarks for their grade level. This process helps recognize whether a child may need additional help.
  • SemanticsThe study of the meaning of words, phrases, or sentences in a language.
  • Specific Learning Disability (SLD)A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using written or spoken language. Examples include auditory processing disorder, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, language processing disorder, and non-verbal learning disabilities.
  • SyntaxThe way in which words are ordered in phrases or sentences.


Birsh, J., Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, (4th Edition), 2018, Paul H. Brooks Publishing.

Harris, Theodore L, Hodges, Richard E., The Literacy Dictionary, the Vocabulary of Reading and Writing, 1995, International Reading Association, Inc.

International Dyslexia Association, IDA Dyslexia Handbook: What Every Family Should Know, 2014, Baltimore, MD.

California Department of Education, Sacramento, California Dyslexia Guidelines (2017).