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Published on March 4, 2024

Understanding Surface Dyslexia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Dyslexia is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects reading and language processing skills. Within the spectrum of dyslexia, surface dyslexia stands out as a specific subtype characterized by difficulties in recognizing words based on their visual appearance. While there is currently no outright cure for dyslexia, including surface dyslexia, various interventions and strategies can significantly alleviate its symptoms and improve reading abilities. 

Let’s delve into a comprehensive exploration of surface dyslexia, its manifestations, and available treatment options.

What is Surface Dyslexia?

Surface dyslexia, also known as lexical dyslexia, is a type of dyslexia characterized by difficulty reading irregularly spelled words, such as “yacht” or “colonel.” Unlike phonological dyslexia, where individuals struggle with decoding words phonetically, individuals with surface dyslexia may have trouble recognizing words by sight and rely heavily on phonetic decoding strategies. 

This difficulty stems from a deficit in the visual processing of words, particularly those that do not conform to regular phonetic rules.

Causes of Surface Dyslexia

The underlying causes of surface dyslexia are multifaceted and may involve a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to dyslexia, with differences in brain structure and function affecting areas responsible for visual word processing. 

Additionally, early experiences with reading instruction and exposure to literacy-rich environments can influence the development of reading skills, potentially exacerbating or mitigating surface dyslexia symptoms.

Symptoms of Surface Dyslexia

Identifying surface dyslexia can be challenging, as individuals may exhibit a range of symptoms that overlap with other forms of dyslexia. However, some common indicators of surface dyslexia include:

  • Difficulty Reading Irregularly Spelled Words 

Individuals with surface dyslexia struggle to recognize and recall words that do not follow regular phonetic patterns, leading to errors and hesitations during reading.

Reliance on Phonetic Decoding: Instead of recognizing words by sight, individuals with surface dyslexia may rely heavily on phonetic decoding strategies, attempting to sound out each letter or syllable.

  • Poor Spelling Skills 

Difficulties in recognizing word patterns and visual memorization may contribute to poor spelling skills, with frequent errors in spelling irregularly spelled words. Counseling in Vancouver can play a vital role in mitigating the symptoms.

  • Slow and Laborious Reading 

Reading may be slow and laborious, as individuals with surface dyslexia expend significant cognitive effort in decoding words and comprehending text.

Treatment Options for Surface Dyslexia

While there is no cure for surface dyslexia, targeted interventions and accommodations can help individuals overcome reading difficulties and improve literacy skills. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy can help in easing the problems related to Surface Dyslexia. Some effective treatment options for surface dyslexia include:

  • Multisensory Reading Instruction 

Structured literacy programs that incorporate multisensory techniques, such as Orton-Gillingham-based approaches, can help individuals with surface dyslexia develop phonological awareness, sight word recognition, and decoding skills.

  • Visual Processing Training 

Specific interventions targeting visual processing deficits, such as visual perception exercises or visual memory tasks, can enhance the ability to recognize and recall words by sight.

  • Assistive Technology 

Utilizing assistive technology tools, such as text-to-speech software or specialized reading apps, can support individuals with surface dyslexia in accessing written material and improving reading fluency.

  • Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Accommodations 

Collaborating with educators to develop personalized learning plans and accommodations, such as extended time on exams or access to audiobooks, can facilitate academic success and mitigate the impact of surface dyslexia in educational settings.

  • Early Intervention 

Identifying surface dyslexia early and providing targeted interventions during the early childhood years can improve long-term outcomes and prevent academic difficulties later in life.


Surface dyslexia poses unique challenges for individuals with dyslexia, affecting their ability to recognize and process words based on visual appearance. While there is no cure for surface dyslexia, early identification and targeted interventions can significantly improve reading skills and academic success. 

By implementing evidence-based practices, such as multisensory reading instruction and assistive technology, individuals with surface dyslexia can overcome reading difficulties and achieve their full potential. 

Continued research and awareness efforts are essential for advancing our understanding of surface dyslexia and enhancing support for individuals affected by this condition.

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