Dyslexia Action
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Dyslexia Awareness Week

How to make sense of dyslexia

Some 10% of the UK population are affected by dyslexia. But many people don’t actually understand what it is and how people can be affected by it. This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week in the UK and the theme is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, so today we would like to help you to understand what dyslexia is.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the ability to learn to read and spell. It often runs in families and stems from a difficulty in processing the sounds in words.

A formal definition of dyslexia was recommended by Sir Jim Rose in an independent report: Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties which was agreed by the Department for Education in 2009.

It found that dyslexia:

•affects the ability to learn to read and spell

•involves difficulties in dealing with the sounds of words, which makes it especially hard to learn to use phonics to read words

•can affect short-term memory and speed of recalling names

•can sometimes co-occur with other kinds of difficulties, for example with maths or with co-ordination (but not always)

Does everyone experience dyslexia in the same way?

Dyslexia is not the same for everyone. It can be mild or severe, can vary depending on other strengths, or difficulties, and on the kind of support and encouragement that is given at school, at home and at work.

People with dyslexia often have strengths in reasoning, in visual and creative fields; dyslexia is not related to general intelligence; and is not the result of visual difficulties.

Many people learn strategies to manage the effects of dyslexia, but it does not go away and its effects may be felt in new situations or in times of stress.

People with dyslexia often, but do not always, show characteristics of other specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder or dyscalculia.

What causes dyslexia?

There is strong evidence that dyslexia runs in families: if someone in a family is dyslexic, then it is very likely that other members of the family are dyslexic to some degree.

However, genetics is only part of the story: many other factors make a difference to the overall picture. There are genes that will increase or decrease the risk for dyslexia, but that risk will be affected by many other things, including the effects of teaching and the effects of other genes.

What is the best approach to dyslexia?

Understanding and access to the right sources of support are key for anyone who may have dyslexia. With the right support, strategies to overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia can be learnt and dyslexia need not be a barrier to achievement.

Is dyslexia recognised by schools?

We have come a long way since the days when people living with dyslexia were often wrongly labelled as ‘slow’, ‘thick’ or ‘lazy’, with school reports warning parents not to expect much from their child. Today, schools have a duty to provide SEN Support where a child or young person’s learning difficulty, including dyslexia, causes them to learn at a slower pace than their peers.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

Children can display signs of dyslexia from an early age - as young as 3 or 4 years old - but it is usually not formally identified until the age of 6 or 7. Here are some of the signs for different age groups:

Signs of dyslexia in children from 7-11

•Seems bright in some ways but unexpectedly struggles in others

•Other members of the family have similar difficulties

•Has problems carrying out three instructions in sequence

•Struggles to learn sequences such as days of the week or the alphabet

•Is a slow reader or makes unexpected errors when reading aloud

•Often reads a word, then fails to recognise it further down the page

•Struggles to remember what has been read

•Puts letters and numbers the wrong way: for example, 15 for 51, b for d or “was” for “saw”

•Has poor handwriting and/or struggles to hold the pen/pencil correctly and/or learn cursive writing

•Spells a word several different ways

•Appears to have poor concentration

•Struggles with mental arithmetic or learning times tables

•Seems to struggle with maths and/or understanding the terminology in maths: for example, knowing when to add, subtract or multiply

•Has difficulties understanding time and tense

•Confuses left and right

•Can answer questions orally but has difficulties writing the answer down

•Has trouble learning nursery rhymes or songs

•Struggles with phonics and learning the letter-to-sound rules

•Seems to get frustrated or suffers unduly with stress and/or low self-esteem

•Struggles to copy information down when reading from the board

•Needs an unexpected amount of support with homework and struggles to get it done on time

•Is excessively tired after a day at school

Signs of dyslexia in ages 12 to adult

•Difficulties taking notes, planning and writing essays, letters or reports

•Struggles with reading and understanding new terminology

•Quality of work is erratic

•Difficulties revising for examinations

•Struggles to communicate knowledge and understanding in exams

•Feels that the effort put in does not reflect performance or results

•Forgets names and factual information, even when familiar

•Struggles to remember things such as a personal PIN or telephone number

•Struggles to meet deadlines

•Struggles with personal organisation (finances/household, arrives at lessons with the wrong books, forgets appointments)

•Difficulties filling in forms or writing cheques

•Only reads when necessary and never for pleasure

•Develops work avoidance tactics to disguise difficulties and/or worries about being promoted/taking professional qualifications

•Difficulties become exacerbated when under pressure of time.

What next?

Dyslexia is complex and affects people differently and in different ways but hopefully the above has given a brief insight into some of the ways that dyslexia can affect you. If you want to find out more about it or get involved then join our online community on twitter @dyslexiaaction, on facebook or call your local Dyslexia Action Learning Centre

6 Replies

For Dyslexia Awareness week please share your learning tips an ideas with us at dyslexia-assist.co.uk a website with frequent Q and A and practical tips to help your child, by parents for parents, by children for children.


10% might only be severe dyslexics. If you count all dyslexics it's really more like 20%! And 75% of dyslexics don't even know they are dyslexic.



Can I disagree with two things as I think it's important. One you may have the dictionary term correct maybe Dyslexia is merely about reading and words etc only the thing is no one Dyslexic (to use it as a generic term) suffers from just that.

I appreciate Dyscalcula and Dyspraxia are used to highlight the main weaknesses so someone might be more Dyspraxic than Dyslexic, but to isolate those diagnosis in separate terms to apply to someone as an overview is wrong. We all to a lesser or greater degree have the LOT.

It's like taking the ingredients of a cake and saying its only butter.

So to have (can we use Dyslexia as an term for all of them just for a moment), Dyslexia it effects everything, every part of you. Our entire mind is involved in this we are literally wired differently our synapses make different connections. So it's not just about reading or being bad with numbers or having difficulty judging distances. It's knowing your different but not knowing why, it's coming to different conclusions, its battling with problem that for people without Dyslexia don't exist and knowing the insecurity of that. With those issues come naturally behavioural and emotional issues, how we process and cope with stress and emotion.

I hope I'm explaining myself here it's so complex. You have Bronchitis and I say 'oh come on it's just the sniffles take some Lemsip and get over it'. A Dyslexic is a whole person from top to toe, we are effected by both physicality and mental thought processes.

Some things about Dyslexia are a gift, but none of this operates in isolation and maybe the way forward is to acknowledge to a lesser of great degee we suffer and enjoy all aspects in full.

The second point I really have to take issue with is this.

Dyslexia is not the same for everyone. It can be mild or severe, can vary depending on other strengths, or difficulties, and on the kind of support and encouragement that is given at school, at home and at work.

I don't think that's true and excuse me if I have misunderstood you. I believe or understand that severe dyslexics are born that way, so if words jump off the page at you it isn't merely a visual problem but an interpretation problem and in your mind a physical issue. To imply that this huge difficulty could be the result of Support, encouragement or nurture I think is unfair to teachers and parents. I don't believe for a minute those issues would have been lessened by more support. It helps to have coping skills but that condition may well never change.

That said Im aware Dorey say they can cure Dyslexia so I may stand corrected.

All Im trying to say is Dyslexia is less of a condition than who we actually are, we are almost a species, a very special species of people, unlike if you want to use the term 'normal' people. And we feel it very deeply, it is both a strength and a weakness to my mind.

Im aware I maybe wrong, but I speak from personal experience and those of my fiends and I hope that is valid.

Thank you for reading my post and giving it your consideration.



Thanks for this comment, Caroline. I like what you say and the way you put it. I wrote much of the piece that you are commenting on you've got me thinking about better ways to express things. I think we are mostly in agreement - but there are a couple of possible misunderstandings.

Firstly, on your point about 'only reading', we don't mean to say that reading is the only 'ingredient in the cake'. We mention memory for example, and that other things are often part of the picture. I think you put it well when you describe the overall experience and the way that, as an individual, dyslexia involves all of the 'ingredients'. What we try to do in the formal definition is to highlight that there are things in common, but also differences between people who are dyslexic: for example some are 'creative' , some have dyspraxic-type difficulties, but some do not - at least that is the way we see it.

On your second point about things that may make the experience of dyslexia better or worse, I'd say 'fair point'. We meant to say that certain things like teaching could make it better, not to suggest that the problem could be caused by 'support and encouragement'. And, really, the idea of a 'cure' doesn't make much sense either.

It is fair to say that there are different views about 'the bit that should be called dyslexia'. I think I take a similar view to you in saying that the 'dyslexia thing' is the way you are, and that impacts to varying degrees on most things you do. But the thing that it tends to impact the most is learning to read and spell - it our society did not require these skills, I doubt that the 'dyslexic-way-to-be' would be something people would comment about.

Once again, thanks for your thought-provoking comments.

John Rack

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Wow John your text has one mistake to my 220 and you still understood me...lol. You do write eloquently and I appreciate the carefully worded reply. What is interesting, glaringly obvious and some times frustrating is I can only know what it is to be Dyslexic, I will never understand, know or feel what it is to be 'normal'. Equally for those who are 'normal' they can only glimpse my world.

In class my tutor quite rightly said I could not and it was not my responsibility to assess a dyslexic pupil. If I was teaching a class, I should refer that person to a specialist. Now I am just learning, but you may be familiar with the term Learning Styles...Audio, Visual, Kinastetic etc. Now bless her she did say we could agree to disagree but I argued that if you could assess a dyslexic student to some degree, just as a regular teacher, you could isolate their learning style and incorporate that in the lesson. The point being even nower days, being pointed out in a class as being different doesn't always do you any favours. I have always maintained rightly or wrongly that if only our classes could be taught the dyslexic way we would benefit, 'normal' and dyslexic students.

The way kids are 'normally' taught doesnt suit Dyslexics on the whole but the other way would be far more sympathetic to everyone as even a normal child can struggle with spelling, miss hear something, misunderstand through tiredness.

Honestly John I wish someone would do a test, I'm not saying everything in life should be geared to us, no more than everything should be left handed to suit the lefthanded community, but education could benefit greatly I believe, by using methods that benefit us. Not least because they require more care, time and interaction and what child or adult doesnt benefit from that.

One last thing and I'll shut up, I am soooo pleased I can say I am a dyslexic out loud, that I can be vocal anywhere and admit it. When I was young I would have be burnt at the stake. As a child my mother knowing, she made school work harder for me, she simply didn't want me to have the problem, she wanted me to be normal. Much like left handed kids being forced to write with their right hand (actually I wonder what their synapses were doing! ).

Thank you again for your considered post and reply John it was much appreciated.

Caroline :-)

1 like

Fiends, that has to be a Freudian slip right there..lol. x


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