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Understanding dyslexia. What are the common signs of dyslexia?
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Find out more about our work helping kids with dyslexia

What is dyslexia?

The word ‘dyslexia’ comes from the Greek language. Dys means ‘problem with’ and lexia means ‘words’.

Through modern brain imagery techniques, neuroscience has been able to prove that people with dyslexia process information differently due to structural differences within their brains. When reading, people with dyslexia use different areas of the brain compared to people who are not dyslexic. There is no link between dyslexia and intelligence. Dyslexia can affect people of all abilities, which means highly intelligent people can have dyslexia.

Dyslexia is not a disease, and therefore cannot be cured, however, effective teaching can make it possible for people with dyslexia to learn to read and write. Dyslexia affects many aspects of and individual’s life, however reading and writing tend to be most affected as they are incredibly complex and difficult skills for any human brain to master. People with dyslexia can also have difficulties with maths, following instructions, auditory memory, organisation, patterns and sequences, remembering rote learned facts, such as times tables, and word finding.

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“When a flower fails to grow, we do not fix the flower, we fix the environment it grows in.”

Alexander Den Heijer

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Something that is often overlooked is that this structural difference evolved because it was advantageous for our society to have people who think differently. People with dyslexia can be great ‘big picture’ thinkers, that is, they are often able to take in the broader picture when others may get caught up in finer details. An estimated 10% of the population is thought to have dyslexia, but around 30% of business entrepreneurs have dyslexia.

 

This is thought to be because people with dyslexia can also have excellent problem solving skills. They may spot opportunities others have missed, and develop their own ways of thinking. Some people with dyslexia have excellent visual spatial skills. A great number of artists, architects and designers are known to have dyslexia. Others have excellent creative and observational skills, and go on to become actors, screenwriters and authors.

An estimated 10% of the population has dyslexia, or around 1 in 10 people.

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This makes it likely there are at least 2-3 students with dyslexia in every classroom in Australia. Dyslexia is the leading cause of reading failure.

The Big 3

There are three main areas people with dyslexia tend to experience difficulty with. However, no two people with dyslexia (or any two people) will have exactly the same cognitive profile. Difficulties with one or more of the following areas may be seen in an individual who has dyslexia:

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1. Phonological awareness

People with dyslexia often have difficulty with phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the awareness of sounds in spoken language, such as syllables, rhyme patterns and individual sounds (phonemes). This can present problems with remembering words as they have been heard, which can also lead to pronouncing words incorrectly, for example, ‘pacific’ instead of ‘specific’. Having an awareness of sounds in spoken language is an essential skill for learning to read and spell. Therefore, people with dyslexia can have difficulty acquiring literacy skills as they can find mapping sounds onto letters challenging.

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2. Working memory

People with dyslexia often experience working memory difficulties. Working memory is often referred to as ‘the brain’s post-it note’. Working memory involves holding information in short term memory, and then doing something with it. For example, following a complex set of instructions, writing, or mentally calculating maths problems. People with dyslexia tend to have the most difficulty with auditory working memory, or working with information given verbally.

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3. Processing speed

Processing speed is another area people with dyslexia can experience difficulty with. Processing speed is the brain’s ability to perform tasks at speed and with efficiency. This skill is particularly useful in timed exams and mental maths tasks.

What is dyslexia?               What is dyslexia?                 What is dyslexia?                       What is dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?               What is dyslexia?                 What is dyslexia?                       What is dyslexia?

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Dyslexia can only be identified by professionals trained in the use of quality, standardised assessments, and through comprehensive cognitive and academic assessment. The presence of specific traits are indicators, but checklists or descriptors cannot accurately determine whether dyslexia is present. Nor can intelligence testing alone.

Dyslexia Checklists

Ticking 5 items or more may indicate dyslexia and a full assessment is advised.

Early childhood

  • has any relative who found learning to read and write difficult
  • has difficulty playing ‘I spy’
  • has difficulty learning nursery rhymes and songs
  • shows little or no interest in letters
  • tell stories which are difficult to understand due to random order of events or missing key details
  • has difficulty keeping time and rhythm
  • has a history of ear infections or has had grommets fitted
  • finds remembering the names of colours, animals, teachers etc. difficult
  • finds learning to sing the alphabet difficult
  • cannot remember sequence of days on the week, months of the year
  • finds following instructions difficult
  • is late to show hand preference for writing (most children show hand preference by around age 3)
  • has poor attention and concentration
  • has slow speech development
  • confuses sounds when hearing or repeating words
  • often says thingy, what’s it, or points instead of naming

Primary years

  • has any relative who found learning to read and write difficult
  • shows persistent letter and number reversals, particularly b,d, p,q, 5, 2, 9
  • has difficulty following instructions
  • finds learning to read and spell particularly challenging
  • finds copying from the board difficult
  • finds reading irregular words difficult
  • skips lines, words, or word endings when reading
  • dislikes reading aloud in front of others
  • finds reading an analogue clock difficult
  • cannot remember times tables
  • confuses maths symbols: +, -, ÷, ×
  • has difficulty with place value, particularly numbers containing zero and decimals
  • is anxious about school or their performance
  • is known as the ‘class clown’, or is excessively disruptive
  • uses non disruptive avoidance tactics, such as being overly helpful for the teacher and peers
  • is excessively tired after school
  • has been labelled careless, lazy, or told they make silly mistakes
  • does not perform well in timed conditions
  • often says thingy, whatchamacallit, or what’s its name, instead of naming
  • has good days and bad days, particularly with regard to reading skills
  • can learn concepts, but is quick to forget

Teenager

  • has any relative who found learning to read and write difficult
  • has poor self-esteem as a learner
  • has persistent difficulties with decoding (sounding out words on the page)
  • has poor comprehension
  • spelling is well below average for age
  • finds structuring essays difficult
  • finds following timetables difficult
  • Finds completing homework and assignments on time difficult
  • can express subject knowledge much better verbally than in writing
  • has difficulty copying from the board
  • is known as the ‘class clown’, or is excessively disruptive
  • uses non disruptive avoidance tactics, such as being overly helpful for the teacher and peers
  • is excessively tired after school
  • has been labelled careless, lazy, or told they make silly mistakes
  • misunderstands task descriptions, instructions or questions
  • persistent difficulty remembering maths facts such as times tables, basic addition and subtraction facts and telling time
  • does not perform well in timed conditions
  • has good days and bad days, particularly with regard to reading skills
  • can learn concepts, but is quick to forget