24 Feb What are the traits of dyslexia?
One of the most common questions I’m asked day to day is “What are the symptoms of dyslexia?” or “How can I tell if my child has dyslexia?” I prefer to call them traits of dyslexia, as opposed to ‘symptoms’ because dyslexia is not a disease.
Traits of dyslexia are different for each person because no one person with dyslexia will be exactly like another. The traits of dyslexia can appear differently in different age groups.
There are 3 main areas associated with dyslexia and these are explained below.
The Big 3
People with dyslexia tend to have difficulty with phonological awareness, that is, the awareness of sounds in spoken language. This can present problems with remembering words as they have been heard, pronouncing words incorrectly, for example, ‘pacific’ instead of ‘specific’, and later reading and spelling difficulties, as they find mapping sounds onto letters challenging.
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.
3. Processing speed
Processing speed is another area people with dyslexia can experience difficulty with. As the name suggests, processing speed is the ability of the brain to perform tasks at speed and with efficiency. This skill is particularly useful in timed exams and mental maths.
It is important to note 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.
We often talk about the difficulties dyslexia brings, but it’s also important to consider some of the strengths of dyslexia, too.
Strengths associated with Dyslexia
Some of the strengths associated with dyslexia might include enjoying or being good at:
Lego, mechanics, building blocks, design and technology, creating from materials or figuring out how things work
Children with these strengths are often described by the parents I work with as having junk piles in the backyard they enjoy using to build random items, pulling apart radios to see how they work, or being very talented in DT at school.
Drawing or art
This one is fairly well known, so much so I find a lot of people think all people with dyslexia are ‘arty’ and creative. This isn’t true either, dyslexia isn’t all one thing, but many people with dyslexia are creative and talented in art and drawing.
So many kids with dyslexia are curious learners and are often really interested in science. From Miss B, who took one of the magnets from the board and began trying it against all the metals she could find while I spoke to her mum, asking “Why does it stick to some and not others?”, to Mr N, who saw the cup phones on my TAPS assessment and said: “I’ve always wanted to know how they work!” Children with dyslexia often show a talent and interest in science, but will often say they love the experiments and aren’t so fond of the written work.
This is not to be confused with story writing. Roald Dahl himself was dyslexic, and the BFG, with his mixed up words and difficulties with reading, was actually modeled on Dahl himself. It is not so well known that people with dyslexia can be talented creative writers, despite their difficulties with spelling and punctuation.
People with dyslexia can have difficulty with
Some aspects of speaking
People with dyslexia don’t always store the sound properties in words well. That means when they need to retrieve words, it can be tricky. This causes word finding difficulties. Word finding difficulties causes that feeling you get when you know a word you want to use, but you can’t quite think of what it is. This happens to everyone from time to time, but for people with dyslexia it’s a common occurrence. It can also cause them to say the wrong word, such as ‘calendar’ for ‘cylinder’, and mispronounce words, for example, saying ‘specific’ as ‘pacific’. Due to weaknesses in working memory, they can also find remembering instructions tricky, and sometimes do only the first or last part of longer instructions. This is especially challenging for school children, as this is often mistaken for not listening, not trying hard enough, and sometimes even laziness.
Reading and Spelling
It’s fairly well known that people with dyslexia have difficulty with reading and spelling, but it can affect many areas of an individual’s life. Reading and spelling tend to be difficult for people with dyslexia because of their difficulty in mapping sounds in words. This makes it harder to map those sounds onto letters to learn to read and write.
Things like remembering times tables, number bonds, recalling number facts and place value.
Organising themselves and their belongings
Difficulties with working memory and other executive function skills can make it more challenging to plan and carry out processes like packing a bag, getting dressed or completing homework tasks on time. Other common traits of dyslexia might include having a poor sense of time, overestimating how much can be done in a certain time period, difficulty telling time on an analogue clock and trouble following timetables.
Traits of Dyslexia
This Traits of Dyslexia Checklists is related to specific age groups. If your child identified with 5 or more, it is advised to seek professional advice.
Like I said above – 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 it is still advised that you seek advice from a professional.
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