What is Dyslexia?

For more on dyslexia see also:
Dyslexia in the workplace
Famous dyslexics

The word Dyslexic is based on two Greek words, 'Dys' meaning 'difficulty' and 'lexic' meaning 'with words'. Dyslexia is not a disease it is a condition that you are born with, a difference in the way the brain works. A difference that will be present throughout a persons life. Dyslexia mainly affects reading and language skills and the effects can range from mild to very severe. The sooner dyslexia is spotted, the sooner suitable learning and coping strategies can be employed to minimise the effects of the condition.

For a good understanding of what dyslexia is see the PDF document called Understanding Dyslexia. This document contains information about:

  • What Dyslexia is
  • Theories of Dyslexia
  • Main educational effects of Dyslexia
  • Identifying children with Dyslexia
  • Teaching children with Dyslexia
  • Computer support
  • Advice on learning activities and differentiated teaching for pupils with Dyslexia


Dyslexia and memory difficulties

People who have dyslexia typically have memory difficulties. Usually these difficulties are in auditory working memory, so they tend to forget instructions, have problems learning multiplication tables, and easily lose track of what they are doing (e.g. when reading, writing, or doing arithmetic). Working memory also affects children's acquisition of phonics in school (i.e. learning the relationships between letters and sounds).

 Some people with dyslexia have problems with visual memory, so that as children they found it hard to recognise words by sight (e.g. using 'flash cards'), and also cannot find their way around using visual cues (e.g. in an unfamiliar place). Visual memory is also very important in spelling, because a great many English words are irregular and their spelling does not follow phonic rules. The only way to learn to spell irregular words is by using visual memory.  Whether they experience problems in auditory working memory or visual memory, or both, children with dyslexia should find Memory Booster especially helpful, because it teaches them strategies to learn more effectively and remember more easily. Memory Booster contains both visual and auditory/verbal features and has a beneficial effect on all types of memory problems.


Reading and perceptual difficulties in dyslexia include:

  • early difficulties in acquiring phonic skills
  • a high proportion of errors in oral reading
  • difficulty in extracting the sense from written material without substantial re-reading
  • slow reading speed
  • inaccurate reading, omission of words
  • frequent loss of the place when reading
  • an inability to skim through or scan over reading matter
  • a high degree of distractibility when reading
  • perceived distortion of text (words may seem to float off the page or run together)
  • a visually irritating glare from white paper or white-boards.


Writing problems in dyslexia include:

  • an intractable spelling problem
  • confusion of small words such as which/with
  • omission of words, especially when the writer is under pressure
  • awkward handwriting and/or slow writing speed
  • an unexpected difference between oral and written expression, with oral contributions being typically of a much higher quality than written accounts of the same subject matter in terms of structure, self expression and correct use of words.


Other difficulties in dyslexia include:

  • Early speech and language problems
    Many dyslexic children have received speech therapy, usually for phonological difficulties, especially between the ages of 3 and 7.

  • Glue ear (Otitis media)
    This is common in children with dyslexia and usually affects the acquisition of auditory discrimination skills, which in turn impacts on development of phonics in reading.

  • Immune system disorders (e.g. asthma, eczema)
    There is a high incidence of immune system disorders amongst children with dyslexia. The reason for this is not understood at present.

  • Oral skills
    Although many dyslexic children are fairly articulate, others demonstrate a lack of logical structure in speech as well as in writing. Oral skills can be further compromised by difficulties in word retrieval or by mispronunciation and spoonerisms. A delay in producing a response may actually be due to a slight lapse between hearing what is said and understanding it - an inefficiency in aural processing possibly connected with the working memory system.

  • Numeracy
    In about 60% of cases, dyslexia affects numeracy skills. This can take the form of unexpected inaccuracy in calculation or copying of digits, failure to remember calculation procedures, difficulties with remembering multiplication tables. Gifted dyslexic mathematicians and scientists are sometimes found to have unusually weak computational skills.

  • Co-morbidity with other developmental disorders, e.g. AD/HD or dyspraxia
    A range of characteristics, under the general heading of attentional dysfunction (i.e. attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity - ADD, AD/HD), can have a significant overlap with dyslexia. A short attention span and/or a high level of distractibility can undermine the whole educational process. Associated characteristics are an inability to get started when faced with certain mental activities and also trouble switching from one type of activity to another. Additionally, or alternatively, dyslexic problems can overlap with dyspraxia (sometimes referred to as the 'clumsy child syndrome', or 'developmental co-ordination disorder').

  • Social and emotional factors
    High levels of anxiety and stress have been identified as the most indicative behavioural correlates of dyslexia; these are bound to affect performance. A 'panic' reaction is experienced by some dyslexic people when placed in situations where they cannot cope. The cumulative effect of tiredness, necessitated by additional effort at every educational level, should not be underestimated.

  • Disorganisation
    A poor sense of clock time (often associated with underlying memory problems) and/or a poor awareness of space (often associated with dyspraxia) tend to make effective time management very difficult for many people with dyslexia.

  • Secondary effects of dyslexia
    Although significant discrepancies between obvious ability and unexpectedly poor academic performance should alert teachers to the presence of dyslexia at an early age, the problem may go unnoticed for several years. Under-achievement in literacy despite normal schooling and satisfactory oral and intellectual skills may persist through childhood. This gives rise to the secondary affects of dyslexia, which include loss of confidence, low self-esteem and frustration. Older students find that years of humiliation in the classroom and constant fear of being 'shown up' take their toll.


Compensatory strategies

Because of the development of compensatory strategies, by adulthood, literacy skills of many dyslexics can appear superficially adequate, especially if the person is very bright. However, these strategies are likely to break down when the individual is confronted with tasks that are more challenging than previously experienced (e.g. when going to college). This has been referred to as the 'dyslexia fuse effect': i.e. the dyslexia 'fuse' blowing as a function of the educational and/or information processing load placed upon it

See the British Dyslexia Association for more information.

Click and hold to drag