What is Dyslexia?
The Dyslexia Association of Ireland is promoting this understanding of dyslexia to better reflect the range of presentations that occur in dyslexic people and the preferences of people with dyslexia. This definition was reviewed and updated in April 2022.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that can cause difficulties with learning and work. It affects approximately 1 in 10. It occurs on a spectrum with some people mildly affected and others more severely. With the right understanding, accommodations and support people with dyslexia can achieve success in education, the workplace and in wider society.
Everyone with dyslexia is different but there is a commonality of difficulties with reading, spelling and writing and related cognitive/processing difficulties. Dyslexia is not a general difficulty with learning, it impacts specific skill areas. The impact of dyslexia can change according to the environment (i.e. what a dyslexic person is being asked to do and under what circumstances).
While people with dyslexia may develop strengths due to their dyslexia such as determination, problem solving and resilience, dyslexia does not automatically bring specific gifts or talents. The Dyslexia Association of Ireland recognises and respects the individual variation that all human beings display, including those with dyslexia.
Language, Recognition and Rights
Some people prefer the wording ‘a person with dyslexia’, while others prefer the term ‘a dyslexic person’. When working with individuals it is important to use the terminology that the person is most comfortable with. When communicating with a wider audience the terms may be used interchangeably to reflect the variation of preference that exists.
Dyslexia is a recognised disability under Irish and EU law (such as under equalities, accessibility and disability legislation). However, many dyslexic people do not consider themselves ‘disabled’ and the individual’s view should be respected.
Footnote: Sometimes in the past other terms have been used for dyslexia including specific learning disabilities (SLD / SpLD), specific learning difficulties, learning disabilities, specific reading difficulties. reading disorder.
DAI welcomes feedback from all stakeholders on this definition.
The Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia (2001) suggests the following definition: “Dyslexia is manifested in a continuum of specific learning difficulties related to the acquisition of basic skills in reading, spelling and/or writing, such difficulties being unexplained in relation to an individual’s other abilities and educational experiences. Dyslexia can be described at the neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. It is typically characterised by inefficient information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing and motor skills may also be present.” (p.31)
How common is dyslexia?
Estimates of prevalence vary significantly and depend on the particular definition of dyslexia used in each research study, as well as other factors including language complexity. Depending on the definition used, between 4% to 17% of the population may be considered to have dyslexia. The internationally agreed consensus is that 10% is the average worldwide estimate.
Indicators of Dyslexia
The indicators of dyslexia vary from person to person, and at different age levels. The following indicators are from the Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia (2001).
Many of these indicators may also be noted in children with learning differences not arising from dyslexia.
Indicators at Ages 3-5 Years
- Is later than most children in learning to speak
- Has difficulty pronouncing some, especially multi-syllabic, words
- Has difficulty separating spoken words into sounds and blending spoken sounds to make words (i.e., has difficulty with phonological awareness)
- Experiences auditory discrimination problems
- Is prone to spoonerisms (eg., fips and chish for fish and chips)
- Has difficulty with rhyming
- Has difficulty maintaining rhythm
- Is unable to recall the right word
- Is slow to add new vocabulary
- Exhibits delays in acquiring emergent literacy skills (e.g., understanding that written language progresses from left to right, discriminating between letters, words and sentences)
- Experiences problems learning the alphabet
- Has trouble learning numbers, days of the week, colours and shapes
- Has trouble learning to write and spell his/her own name
- Is unable to follow multi-step directions or routines
- Is developing fine motor skills more slowly than other children
- May have difficulty telling and/or retelling a story in correct sequence.
Indicators at Ages 5-7 Years
- Is slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds (alphabetic principle)
- Has difficulty separating words into sounds, and blending sounds to form words (phonemic awareness)
- Has difficulty repeating multi-syllabic words (e.g., emeny for enemy; pasghetti for spaghetti)
- Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
- Has poor word-attack skills, especially for new words
- Confuses small or ‘easy’ words: at/to; said/and; does/goes)
- May make constant reading and spelling errors including:
– Letter reversals (e.g., d for b as in dog for bog)
– Letter inversions (e.g., m for w)
– Letter transpositions (e.g., felt and left)
– Word reversals (e.g., tip for pit)
– Word substitutions (e.g., house for home)
- Reads slowly with little expression or fluency (oral reading is slow and laborious)
- Has more difficulty with function words (e.g., is, to, of) than with content words (e.g., cloud, run, yellow)
- May be slow to learn new skills, relying heavily on memorising without understanding
- Reading comprehension is below expectation due to poor accuracy, fluency and speed
- Reading comprehension is better than single-word reading
- Listening comprehension is better than reading comprehension
- Has trouble learning facts
- Has difficulty planning or organising
- Uses awkward pencil grip
- Has slow and poor quality handwriting
- Has trouble learning to tell the time on an analogue clock or watch
- Has poor fine motor co-ordination
Indicators Ages 7-12 Years
- Has continued difficulty reading text aloud or silently
- Reading achievement is below expectation
- Still confuses letter sequences (e.g., soiled for solid; left for felt)
- Is slow at discerning and learning prefixes, suffixes, root words and other morphemes as part of reading and spelling strategies
- Poor reading accuracy, fluency, or speed interferes with reading comprehension
- Spelling is inappropriate for age and general ability (e.g., spelling the same word differently on the same page, use of bizarre spelling patterns, frequent letter omissions, additions and transposition)
- Poor spelling contributes to poor written expression (e.g., may avoid use of unfamiliar words)
- Uses avoidance tactics when asked to read orally or write
- Experiences language-related problems in maths (e.g., when reading word problems and directions, confuses numbers and symbols)
- Is unable to learn multiplication tables by rote
- Still confuses some directional words (e.g., left and right)
- Has slow or poor recall of facts
- Lacks understanding of other people’s body language and facial expressions
- Has trouble with non-literal or figurative language (e.g., idioms, proverbs)
- Forgets to bring in or hand in homework
- Has difficulty remembering what day or month it is
- Has difficulty remembering his/her own telephone number or birthday
- Has poor planning and organisational skills
- Has poor time management
- Lacks self-confidence and has a poor self-image
Indicators at Age 12+ Years
- Is still reading slowly and without fluency, with many inaccuracies
- Misreads words (e.g., hysterical for historical) or information
- Has difficulty modifying reading rate
- Has an inadequate store of knowledge due to lack of reading experience
- Continues to experience serious spelling difficulties
- Has slow, dysfluent and/or illegible handwriting
- Has better oral skills than written skills
- Has difficulty planning, sequencing and organising written text
- Has difficulty with written syntax or punctuation
- Has difficulty skimming, scanning and/or proof-reading written text
- Has trouble summarising or outlining
- Has problems in taking notes and copying from the board
- Procrastinates and/or avoids reading and writing tasks
- Does not complete assignments or class work or does not hand them in
- Is slow in answering questions, especially open-ended ones
- Has poor memorisation skills
- Still mispronounces or misuses some words
- Has problems recalling the names of some words or objects
- Has poor planning and organisational skills
- Has poor time management skills
- Has more difficulty in language-based subjects (e.g., English, Irish, History) than in non-language based subjects (e.g., mathematics, Technical graphics)
- Lacks self-confidence and has a poor self-image.